How to Make Online Advertising Work for B2B

Josh Studzinski is Director of Marketing at AHEAD, a Chicago-based cloud adoption and acceleration solutions provider.

Read on for a transcript of his presentation from our January 27, 2017 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where he describes how to make online advertising work for B2B.

I'm Josh Studzinski with AHEAD. We're an IT consulting company that deals with enterprises to help them get to the cloud or accelerate their use of the cloud, so not too sexy and we're not really a startup. We've been around for about 10 years. I joined the company about a year ago. When I first came on board, marketing had to operate like a startup. We had to become agile because the company was mainly sales-driven and that's why I wanted to come present today to talk about our online advertising program, how marketing actually operated like a startup and what we were doing to make the company successful. So, what I'll be talking about today is how we made online advertising work for B2B.

When I first came on board, there was really no demand generation strategy. If you work with a lot of salespeople, all they're going to do is come to you and say, "Where are my leads? Where are my leads? Where are my leads?" And that's what we were getting from day one. So my goal was really to come on board and set a foundational strategy, and as Josh was talking about, "What is that MQL, SQL? What is our lead generation? What does our demand generation strategy look like?”

So I came on board where we're utilizing Hubspot and it was a complete mess. Scoring was messed up, the database was crap, the website wasn't doing anything, Google analytics was basically flatlining. We didn't really have any traffic coming to our site. We needed to come in and talk holistically about how we were going to generate traffic and how we were going to utilize online advertising to do that. So we started setting up a scoring system, attributing points to all these activities that our customers and prospects were going to be going through, whether they're watching a video or attending a webinar.

And then we utilized grading, which is a system for actually going through and looking at companies and prospects and giving them an A through F grading system to see if they would be a good prospect for you. They would look at things like job position, seniority and all these different criteria to tell you if you should be focusing on that prospect. Then we built our funnels and work flows in Pardot. We built this foundation in terms of our strategy, how we're going to score, how we're going to make people go through this funnel and then utilize the technology to go and execute on that.

The one thing we didn't have was a distribution plan for our content. We were just creating blog posts and syndicating them out on social media and just getting them out there. There was really no plan to actually amplify our content. We were doing about three to four blog posts and about one whitepaper a month so we had a lot of solid content we were actually producing. But there was no plan behind that to actually amplify and get that in front of our customers other than social media and the organic traffic we are looking for. So we're really looking to build integrated campaigns, whether that's through advertising, email, social, etc. How do we make everything work together? That's the situation we started off with.

1.  We got top-down buy-in

When we were looking at online advertising we looked at a bunch of different platforms, but first we had to start off by getting executive buy-in. We were going to start spending a lot of money on these advertising platforms and everybody was like, "Yeah, we tried Google AdWords, we tried Facebook ads."

But did you really try? Did you go in there and actually look at the analytics? Did you set it up correctly? Did you segment correctly? They could just go in there and you could just swipe a credit card and start doing ads but it doesn't mean that they're going to be effective. It doesn't mean that you're split testing. It doesn't mean that you're going in there and holistically looking at how you're actually running these campaigns.

So I went to our CEO and I said, "Hey, we're going to start doing this online advertising program. I need your buy-in. We need to get our content out there more. We need to get it in front of the right people because right now, we're not getting a huge draw from social."

In terms of B2B and our customers, like I said before, we're targeting enterprises and we're looking at the CIO and CTO. We're really looking at the C-Suite, which is difficult. They're not going in and checking Facebook or doing these searches. We need to get this information in front of them and target them very holistically on these advertising platforms.

2.  We looked at lead generation vs. ABM

So as we looked at a couple of different platforms, we looked at our process too and we re-evaluated: "Do we want to go to the lead gen route or do we want to go ABM?” So if you're familiar with ABM, account-based marketing, that's building a market of one around certain customers.

We have our target market and each of our reps is segmented by their account list, so they have about 20 to 30 accounts that they're going after and each account has their own little marketing strategy that we could build around it. So whether the CTO or CIO is moving jobs, or just implemented a new cloud infrastructure or looking to do DevOps, there's all these little information nuances we could use from our database, whether that's in Salesforce, DiscoverOrg or, and we could pull that information and build targeted ads around specific companies.

