B2B buying has changed more than ever in history.
Forrester recently declared that we have now entered the digital buying group era. Buyers of high-ticket manufacturing solutions are no longer just one or two known individuals. They have become a buying group of up to 30 people making it increasingly difficult for marketing and sales teams to build consensus. Furthermore, many buying group member names and job titles remain unknown to the marketers and salespeople even in key accounts.
“Spray & Pray” lead generation marketing tactics no longer work in the Buying Group Era. It may still work for low ticket items with single buyers, but it falls short when seeking to engage distributed buying groups in key accounts. Focusing your limited marketing and sales resources on growing a finite number of key accounts will maximize your return on investment. That is why manufacturers are turning to Account-Based Marketing (ABM).
The aim of the game in ABM is not to get more form fills or leads but to reach, engage, and build consensus with the entire buying group in your key accounts. Whilst addressing additional challenges such as anonymous research, WFH, GDPR, selling through distributors, and decentralized decision making.
“So, where do my key account buying groups spend their time online?” you may ask -and more importantly “how can I best reach them with my ads or messages to help grow my business?”
Linkedin is becoming a promising channel for B2B marketers. According to the Linkedin Marketing Solutions blog, the business social network has grown to over 660 million members and It has become the most used social media platform amongst Fortune 500 companies.
In addition to IP based advertising, email, and direct mail, we have been using Linkedin Marketing Solutions as an ABM channel over the last couple of years. Based on our experience, here are the top 3 pitfalls to avoid:
#1 Targeting Too Many Accounts
Most B2B marketers have spent the last 5-10 years in the lead generation era trying to maximize form fills from the long tail of potential accounts. Despite a recent shift to more focused ABM strategies, it is no surprise that many marketers are tempted to revert to old lead generation tactics and metrics when launching a new marketing channel.
B2B Marketers shouldn’t just go after random accounts that engage or fill in forms. Experienced B2B marketers have learned the hard way that 99% of those types of leads are of no interest to sales teams and never convert.
Understanding which key accounts will represent the biggest return on your marketing and sales investment is the first step in a successful ABM targeting strategy. Our most successful manufacturing customers start-off with just 100 of their biggest accounts and prioritize based on 1st party website engagement activity. Their goal is to grow key account revenue by building buying group awareness and engagement around their new strategic solutions.
The Linkedin Campaign Manager tool is really designed for prospecting and lead generation. It encourages B2B marketers to spend increasingly more on wide audiences that engage or convert rather than going deep on key accounts. The reason is because the majority of Linkedin members don’t login every day, they spend more daily research time in their email inbox, on publisher sites, or on vendor websites. Therefore, in order to see clicks and leads from your campaigns, you are encouraged by Linkedin to cast a wide net.
For ABM, Linkedin recommends selecting at least 1000 target companies. But this is not really a focused ABM approach and the cost of engaging entire buyer groups on so many accounts with an omnichannel approach would surpass most manufacturer marketing budgets.
#2 Promoting Product Rather Than Commercial Insights
For Linkedin Sponsored Content, Text & Dynamic Advertising, product or even thought leadership content won’t cut it. Through trial and error, we’ve found that insight driven ads work best. This is about challenging your target accounts to really think differently about their business. CEB/Gartner call this approach “Challenger Marketing”. It is about sparking concern and helping your key accounts understand something new about their business that they did not already know. This requires repurposing existing product or solution marketing assets to explain the problem and the pain of not acting rather than trying to just sell your solution in ads.
Linkedin Sponsored Messaging or InMail is useful for reaching out to known job titles in target accounts in a personal way when they are on Linkedin. Compared to email marketing, it takes longer to deliver InMail messages because most manufacturing target audiences don’t use Linkedin daily. Therefore, this is not ideal for time sensitive messages like invitations to live webinars. As with email marketing, the sender’s profile and message subject line are the most important success factors so both need to be relevant and credible. We’ve found that Message Ad campaign formats work better than Conversational Ad campaign formats with a short informal commercial insight driven message and a single call-to action to a curated case study or a white paper.
#3 Underestimating the Resources and Discipline Required
Not all companies are prepared to hire more digital marketers to manage their account-based marketing programs. This leads to many promising programs dying out too young.
While it’s relatively easy to set budgets and control spending limits, Linkedin Campaign Manager is by no means a “set and forget” automated ad platform. To be effective year-round, the system needs constant feeding with audience tests, content tests, creative A/B tests, and bid tests. This workload is in addition to the regular day-to day ad operations and analysis functions.
The Campaign Manager interface limitations make scaling ABM a challenge even for the most seasoned digital marketers. For example, analyzing engagement at an account level is limited to 25 records and there is no drilldown feature to analyze and report account engagement activity on other dimensions such as geography. To resolve this, you need to use an ABM analytics tool hooked up to their API’s.
Linkedin Marketing Solutions for ABM is a full-time job for a marketing operations manager and requires coordination with creative, sales and marketing teams. Like in professional sports or ballet, this only works well with regular practice, rigor and discipline.
To conclude, Linkedin can reach some of the buying group all of the time, it can reach all of the buying group some of the time, but it can’t reach all of the buying group all of the time.
If you can avoid the pitfalls, Linkedin Marketing is an excellent complement to your account-based marketing. However, no single marketing channel is ever enough to effectively engage your key account buying groups in today’s media fragmented world. For the best marketing ROI, our manufacturing customers find that an Omnichannel ABM approach works best including IP-based advertising, email marketing, direct mail and Linkedin.