Marketing to Enterprise Customers: A Guide to Paid Advertising
April 13, 2023
April 13, 2023
Right Side Up and Right Percent recently hosted a virtual event on how to incorporate paid advertising when marketing to enterprise customers. The session was led by Kevin Lord Barry, co-founder of Right Percent, a Right Side Up venture focused on scaling fast-growing B2B companies. You can check out the recap below, or watch the full webinar here.
B2B target audiences are small. And this is never truer than with enterprise B2B, where your audience of decision makers is often less than 10,000 people worldwide. So how should this factor into your paid advertising strategy? What works, and what doesn’t work? Let’s dive in.
The Problem with Marketing to Enterprise Customers
When it comes to marketing to enterprise audiences, the biggest challenge might seem obvious—there are simply fewer potential leads out there. But another issue that is commonly overlooked when dealing with audiences of this size is the effect on the iteration cycle (which, as you probably know, is the key to ad campaign success).
A regular B2B ad account uses performance data to improve the allocation of spending, learning which strategies and tactics lead to better results. It’s how we improve efficiencies continuously over months and years in our ad campaigns. This type of iteration is much harder with enterprise ads. Because you have limited statistically significant data points to work with, it’s more challenging to use that data to inform how to shift your budget allocation between campaigns.
In enterprise advertising, the smaller audience size and higher cost per lead hinder your ability to optimize campaigns for performance. And if that’s not enough of a headache for you, these factors also impact algorithmic optimization, too. Modern ad algorithms require a lot of signal-rich conversion data to work well. A typical enterprise campaign structure starves the algorithm of the necessary data. Essentially, you and the algos are struggling for the same reasons.
Before we explain what does work for enterprise advertising, let’s check out what doesn’t work.
Avoid these Mistakes When Marketing to Enterprise Customers
There are two approaches to optimization that don’t typically perform when advertising to enterprise prospects:
- Optimizing on clicks or views (since you get so many more of them)
- Optimizing for leads or MQLs
Since you’re starved for data in this situation, it might seem smart to use the data you do have abundantly to make decisions. For example, if campaign A gets twice as many clicks as campaign B, it’s twice as good, right? Probably not.
Unless you’re running a methodically organized brand awareness campaign, CPM and CPC are merely vanity metrics. On modern platforms, they may have no correlation with the ability of ads to attract qualified leads. An ad that attracts clicks from lots of small companies or non decision makers will have a great CTR but a negligent conversion rate, leading to wasted time and money on your end.
And optimizing for leads or MQLs on their own can also result in misleading metrics. As anyone who's worked in the B2B sphere knows, some leads will convert to customers much better than others. It’s risky business to put all your eggs in the MQL basket.
Successful Tactics for Enterprise Leads with Paid Ads
Before you get scared away from running paid ads to enterprise audiences, we have good news: there are tactics that often yield success.
- Create a reliable system of quantitatively valuing leads
- Use a product strategy with full market coverage
- Build rock solid third-party audiences
Creating a quantitative lead value
We highly recommend you focus on creating a quantitative lead value that can be determined within a few days of lead creation. Several variables, including the ones listed below, can all go into this calculation:
- Answers on the lead form (e.g. number of employees, title, budget, etc.)
- Sales activity (e.g. did they open the email?)
- Site activity (e.g. did they watch the demo video or try your free trial?)
When trying to land enterprise deals, it’s never a good idea to optimize ad accounts based on closed won deals. Why? They take too long and have too many touches. But by creating a leading indicator lead event—one that you reliably know is worth $X—you can optimize on that and save the campaign.
The importance of full market coverage
We’ve already established that enterprise is a big pond with few fish in it. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring everything but the biggest fish. If you can only convert leads at companies that have over 5,000 employees, you’ll end up throwing out a large percentage of your paid ad clicks. The most successful enterprise acquisition-focused ad accounts also have a path for smaller, less valuable customers to convert.
It’s harder to make advertising prospecting campaigns viable without casting a wide net across the (already) small audience. But that also doesn’t mean you should have your top salesperson calling every tiny prospect out there. Here are a few examples of different paths that allow for better market coverage for smaller leads while avoiding burnout for your team:
- Biggest leads speak with a white glove sales team
- Medium-sized leads are sent to other sales teams
- Smaller leads are pushed towards a free trial
Different levels of touchpoints should correlate with the potential size of the lead. And it’s sometimes worth exploring partnerships with other companies to handle lower quality leads to free up your time for the top prospects.
Be smart about third-party audiences
Running paid ads when marketing to enterprise audiences looks different depending on which platform you’re using. And across the major platform options—Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and Meta Ads—there are some that are better suited for specific types of targeting than others. Get lists from your sales teams or other platforms, like 6sense, and upload those lists to the platforms.
