Leads, leads, leads! It’s the cry of B2B marketers everywhere, and for good reason. But consider this…do you try to force your offline relationships into spaces they’re not ready for? Or do you instead nurture relationships with prospects and customers in ways that work for them as you build trust and gently nudge them toward doing (or continuing) business with you?
So why is the web any different? Oh, I know. It’s the online disinhibition effect isn’t it? Since cyberspace isn’t face-to-face, we get overly courageous and think we should forget about all the wooing it takes offline to land an account. We want to instead cut right to the chase – let’s do business!
This is the perspective a lot of B2B marketers struggle with when we talk to them about a strategy for reaching their audience online. They want their only KPIs to be Leads Generated and Cost Per Lead. For me, suggesting there should be budgets for campaigns whose success isn’t directly tied to those metrics feels like it typically falls on deaf ears. But it shouldn’t!
The Virtual Golf Course
Especially in the B2B space, we should be thinking about the web as a virtual golf course, so to speak. Not that the golf course is THE place where business gets done offline, but it’s become a symbol of developing offline relationships. When buyers and sellers first get together in the midst of a long sales cycle offline, they usually start by getting to know one another. Buyers communicate their needs, their pains, their past experiences, etc. Sellers communicate their unique position in the marketplace, their strengths as a company, etc. You’re not closing a deal online, so why act like you want to?
When you’re interacting with prospects and customers offline, the KPIs of those interactions are more intangible. That’s what I want to talk about here. There are “soft” KPIs we should be paying attention to, and therefore putting time, money and energy into improving. What we must remember is our success with these metrics directly correlate with our success with our holy grail metrics of Leads and Sales. But too often they’re ignored and marketers wonder why they’re not more successful with their digital marketing efforts.
Market Intelligence gained
Promoting valuable content for your audience to consume encourages engagement that can become a barometer of customer opinion about your industry, your competitors and your business. You can use their reactions and engagements as indications of how they feel about specific issues, products, features, etc. This can lead to offering solutions through product tweaks or altogether new products.
By creating and promoting your own content, you’re positioning yourself in the minds of those you interact with as the solution to their problem when they encounter it. Your goal here is to educate and inform, not to sell. Get inside the minds of your customers and feed them the information they need to make their lives easier – from the simple to the complex.
Instead of waiting for customers to seek you out about their problems, provide answers before they ask for them through proactively promoting solutions to common issues. Even better, take it a step further by providing tips for getting more value from your product/service on a regular basis. It’s not always readily apparent to a customer how they can extract the most value out of what you offer. Doing this supplies a higher ROI to your customers and makes it more likely they’ll continue to do business with you.
In support situations, openness and speed can be differentiators when lost time equates to lost ROI.
(I’ll admit, I had to look up the plural of crisis :).)
Digital provides the opportunity for companies to do crisis management and containment within minutes. This can do wonders in averting the PR effects of unplanned negative situations.
I once had a client who was a travel agent for cruises to antarctica. One day a cruise ship got stranded in the Drake Passage, some of the roughest waters in the world. Mistakenly, news outlets identified my client as the owner of the ship (which they weren’t). As you can imagine, they started getting bombarded by media and customers wondering what was going on. Having your brand tied to a ship that breaks down isn’t a great thing.
But the good news is we were able to go into crisis containment mode and communicate the truth about the owner of the ship through all of their digital channels within hours of reports starting to surface. We used their brand keywords through search, as well as their social media channels to promote ads that communicated they weren’t owners of the ship and led to a press release with more details. Within hours, the mayhem had died down. Being able to do this saved the company a lot of headache.
When you do a good job with building trust through educating, informing and interacting with your audience online, you’re going to get feedback from customers that’s invaluable. If you’re wise, you’ll connect your customers directly with those who build the products they use. Not only will customers feel like they’re being heard, but the product people will have information they can use as they continue to build your products.
When it comes to content, remember that you can promote more than information. You can ask questions, set up surveys, create polls, etc. But make sure you do it in a way that communicates you’re genuinely wanting to learn about your customers’ experiences. Again, do not try to sell people under any circumstances.
Where Paid Comes In
There are lots of way you can drive these KPIs organically online, but the PPC channel provides a few major advantages for you…
You have more control over your reach. PPC gives you the ability to reach a bigger audience quickly. Because of things like the Zuck Death Spiral, and being at the mercy of Google spiders through Organic Search, you may not always get the reach your content deserves for the effort you put into it. PPC gives you the ability to decide what your reach will be.
You have control over the placement. Like in my cruise example above, simply putting something somewhere on your website doesn’t mean people are going to find it. With PPC, you can push out content into places you might not reach organically. You can also control the locations, times, devices, etc. that are appropriate to each situation.
You have more control over timing. Like I mentioned before, even if you post things digitally, there’s many situations where your customers have to seek you out to find the answer. With PPC, you can seek them out. Being proactive like this makes it less likely that key prospects and customers will miss what you’re communicating.
A Word About Measurement
In the digital world, we’ve gotten spoiled with being able to so easily tie campaigns to actions that deliver tangible value. So, it’s understandable to experience a mixture of frustration and confusion over how you justify a more abstract KPI like “trust built” to those who decide on your marketing budget.
But, you can do so by using metrics that communicate what’s going on in your community like conversation rate, amplification rate, and applause rate. These metrics answer questions like: How much conversation is going on around my content?, How likely is my audience to share my content with others? and How likely is my audience to communicate to me that they liked my content? (for a detailed look at these metric, go here.)
You can use these types of metrics to tell a story of how your content and its promotion has led to customer interaction. If that’s story’s a good one, you should be able to keep that budget.