How To Create a B2B Paid Media Advertising Strategy (A Guide)

Creating a B2B paid media strategy Depends on understanding a few factors such as if you are product-led vs sales-led, a deep understanding on who your ICP is and where they hang out, and understanding what is possible on each platform.

Many companies assume Google is the best platform because the intent of the buyer is the highest, but for B2B, and especially software start-ups or sales-led B2B organisations, Google often has low search volume and therefore is not scalable. This article will dive into the key questions we should be asking so that we can create a coherent B2B paid media (advertising) strategy.

Article by Philip Ilic,
B2B Growth Specialist.

Some metrics to take into consideration (there are many more than this):

  • CPC – Cost Per Click (someone clicks on your ad)
  • CPL – Cost Per Lead (Someone giving us their personal information such as email and/or phone)
  • CPA – Cost Per Action (someone who takes a higher value action. This is normally a booked demo, sales call or free trial).
  • CAC – Customer Acquisition Cost (The cost of someone becoming a paying customer).

B2B Advertising

B2B paid media strategy is very different to B2C. Not only in which platforms we choose, but in how we utilise the platforms themsleves. Having an advertising initiative in your B2B company, especially if you are B2B SaaS company is a key pillar of growth.

Many companies rely on ads for the majority of their demand generation over other initiatives such as Cold email, Linkedin and Seo/ content strategies.

Some of the reasons why having a working paid media strategy is super important are…

It Is Scalable

Once you crack a paid media system that is sending a ton of affordable traffic to landing pages and converting them at a good rate which creates positive ROI you can scale this up.

Although you lose some efficiency when you scale, I have seen accounts scale from 2-5k a month to 20-30k months relatively quickly.

This depends slightly on several factors which I go into below, but for example, if you have a low Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM) scaling becomes more difficult.

Ulitmately, having a paid media system in your company is at the heart of most successful B2B demand generation engines which drive growth. Creating one is essential just to survive.

It is Predictable

Once we get a lower budget working efficiently and we know the amount we invest into the ads is producing a positive Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) then we know generally we can work to keep these benchmarks and even find further efficiencies.

Please note that this is a constant battle and takes a ton of consistent a/b tests (and why people pay me to manage their accounts).

Investors love it when you can go to them and say we know our metrics and we can accurately predict how many customers we can get with x amount of investment.

Often the goal with pre-series A start-ups is to get a system working where we know our Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) from paid media.

Once we know the main metrics with lower budget, such as our Cost Per Lead (CPL), Cost Per Action (CPA) and Customer Aquisition Cost then we can go to investors with an accurate financial forecast which is based on data.

Investors love this.

The start-up founders can base their growth targets based on realistic costs from a paid media strategy. This just isn’t possible with other channels.

Implementation is more immediate (quicker)

Creating a paid media system can be relatively quick. When I work with a brand new account I can have them up and running (depending on a bunch of factors from their side) in a matter of a month and we will be generating leads and even actions (demos, free trial, sales calls) pretty much immediately after that.

This is compared to SEO which is the longest (althogh one of the most powerful intititves for B2B SaaS , so start this now), cold email, which is relatively quick, but not as scalable, and social media (organic) strategy which again is quick but not very scalable and hard to see a direct ROI from.

Paid Search vs Paid Social

This is such a thorny question for so many people. People get extremely passionate, especially in B2B, that search is much better than social and social produces low-quality leads. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Both search (think Google) and social (think Facebook or Linkedin) are extremely valuable and we can utilise them in different ways.

Paid search

Search is incredibly valuable and gets the highest intent people. These are people who are actively searching for a solution to their problems and are closer to the point of making a buying decision.

So although this sounds great, it comes with some big downsides for B2B.

The example I always give is let’s imagine a person who knows they are overweight and they already know that their solution is to go to the gym. They are actively searching ‘gyms near me’.

This is great as they are in the process of choosing a gym, and most probably signing up for one. They are problem aware and solution aware.

The issue here for B2B more specifically is twofold…

Low search volume for B2B

Firstly, the amount of people who are at the point of being problem and solution aware in the buyer’s journey is on average quite small. Something like 2-4% of any given market is at this point.

So this is ok if you have a huge Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM) which makes that 2-4% big enough. But B2B companies regularly have smaller SAM’s and therefore the search volume is often very low on google.

This is especially true for sales-led organisations. These types of companies regularly have a service that is slightly obscure and the search volume again is extremely low which makes scaling on Google difficult.

B2B SaaS in new market segments

The second reason is that often B2B SaaS companies are in new markets segments. This means they are creating new solutions to old problems and very few people even know their solution exists. This means no one is searching for the solution yet.

So although search can be a valuable channel, it might become a secondary channel to social for many B2B companies.

Paid Social

So going back to our example of the overweight person. If we go down one level in the pyramid to the next market segment, the people are problem aware but not solution aware.

