Seamless objectives and processes between sales and marketing departments is a major theme for sales enablement, and aligning sales enablement initiatives with digital marketing and lead gen just makes sense. For example, sales reps can direct customers to the web if they’re confident that your online marketing content is useful, relevant and engaging. From a lead gen point of view, search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, alongside well-targeted paid media, and content and social media marketing, makes your company more visible to prospects, so they’re more likely to be familiar with your brand (and its reputation) when a sales rep makes that first contact.

However, while search and digital marketing is common practice for B2C businesses, some B2B companies have taken the view that traditional marketing, such as channel partnerships, a direct salesforce, networking events and word of mouth, are more appropriate for their market.

Even before inside sales necessarily became the dominant model for all businesses following lockdown and social distancing, the figures regarding the relevance of online visibility to B2B were persuasive, given that 61% of all B2B decision-makers start their process with a web search, and 71% won’t have a conversation with a salesperson until they’ve undertaken their own online research.

In this post, we'll go through the digital activities sales enablement can use to improve your visibility, generate engagement with relevant individuals who are actively looking for businesses like yours, nurture leads and develop your sales pipeline.

We’ll concentrate on owned and earned media, including:

  • SEO techniques
  • Off-page digital marketing
  • Email marketing

Benefits of digital marketing for B2B

Precise targeting for more effective lead gen

In most B2B environments, the goal of your digital lead generation strategy is to drive traffic to your website or engage with your business in another way - but these leads need to be relevant - marketing qualified leads (MQLs - those who have expressed interest in your business) or sales qualified leads (SQLs - those who may be at a stage to purchase) - in order to be worthwhile pursuing.

Efficiency in identifying and nurturing leads is especially important in B2B, where more complicated decision-making processes means the sales cycle is much longer than B2C - it takes a longer term investment to nurture leads to fruition.

Digital marketing has a significant advantage over traditional in this respect - as it allows you to precisely target prospects with different levels of intent, e.g., through identifying the keywords people are using to find you online, segmentation for online advertising, etc.

For B2B especially, your digital strategy is also important to support other sales channels by showcasing your brand’s expertise and thought leadership when prospects are researching your company.

Demonstrable results

In the business world, it’s results that matter most. It’s easy to track and measure the performance of your efforts online, to demonstrate ROI to stakeholders and, importantly, to tweak your strategy to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

So we’ve seen that around two thirds of your prospective customers are looking for what you offer online using search engines.

SEO is about optimizing your website to increase the chances of it appearing on relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). It works at every stage of the sales funnel, not just for direct sales/conversions, for example:

Brand awareness and interest stages: i.e., when people Google general questions related to how they carry out their job.

“What engineering conferences are taking place in my area this year?”

Interest and consideration: i.e., when people are researching the kind of solutions your business provides, and/or comparing prices and packages.

“Product designers and manufacturers.”

Consideration and decision stages: i.e., when people are familiar with your brand, or have been recommended to them, and they’re ready to make contact and/or make a purchase.

“DDC Engineering Solutions review.”

Research is the foundation of every area of marketing. Here’s how we break down the stages for SEO:

Research phase

Customer personas

To develop viable leads, you need clarity about who the stakeholders and decision-makers are - and what motivates them; who in the company would be making the actual purchase (who holds the purse strings) and who would be using it. You can’t rely on assumptions.

For the purposes of search and digital marketing, the focus is on offering high quality content in a relevant context to create a rich, personalized experience for your target audience so that they want to find out more. This requires thorough research into your target audience using analytics tools such as Google Analytics, and by studying their online behavior:

  • How and when they use the internet
  • The search terms they use
  • The way they interact with your content
  • Their social media activity

The best way to start this research is by defining your target audience through the creation of customer personas for each audience profile you are hoping to reach and engage with, including job title, characteristics, etc. These personas should be entirely dynamic, open to updates in line with your business’ changing priorities, however, it is important for you to have at least sketched an outline to build on.

Competitor research

Analyzing your current and potential competitors’ SEO activities will allow you to assess your own position in the market, and provide a context in which to make strategic decisions for your business online. Evaluating their strengths and weaknesses against your own will reveal where there are growth opportunities for your own visibility and user experience.

