B2B SEM often feels like the ugly step-sister of B2C SEM, mainly because the budgets for most B2B campaigns are so much smaller than consumer campaigns. The ‘sexy’ side of B2B SEM, however, is in the potential ROI that a company can get out of a great paid search campaign.
Imagine a company that has an average order value (AOV) of $1,000,000 – if that company spends $20,000/month and gets only two sales a year as a result of their SEM spend, that’s an incredible return on ad spend (ROAS) of 833%. Try getting that sort of return in B2C marketing!
Despite lower budgets, B2B SEM is often a lot harder than B2C SEM, primarily because its goals are more considered purchases from savvier buyers.
As a result, I often see larger and more frequent mistakes in B2B SEM than in B2C. Here are a few of the most common mistakes found in B2B paid search accounts.
1. Not integrating with your CRM system
Most B2B sales are closed by a sales team instead of via an online transaction. As such, it’s crucial that paid search B2B campaigns are integrated with a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Integrating with your CRM generally means passing the keyword/source information from a tracking URL into fields in the CRM associated with a lead. When the lead closes, you can then attribute the revenue from that lead to your marketing source.
(Note: until recently, Salesforce – a leading CRM – had an app that integrated AdWords directly into Salesforce, but that app is being phased out.)
Advertisers who have no visibility into which keywords drive qualified leads and which keywords drive junk have no ability to adjust bids and budget to maximize the number of qualified leads that are being driven by SEM.
Put another way, advertisers without CRM integration are likely to be outbid on performing keywords by advertisers who do, leaving the advertisers without CRM integration with just the clicks from poor-performing keywords!
2. Not tracking phone calls
Most businesses prefer phone calls over online leads because a phone call generally indicates a higher degree of purchase intent from the prospect. When you send a user to a paid search landing page that simply has your standard 1-800 number on it, you are unlikely to properly give paid search the credit it deserves.
Even if you tell your phone representatives to ask “how did you find out about us,” it’s unlikely that you’ll get the level of granularity you need to make smart bidding decisions (e.g., most people don’t remember the keyword they used to find your site).
A relatively simple technical solution to this problem is call-tracking software. Companies like Mongoose Metrics, IfByPhone, Marchex Call Analytics (formerly VoiceStar), ClickPath, MyNextCustomer, and LogMyCalls can provide you with dozens (or even thousands) of toll-free numbers that you can associate at a keyword level.
In other words, if someone does a search for “blue widgets,” your landing page shows a dynamic phone number that is associated with that specific keyword. When the user converts, you have the keyword/source inserted into your CRM via the call tracking software, and you can attribute credit properly.
3. Expecting instant ROI
The bigger the purchase, the longer the sales cycle. Consumers have no problem instantly whipping out their credit card for a $12 book, but a one-million-dollar piece of enterprise software could take months to close.
B2B companies that spend $10,000 in a month, see no sales, and then shut down their PPC campaigns are making a fatal assumption: that, somehow, SEM customers convert way faster than any other customers.
4. Waiting too long to measure success
The flip side of expecting instant ROI is waiting too long to determine success. Just because your typical sales cycle is 12 months doesn’t mean you need to invest $25,000/month for 12 months before you decide that your SEM campaign isn’t working.
There are numerous ‘proxy metrics’ that savvy B2B marketers use that can help assess the efficacy of a campaign long before the first sale closes. Examples might include benchmarking SEM against established marketing channels based on:
- Cost per lead
- Cost per qualified customer
- Cost per appointment
- Cost per proposal
My personal favorite is cost per qualified customer. If a PPC campaign sends your business a customer who is clearly interested in your products or services, that is a great indication that your marketing dollars are attracting the right type of people, even if the pot of gold (i.e., the sale) is still many months away.
Fishing In The Wrong Ponds
5. Buying “double entendre” keywords
Many keywords have a dual meaning depending on whether you are talking to a consumer or a business. For example, the word “electronic sign” probably means a wall-mounted “Bud Light” sign in a pool hall for a consumer, but might mean ‘sign contracts electronically’ for a business.
The problem for B2B marketers is that there are far more consumer than business searchers online, which means that buying a keyword with even a hint of consumer meaning could cost you dearly in terms of unqualified clicks (and sadly, even if you write ad text that indicates that you are selling an electronic signature solution and not a beer sign, consumers will still click on your ad!).
The solution to this problem is two-fold. First, as noted above, creating ad text that focuses on your B2B audience should reduce irrelevant clicks on double-entendre keywords.
Second, think twice before buying these sorts of keywords! Start campaigns conservatively with keywords that can only mean something to B2B shoppers and test more generic keywords with low budgets only after establishing your beachhead on more realistic keywords.
