If you work in digital marketing, you might not normally think of B2B PPC (that is, pay-per-click for business-to-business campaigns).
Most digital marketers think of PPC as a B2C (business-to-consumer) discipline for either direct sales (retail, such as apparel or electronics) or for lead generation (identifying and matching potential customers for services, such as consultations for financial services or finding a new healthcare provider).
Your job as a PPC marketer in the consumer space is as you’d expect. You run paid search ads for your product or service that nudge searchers to your landing page and hopefully get them to convert. And as a B2C PPC marketer, you have a relatively short sales cycle.
Why the B2B PPC Conversion Funnel Is Different Than B2C
There are different rules of engagement for marketing toward a business audience than toward consumer audiences.
Let’s go over some of the bigger points of differentiation.
Multiple Decision Makers
While a consumer shopping for a new winter coat probably doesn’t have a lengthy approval process, multiple stakeholders, and a legal department to vet contracts with, your business customers do.
Longer Sales Cycle
One of the immediate effects of having multiple decision-makers in the sales process is a longer sales cycle.
A while back, Salesforce found that the average B2B sales cycle is 84 days long (though they vary wildly, and may be significantly longer for your company).
The longer sales cycle means business customers may take weeks or months to eventually choose to sign up for your subscription service or enterprise-scale product.
Need for Multiple Messaging Points Across the Funnel
Because there are multiple stakeholders involved in B2B purchasing decisions and because the sales cycle tends to be longer overall, it’s far more important to have relevant messages for the appropriate audience at different funnel stages.
Searchers in exploratory mode will respond better to upper-funnel messaging without a strong push to sell. On the other hand, searchers who are deeper in the funnel – reading reviews, comparing costs and individual service or product features – may instead be better served by a stronger call to action that drives them to convert.
The Beginning of the B2B PPC Funnel
The B2B PPC funnel starts out in a different manner than a consumer funnel. You can’t exactly hand out free samples of your enterprise-scale software on a tray at your local shopping mall.
Instead, you’ll likely introduce them to your funnel with a visit to your company’s online presence – if not your main homepage, then most likely a specific landing page on which you’re featuring a virtual offer, such as a webinar, eBook, infographic or another asset.
To procure that asset, visitors will need to sign themselves up for your funnel by filling out a lead capture form.
Once these visitors have become part of your funnel audience, your next task is targeting them properly by way of AdWords Audiences.
Presumably, you’ll also have your own specific qualifiers for types of leads for different stages.
At this point, you’re most likely using a CRM solution (if you have one) to score and qualify leads, after which, these audiences should be moved to deeper-funnel audiences for your PPC ads. Meaning, you don’t want to be showing top-funnel ads to these deeper-funnel leads, but rather, more-appropriate messaging to this warmer audience that will nudge them to the bottom of the funnel.
B2B PPC Tactics: Keywords, Attribution & Ad Types
Now that we’ve given an overview of B2B PPC and how to get prospects into the top of your funnel, let’s go into some actionable tactics you can start using immediately to nudge them through your sales cycle and get them to closed-won status.
1. Branded-Keyword Campaigns
It might not be obvious, but branded keywords are important for mid-funnel prospects in B2B PPC.
Specifically, once prospective customers become aware of you, unless they’re already breaking down your door to buy, they’re likely performing pre-purchase research.
They’re comparing features and price points between you and your competitors, and potentially performing searches either for your brand plus nonbrand terms (“ABC Software Inc. enterprise security”), comparison searches (“What’s the difference between ABC Software Inc. and XYZ Software Inc.”), or simply running repeated brand searches with your name as they go through the steps of their own due diligence.
2. AdWords Attribution
If you ask Google, the only attribution you need is data-driven attribution, which uses the publisher’s machine learning algorithms to precisely calculate and assign partial “credit” to different touchpoints in your funnel.
While the publisher will tell you that this black box algorithm is the only way to go, it should be noted that there are rather high volume requirements – 15,000 clicks and 600 conversions in the past 30 days (and subsequently, 10,000 clicks and 400 conversions per month).
For those businesses that don’t necessarily meet this threshold, alternatives such as time-decay attribution and position-based (U-shaped) may make more sense.
Position-based attribution assigns 40 percent of the “credit” for a conversion to the top of the funnel and 40 percent to the bottom, with the remaining 20 percent going to mid-funnel. This heavily weights top-funnel and bottom-funnel interactions and may make sense for businesses that strongly emphasize initial leads and closed deals only, such as commercial real estate, in which finding qualified buyers and sellers can be almost as important as closing on a property.
The time decay attribution model assigns “credit” to various touchpoints throughout the conversion journey, weighting the most recent more heavily and the older touchpoints less so.
This attribution model may make sense for highly competitive B2B spaces in which initial leads are less emphasized and closed-won deals are of paramount importance.
This attribution model may also be useful for testing purposes when comparing conversion journeys – if Conversion Journey A, which has a certain set of touchpoints and marketing content, consistently drives closed-won deals three months faster than Conversion Journey B, it may be time to more strongly emphasize the touchpoints in Conversion Journey A and do some retooling (or retiring) of the touchpoints in Conversion Journey B.
3. Remarketing & Retargeting – RLSA & GDN
Once your prospects have entered your conversion funnel, it becomes more important to serve them messaging and landing pages that are relevant to their specific needs and mindset in the current stage of their conversion journey.
In other words, it’s important to avoid inundating these prospects with top-funnel messages that no longer apply to them.
If you continue to serve these prospects ads to sign up the webinar they already watched two weeks ago, you won’t only annoy and confuse them, but you’ll also miss out on the opportunity to target them with a more-relevant, mid-funnel message.
This is what Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) is for – these search ads help you provide varied messaging for these mid-funnel prospects.
The same can be said for targeting via Google Display Network (GDN). Remarketing via GDN should offer varied but targeted ad experiences that tie together your lower-funnel website offers, such as customer success stories, budget calculators, free audits/assessments and similar.
It may also be useful to experiment with the new Display Responsive Ad feature, which pairs a text ad with a Facebook-size image and seems to work well for mid-funnel display campaigns.
4. YouTube Video Ads & Bumpers
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is… well, it’s a lot easier to digest than yet another 5,000-word white paper.
Keep in mind that video ads, at present, aren’t necessarily the strongest channel to drive final conversions – you should go in with appropriate expectations here.
That said, due to the way certain video types are counted, YouTube videos may help you drive a great deal of awareness and keep your brand top-of-mind for mid-funnel prospects in a cost-effective way.
YouTube video ads most commonly take the form of a skippable pre-roll that loads before a standard video. Fortunately for you, if viewers don’t get to the 30-second mark in your pre-roll ad, YouTube classifies that interaction as an impression rather than a paid view, and such impressions are served free of charge.
Because you can serve an unlimited number of impressions for free so long as viewers don’t make it past 30 seconds, YouTube video ads potentially offer a very cost-effective branding opportunity.
Then again, given that video watchers are more impatient than ever, we don’t recommend videos that go much further than 30 seconds in length. In fact, YouTube’s 6-second bumper videos can also provide quick reminders of your brand and your products and services to mid-funnel prospects without being overly obtrusive.
These tips should hopefully help point you in the right direction for B2B PPC.
As mentioned, B2B PPC is a different beast with different properties and in many cases, significantly longer conversion/sales cycles.
Due to these relatively longer sales cycles, along with having more stakeholders involved and more proof points required, I recommend taking a holistic view of your B2B firm’s entire conversion journey, preferably collating all relevant data for every touchpoint to help you craft the best campaigns and drive more final conversions and sales.
Also read: PPC Conversion Tracking