After all, if you want to gain an edge on your competitors, you need to know what they’re doing online. The two main considerations are:

  • Their strengths: How can you incorporate what they’re doing well into your own strategy?
  • Their weaknesses: Are you repeating the same mistakes they’re making?

It’s vital to understand your current position in the online market and it doesn’t matter if you are a new brand just starting out or an established market leader; there is always room for improvement.

There’s a wealth of analytical information available at your disposal - including tools such as SearchMetrics, and Moz’s Open Site Explorer that allow you to track your performance metrics alongside those of your competitors (as well as identify competitors you may not have realized you have!).

Another fantastic tool is Google Trends, which allows you check current search patterns, how they've have changed over time, vary by region, compare against other search terms, and more.

Google Trend allows you check search patterns

All of this contributes toward the success of your online strategy by enabling you to:

  • Identify areas for improvement and opportunity
  • Determine how other organizations achieve high performance levels
  • Use this information to improve performance

Keyword research

Knowing which keywords to target is pivotal to your organic search visibility and overall digital strategy. A ‘keyword’ is a word or phrase that is used as a search query by searchers in order to find answers to questions, find goods or services or address any other search requirement. You need to carry out research to identify the phrases and topics to target to create high quality content that meets your target customers’ needs.

As well as helping your site to rank on Google (other search engines are available!), thorough keyword research will give you a much greater insight into what your customers want. This will allow you to increase your visibility, improve the relevance of your traffic, reduce irrelevant traffic or leads, and enhance user experience.

Google’s Keyword Planner Tool and Google Trends can help you to quantify search volume and identify which of these should be the focus of your efforts. Ideally you’re looking for the golden ratio of low competition and high volume. The focus should be on quality as well as quantity: effective keyword research requires an understanding of a searcher’s intent so that you can produce on-page content that resonates with them and makes them want to find out more.

People search for a variety of reasons. Common reasons in the B2B sector include searching to:

  • Understand a product category
  • Learn about a product or solution
  • Solve a specific business problem
  • Keep informed about new approaches

On-page optimization

Your website needs to be built on a technically-sound foundation. Well-executed technical on-page SEO helps both search engines and human users to find and read your website, improving search rankings and user experience (UX).

It includes aspects such as:

  • URL best practice: Start with the basics.
  • Site structure: Vital to user experience and crawler indexing.
  • Site speed: An important factor for ranking and minimizing bounce.
  • Mobile optimization: More people are now searching using mobile devices to search than PCs.
  • HTML: Meta, header & image tags, links and semantic markup.
  • Canonicalization: Are visitors and search engines seeing what you want them to?

On-page content

Once you’ve carried out your keyword research (which should be an ongoing activity) and developed your personas, you can focus on what content your audience wants to read, learn or see, particularly on your: landing pages, category/product pages, blog posts, or FAQs pages.

Good B2B content focuses on solutions that address customers’ needs and help them achieve a positive business outcome. It will also be rewarded by Google in its search results, as the search engine’s algorithms are advanced enough to recognize high quality content: that which is unique, substantial, engaging and relevant.

But what type of content resonates the most with a B2B audience? Forrester Research carried out an extensive study to find out the key things that B2B prospects look for on potential suppliers’ websites:

Customer/peer examples

Business buyers want content featuring your customers — their peers — who share experiences, pain points, and success stories. According to Forrester, B2B buyers say industry or peer case studies, testimonials and reviews are the most valuable type of content when exploring and making buying decisions. Remember that B2B buyers can be more risk averse than those in the B2C sector as they have to take accountability for their spending decisions!

Content from credible sources

Business leaders told researchers they rely most on content developed by industry analysts/experts when making technology buying decisions. At the very least, ensure your content is proofread and fact-checked.

Short content

Buyers prefer content that is concise, with shorter formats capturing two out of the top three spots for content types that buyers prefer to interact with.

Easy-to-consume content

B2B buyers don’t have time to browse through swathes of poorly targeted content. Visuals, such as diagrams, infographics and video can get your message across quickly and effectively, e.g., on landing pages and product pages. However, longer-form content going into more detail should be available on your website for visitors who want to find out more, for example, short-form content can link back to more substantial service pages, blog posts and FAQs.