This means the overweight individual knows he is overweight BUT he does not yet know if he should join the gym, get a personal trainer or buy some nutritional pills. He is not solution aware.

He is earlier in the buyer’s journey and not actively searching for a solution yet. This is roughly 45-50% of any given market (a very large chunk of any given market segment).

We can find these problem-aware-not-solution-aware people on social media. We need to treat this segment of the market very differently from the people who are searching and this is why many B2B search advertisers think paid social sucks. They do it wrong (sorry).

I see this time and time again. B2B organisations advertising to this segment with the bottom of funnel offers – basically saying ‘buy now’. This segment is not ready to buy now, we need to nurture them and lead them to the point where they see your solution as the right one and your company as the one to deliver it.

This is done with education. This means we are not asking these people we get from social media to buy now, but instead, we offer them education (gated content, webinars, blogs) in helping them solve their problems (with your solution).

Then we help them to take the step from not having a solution to discovering a (your) solution through the educational resources.

How much nurturing is necessary depends on a few factors. One of the most important is if the company is product-led or sales-led.

Check out this video on creating an amazing follow up here:

Product vs Sales Led

Understanding this can be very simple for many companies. But for some B2B SaaS companies, they move from one to the other depending on how they feel that day. Understanding if you are more product or sales focused  is super important and will affect all your marketing initiatives including your paid media one.

The key point here is do you have ‘talk to sale’ or ‘book a demo’ type Call To Action (CTA) on your sales page or is it ‘sign up for a free trial’ or ‘buy now’?

This determines if you are more marketing focused or sales focused on the spectrum and should help you assign resources differently.

Does your prospect need to speak to sales to so that they can convert into a customer or can we do this with fewer if any human touches?

Sales-led organisations

Sales-led businesses are more likely the type to have much larger deal sizes, lower SAM’s and longer sales cycles. Again this is a spectrum. But the larger your deal size and the longer your sales cycle, the more you lean on sales.

These types of businesses utilise Linkedin more than say Facebook (i will go into how to choose your platform later) and often we need to focus on getting a lead more than trying to generate an action (demo, sales call).

Marketing or Product-led

These companies are the ones which we can send traffic directly to a landing page and get a prospect to take an action such as sign up to trial the software without any human touchpoints. These companies need to focus more on brand and marketing-led initiatives.

Once we know if you are marketing or sales-led we can now start to look at platforms.

Which Social Platform For B2B?

Choosing which paid social platform to use is key to creating a strategy. I often see people come to me certain they want to use Linkedin to drive growth and i’m often trying to convince them to use another platform altogether (don’t get me wrong I love Linkedin).

B2B Linkedin Ads

Let’s start with Linkedin as this is my deep speciality (although I consider myself a paid social specialist or B2B SaaS Growth person).

Linkedin is more for a sales-led type business with high LTV’s. The two questions I ask people when they are considering Linkedin as an advertising platform are…

  1. What is your LTV? I often say that if you have a lower than $10,000 LTV or deal size then we will be hard pushed to make the initiative profitable for you. The higher the LTV the better.
  2. Who are you targeting? If you are targeting small business owners then maybe Facebook will be better or even e-commerce founders. But if you need to target middle management from larger companies or the c-suite from mid to large enterprise organizations then there is no better platform. It might be the ONLY platform to hit this Ideal Client Profile (ICP).

Linkedin is also amazing if you have an Account-Based Marketing strategy in place as you can target a list of accounts (companies) layered with job title, department and/or seniority. The targeting on Linkedin is laser-sharp, this is why people love it.

Check out my video on Account-Based Marketing and LinkedIn Ads.

Some downsides of Linkedin ads

Yes, they are expensive. But in fact, they can produce higher ROI than other platforms. The reason is that although they are more expensive in terms of cost per click or cost per impression (CPM) we can also target the bigger accounts on Linkedin so your LTV or deal size should also be substantially bigger.

People spend significantly less time on Linkedin than on other platforms such as Facebook. According to this HubSpot article, it is roughly 35 minutes a day on Facebook compared to just 17 minutes a month on Linkedin.

What this article does not say is that if you dig into the data it depends a lot on who you are targeting. Taking an average of 2 billion users on Facebook compared to the 700 million users on LinkedIn does not take into account that certain groups of people spend a ton more time on Linkedin than on Facebook. The data is skewed. So just consider who it is you are targeting.

B2B Facebook Ads

Ok, now please calm down and hear me out. Just joking, but the number of people who seem to get worked up about how Facebook is sh$% and how it produces low-quality leads is quite startling.

The reality is that Facebook is a goldmine for many B2B businesses with it being the key driver to their growth. We just need to understand what type of B2B business should use Facebook as their key advertising platform.