3.  We identified all our options

The way we did that is we looked at all the options and picked two options. We started running with AdRoll, which is a retargeting platform we use. So when people come to our website and look at our content, we're able to retarget them back to our website to provide more relevant content to them. We also utilize AdRoll for events. So if people came to our event page and didn't register for a webinar or an event, we're able to retarget them back, maybe with a different piece of content or agenda item.

And then we also looked at Terminus, which is an ABM platform, and is really cool. I think they rolled out probably about a year ago and you could actually target companies before they're cookied. The way AdRoll works is somebody comes to your site, they get your information and then they get cookied and you get to track them all around the web. With Terminus, they already had these companies cookied and they can tell you the job level which they're at and the seniority that they have. So we're able to go in and target CIOs and CTOs at large insurance companies and large organizations which really provided a lift in terms of our sales enablement and getting in front of these people to start priming the pump.

So people knew who AHEAD was. When I first came on board, there was little to no exposure of AHEAD. People didn't know who we are or what we do, so we started serving up these ads and started seeing that people are actually clicking on them because we're providing relevant content to them. They were seeing what they wanted to see based off the data that we have, which had all these triggers in there and could utilize devops, cloud or all these little points that they were looking for because it was pulling this information in from companies so we could build all of these customized campaigns.

4.  We built our first group of ads

We built our first ads and we started running with those. We made sure that we integrated and tracked everything. Like I said, we utilized Pardot for our marketing automation, so we built custom redirects, we built conversion tracking, we built everything back into our marketing automation. That was our foundation and where we wanted to send all that information back so I could start reporting on those analytics to our CEO who always was asking, “How is this actually working and how is this performing?”

5.  We integrated, tracked and tested everything

The problem with marketing is there's so many other pieces of technology and so many SaaS providers out there. Make sure you have that foundation. I would say that's your marketing automation software, and that's our foundation and where we want to build everything back, start integrating and eventually testing all of our ads, testing the copy, testing the designs, testing the graphics and testing the placements. There's all these different varieties that we're able to do and see what is working.

6.  We refreshed and re-evaluated

And then on a regular basis, going back and refreshing all of your ads that you currently have, making sure they’re consistent with your messaging, making sure you're not just paying money for just these random click-throughs and making sure people are going all the way through the funnel. Looking at those analytics on a monthly basis and making sure that you're tracking it is essential.

We did this for about the first two quarters of this year. We've been running these ads and running the lead gen and ABM process so we've been split testing. We've had some pretty good successful results. I say we spent about 10 to 15K on all of our advertising and we've had over a million impressions, about 300 conversions and we've impacted $1 million in terms of opportunities. A way that we're doing that is we actually have a funnel in our Pardot system and an integration back to Salesforce.

We have marketing qualified leads which is based off our scoring system that integrates back into Salesforce. So when somebody actually becomes an MQL that's attached to an opportunity so we could build an opportunity report and go back and look at that prospect activity to see if someone's actually attributed to these campaigns that we're running. I'd go back to the CEO and be like, "Hey, I need more money to keep fueling this and start building this up to be a more holistic integrated campaign."

It increased our brand recognition externally so a lot more people actually knew who we are because they kept seeing ads everywhere from us, which can be annoying but at least people were starting to know who we are and we were getting our logo in front of them. Before I came on board, marketing was viewed as this administrator reactive department, which I'm sure all of you have dealt with before, which is difficult, to come in and be that.

When people started seeing our ads internally, when they were on their websites or on their phones, they would send me screenshots and they would be like, “Hey, I see your ad. You guys are out there and doing something.” I'm like, well, we've been doing a lot over the last couple of months but this is the first time you're actually starting to see something from us digitally and getting in front of our prospects and our customers, and then also building our credibility and clout internally, which was a big thing that I wanted to do when I got on board at AHEAD. We ran through the process. We've been doing this really well.

We started getting more involved in Google AdWords and we're looking at some other platforms. I would say this is a great way to amplify your content. There's a lot of organic ways through SEO and social media but to give it that boost. After you've put all this time and effort into the content, how do you get in front of other customers and start driving real revenue? That's what we did here at AHEAD. That was the situation and here's how we made online advertising work for B2B. Thank you.