Here are the top platforms and the targeting that works best for each, in order of effectiveness:
- Google Ads: manual targeting (keywords), algorithmic targeting, third-party targeting; not good for exact match lists
- LinkedIn Ads: best for third-party targeting (6Sense, uploads, etc.); manual targeting (job history), algorithmic targeting
- Meta Ads: algorithmic targeting, manual targeting (interests), third-party targeting (Bombora, API, etc.)
There is beauty (and efficiency) in understanding how different platforms align with different types of targeting; if you’re confident in your ability to create appropriate audiences to target on each platform, you don’t need to rely on feedback loops as much. You don’t need to worry about dealing with low-quality leads or making sure the algorithm selects the best of your list since it should all be good leads. And you know every click or view is valuable—you can go back and bid on that audience for clicks or views or impression share.
However, the issue with third-party targeting is that it often exhausts itself quickly. It doesn’t take long to serve an ad (or two or ten) to everyone on your list, eliminating your low-hanging fruit and leaving you back where you started.
How can you solve this snafu? Create a stream of high-quality content that your audience loves. Good content fights ad fatigue like nothing else. You can keep serving engaging, actionable content to an audience with a good ROI for a long time and still hold their interest. And each content piece that lands with your audience makes it easier for your sales team to close the client.
Best Channels for Marketing to Enterprise B2B Customers
As we’ve covered, there are multiple platforms out there that let you connect with enterprise B2B leads. Let’s take a look at our top picks:
Targeting via Google works best for reaching B2B companies in a market where customers already have intent and are searching for a product like yours. They know what they want, they’re actively searching for it, and they just need to find you.
But keep in mind that Google is the most competitive ad channel—it’s often hard for challenger companies to get a good ROI in a well established business niche. The more value you can capture per click, the more likely you are to do well in search. And keep in mind that the better your business holds up against direct comparison to your competitors, the better you’ll do in both ad performance and overall conversions. That means having a great website, strong brand, etc.
LinkedIn is best for targeting employees of larger B2B companies with specific attributes. You know exactly who your ideal lead is and just need to get your product in front of them. Content ads will be your best bet most of the time (as opposed to direct to demo ads) and we’ll say it again—good content is king in enterprise B2B. LinkedIn’s algorithmic targeting isn’t great, but its exact targeting is good.
If you’re just starting out with paid advertising (and likely have a limited budget), LinkedIn is a great place to start. We recommend a minimum of $10K for an initial test. Ads that combine offers and content typically work best, like offering a guide, template, ebook, tools, etc.
On its own, Facebook is almost impossible to scale for enterprise B2B. But if you combine it with efficient retargeting campaigns, Facebook can be a helpful step in your conversion process.
Other ad channels
Working with the platforms mentioned above should be enough to keep you busy for a while, but there are several other channels you could explore for enterprise B2B ads, including YouTube, TikTok, Quora, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. Our team has tested these options extensively and they can work, but it’s simply not as easy to scale with these channels. We don’t recommend testing into these areas unless you’ve already found success and exhausted leads on Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Other Key Differences Between Enterprise B2B and Non-Enterprise B2B Ads
Because of the smaller lead pool, more complex decision-making process, and larger overall price points, enterprise B2B advertising differs from other types of B2B advertising. How?
- The sales team leads the charge
- The lines between prospecting and retargeting are blurred
- Cohort analysis is even more important
This might be a tough one to wrap your head around, but enterprise account acquisition is driven by the sales team, not the marketing team. This is unlike B2C or B2SMB, where the sales team, when it exists, is there as an additional part of the conversion path instead of a main driver of new business.
And with long sales cycles, the line between prospecting and retargeting is blurred for enterprise advertising. Every user that enters your prospecting campaign will also see retargeting ads before signing the contract. This would be unheard of in B2C ecommerce or even B2SMB ads.
Finally, with long periods of time between lead create date and close date, you must measure down-funnel performance against the week you initially made your ad spend, not against the date of the closed deal. Otherwise, your weekly down-funnel data will have no tie in to your actual ad tactics and strategy.
How to measure mature enterprise ad accounts
We recommend weekly reports on spend, leading indicator conversion, and cost per leading indicator conversion. Where applicable, the reports should also have down-funnel conversion, but this should be set up as a vintage measure that automatically updates over time.
Marketing to enterprise companies is difficult because there are fewer reliable conversions to inform your iteration. But if you focus on creating leading indicator conversion events, using a full market approach, and building solid third-party audience lists, scaling enterprise B2B ads is possible.