Fun Fact: 90% of Linkedin users are also on Facebook and 57% are on Instagram.

Although we know that probably whoever it is you need to target is using Facebook and possibly Instagram, it is really hard to target them efficiently on Facebook.

Some reasons that make facebook incredible for B2B is that people spend a ton of time on Facebook and Instagram, and your ICP is probably on Facebook every day – the hard part is targeting them.

Some types of people are easier to target cold than others such as small business owners or e-commerce founders.

Although IOS 14 is having a massive effect on advertising on Facebook, it is still an amazing tool in our toolbox. Maybe still one of the best.

One of the greatest ways we can reach these people is via lookalike audiences. This is always the first type of audience I push on Facebook as this is the one that normally works the best.

Best Facebook audience: Lookalike

A lookalike is where we upload a list of high-value customers or leads into Facebook and tell the algorythm to go out and find more people like the people on the list. Facebook has a ton of information about its user’s behaviours and interests, so it can match these data points to the people on our list (data is hashed) and find more people like it.

Lookalikes are amazing.

There are two ways we can use this information…

  1. Just use Facebook with a lookalike audience (if you have enough data).
  2. Target the ICP we are confident we can reach such as small business owners, e-commerce founders and individual consultant and freelancers, for example.
  3. Use it as a retargeting platform. One strategy I use is I cold target on Linkedin, get these super high-quality prospects to trigger my pixels and get them to sign up to something (get them as a lead), then retarget them on Facebook and Google Display network (90% of the web).

What about Youtube!?

Youtube is in fact on the rise as an advertising platform and stealing revenue from Facebook. Although it is a search engine, not a social platform, you could consider it as a hybrid, or something different.

With Youtube, we can target based on what people are watching or researching which can be crazy valuable and have the intent levels of search on google. .

I am starting to do more tests on youtube vs Facebook, but from the research from other peopleI have seen between the two platforms the results are looking very positive.

The cool thing about Youtube ads is that we can get the higher intent from search because a huge amount of people are on youtube to learn something or research something and we can show our ads on those related videos.

This is powerful as if say, for example, someone is searching for a CRM and watching videos like Hubspot vs Salesforce, then this is a big indicator that they are in the market for a CRM system.

Whereas on Facebook people are there to engage with friends and family, on youtube they are actively in learning mode and watching videos on a topic.

This means, with youtube, we can reach our personas right at the point when they are in the right headspace. This is powerful.

But before running off and doubling down on youtube, from what I have seen the results people are getting are on par with Facebook and is highly dependent on your approach.

OmniChannel Approach (and retargeting)

Working these platforms coherently is a little more complicated. One B2B approach i use for Linkedin specifically (please sign up to my newsletter as i bring out a ton of content like this) is that I use Linkedin as a cold targeting tool, then retarget aggressively on facebook and Google display network.

This is a great strategy for sales-led businesses as you can target elite-level prospects on Linkedin and then retarget them all around the web for cheaper on Facebook and Google Display Network.

Another thing i see is that once you max out a platform such as Facebook, then people move on to other platforms. Design Pickle have done this effectively with completely dominating Facebook ads then successfully moving to LinkedIn.

Many other are choosing to move some budget from facebook to youtube. This is partly due to uncertainty with the future. Imagine 90% of you revenue is dependent on facebook ads then some change happens such as IOs 14 or Facebook changes something which effects advertsisers, this can have a detrimental effect on this business. This is why many advertisers are attempting to diversify their demand generation initiatives beyond just one platform.

My opinion.

Ultimately, creating an effective digital advertising or a paid media startegy depends on a few factors such as if you are sales led rather than marketing led, who your prospects are and where we can find them and how large your market segment is.

But once we understand these factors then we can decide on which platforms to focus on, how much budget should be allocated, and specifically how we use the platforms for the greatest effect.

Useful Resources & Tutorials

I hope you found this helpful. Down below, I’ve listed some links to tutorials that you might find useful if you’re looking to set up LinkedIn ads.

How To Run Successful LinkedIn Ads in 2021 – a step by step 38-minute tutorial where we cover all the fundamentals of running LinkedIn ads.

LinkedIn Campaign Manager Tutorial – a 9-minute video that’ll give you a deep overview & bring you up to speed on how LinkedIn Campaign Manager works.

Lead Generation Forms (step by step tutorial) – this 10-minute tutorial will show you how to use lead generation forms & get the cheapest cost per lead.

Which LinkedIn Ads Objectives – Explained (2021) – in this 13-minute video, I cover how to properly use the right LinkedIn ads objectives to your advantage.

Philip Ilic

Philip Ilic

B2B Growth Specialist

Phil helps B2B SaaS companies with growth marketing and is a deep specialist in Linkedin advertising and paid social more generally (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). He runs a paid social agency called Superlumen.co and is the founder of B2Bhero.co.

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