6. Ignoring Day and Day-of-Week parting
When you’ve worked a 10-hour day, put the kids to bed, and finally opened up your laptop to check the latest sports scores, you might not want to see ads related to your job.
For this reason, it’s common to see lower click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates (CR) after work and on the weekends for B2B campaigns.
That’s not to say that people never convert during these times (they definitely do) but simply assuming that the ROI of campaigns outside of work hours is going to be the same as work-hour campaigns is making a big and potentially costly assumption.
7. Not investing in the Google Display Network & Contextual Advertising
Search is great for people who already know that they need the product or service you are selling.
Many B2B companies, however, sell products that are not at the forefront of a potential customer’s mind on a daily basis. For this reason, almost any B2B company can benefit from contextual campaigns via the Google Display Network (GDN) or other similar networks.
For example, let’s say you are selling an alternative to Microsoft Outlook, a very common email solution. It’s unlikely that existing users of Outlook are going to type “alternative to Outlook” into search, and those who type “problems with Outlook” are looking for an FAQ site rather than a new product.
But imagine running banner ads on discussion groups and blogs about Outlook that encourage readers to download a brief whitepaper with a catchy title like “5 Simple Tricks to Save Outlook Users 10 Hours a Week!”
These users didn’t wake up thinking that they needed a new email system, but now you’ve put the idea in their mind (my team calls this “inception” after the movie).
Best of all, GDN is available via the AdWords interface, allows for text ads, uses CPC bidding, uses the AdWords tracking pixel, and does not require an ad server or a DSP, so anyone familiar with AdWords can do a reasonably good job with GDN. Other networks like IndustryBrains, Advertising.com Sponsored Listings, and Pulse360 also offer similar contextual opportunities.
Not Applying B2B Techniques
8. Ignoring Lead Scoring and Nurturing
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes calling prospects knows that not all leads are created equal. As a result, an entire industry of “marketing automation” tools has emerged to help marketers separate the “Glengarry leads” from the worthless leads. Leading players include Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot, and ActOn.
Typically, marketing automation does two things: lead scoring – determining which leads have the highest potential for closing; and lead nurturing – sending prospects down different paths depending on where they are in the sales cycle.
For many businesses, paid search leads rank among the highest-quality leads and thus deserve immediate attention. Without marketing automation, however, these leads would get the same priority as leads from lesser sources, and sales from PPC would likely suffer.
Similarly, a user who types in a broad keyword might need a lead-nurturing funnel that is a much slower path than one who types in a keyword with high purchase intent.
9. Thinking you need a soft sell
There’s a perception amongst many B2B marketers that the bigger the AOV, the less aggressive you should be in your marketing. While there are definitely times when you should adjust your aggressiveness (as noted above, based on lead-nurturing rules), AOV alone is generally not a good enough reason to tone down your approach.
To expand on this further, this doesn’t mean that you should create a landing page that says “Order your $1,000,000 enterprise server online right now!”, but it does mean that you should be aggressive at asking users to specifically enter your sales funnel.
For example, rather than sending users to a product page with detailed specs about your server (soft-sell and boring), send them to a landing page with a whitepaper and a clear prompt: “Download Your Free Whitepaper!”
Even though this is just the beginning of a long and complex sales cycle, aggressively asking users to engage with you is almost always better than a non-committal, passive approach.
10. Not targeting prospects in ad text
Earlier, I discussed the problem of double-entendre keywords and noted that even targeted ad text may not be enough to dissuade consumers from clicking on what is clearly a B2B product ad. Of course, even if it discourages a few consumers, you are still going to save money as a result of this technique.
Importantly, the technique of targeting ad text is equally (if not more) effective for B2B-focused keywords. Because few businesses target all segments of a market from small-to-medium businesses (SMB) to enterprise, creating ad text that focuses on your target segments is crucial.
We once had a client that focused on mid-market and enterprise clients but had an ad targeted toward entry-level employees at small business. Worse still, the competition (which was focused on SMBs) offered free trials and plans starting at just $10/month (while our client’s solution cost thousands per month).
After some brainstorming, we came up with an ad that said “Serious about [product]? You deserve better than a $10 solution!”
The result was two-fold: first, the client saw a huge uplift in quality leads, and second, competitors stopped boasting about their $10 price point in their ad!
Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll look at B2B PPC in a new light. Perhaps it’s unlikely that – in the minds of most marketers – B2B will ever fully transform from ugly step-sister to Cinderella.
For those who are willing to apply best practices and rigorous analysis, proper management or B2B SEM can lead to “fairy tale” results!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.