They don’t want...

Product features

It’s an oldie but, when you’re looking to generate leads, buyers want to know, for example, how they can save time and impress the board with clear sales reports, rather than your software’s wide spectrum of functionality, special characteristics, and other descriptive qualities. Save that for further down the sales funnel.

Off-page digital marketing

Your off-page digital marketing activity (i.e., that which appears on third party websites, such as online industry publications and social media - also known as ‘earned media’) is incredibly important to:

  • Showcase your brand in relevant places, where your audience is likely to see it.
  • Demonstrate credibility - especially when your brand and website are cited on websites with high perceived reputation.
  • Build genuine, organic inbound links from influential and trustworthy sources (i.e., those which Google interprets to have high ‘authority’): another important SEO factor.

Using content marketing, influencer outreach and social amplification can differentiate your B2B brand, improve your search engine ranking and make stronger connections.

Content marketing

Not only the preserve of B2C, content is a powerful medium of engagement and persuasion. But in B2B informing buyers, and the wider business community, is the focus rather than entertaining. It’s about starting a conversation, with both empathy and credibility.

Examples of assets you could produce include eBooks, whitepapers (industry research and thought leadership are particularly appealing to a business audience), infographics, video, animated visuals and more, that are relevant and engaging.

Your B2B audience, as individuals, ‘consume’ content, and, like B2C customers, are looking for ways to ‘solve problems’ but their expectations about the type of value it will deliver is fundamentally different because the customer/buying journey is different (and more complicated).

91% of B2B marketers are doing content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute. However, they also found there are still issues with strategic planning and bringing in leads - and only 30% of B2B marketers say their organizations are using content marketing to its full potential.

It is key to delivering superior customer experience, through the right content, at the right time. Content marketing is not advertising, or ‘hard sell’; it needs to add real value to your audience.

A B2B company that’s done unique off-site content marketing well is Unbounce, a landing page software company based in Vancouver. Building on its successful blog, the company recognized that it could leverage their expertise beyond the written word to create a video microsite, Page Fights.

Unbounce's Page Fights campaign

Page Fights contained live streams of marketing optimization expert panels who critiqued landing pages in real time. Not only is the visual, ‘snackable’ format highly engaging, but its irreverent - often controversial - style allowed the brand’s personality to shine through and added an appealing ‘human’ element in a B2B space that’s often dominated by dry, formal content. Again, remember that B2B consumers are individuals with a sense of humor too.

Outreach and PR

Outreach is about maximizing the amplification of your content marketing efforts through:

  • Building relationships with ‘influencers’ – bloggers and websites that operate in your niche - by encouraging them to participate with and share content that will appeal to their readership.
  • Creating newsworthy press releases that resonate with journalists.
  • Establishing yourself as an industry thought leader/authority and a source of great content.
  • Earning high-quality links to your site through useful and remarkable content in the process.

Social media

LinkedIn is the social platform of choice for generating B2B leads, allowing you to get in front of decision-makers, influencers, and other professionals. With over 500 million users, it is a fantastic platform to pick up tips from industry experts, establish your own expertise and widen your professional network.

Once seen by many as the somewhat poorer relation to hipper cousins Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, over recent years professional networking platform LinkedIn has taken strides to become more attractive to marketers and advertisers.

As well as focusing on encouraging more authentic interaction and engagement, LinkedIn has developed a more data-driven approach to the content it surfaces for members and suggestions it makes for people, companies and hashtags to follow, Groups to join etc.

Here are some of our tips to increase your visibility and make the most of LinkedIn’s features:

  • Focus on quality content

LinkedIn has focused on inspiring members to put more thought into the content they post, rather than simply blasting out sales messages. Its content suggestion feature surfaces topics and content that are trending within a business’ industry and target audience. This feature recommends specific articles for company pages to share and better engage with their followers.

LinkedIn focuses on surfacing quality content
  • Improve your interaction in Groups

The increasing emphasis on sharing meaningful content and stimulating genuine conversations has had a particular impact on the way Groups operate. Once it was possible to share to multiple Groups from a blog post or webpage with little or no context, but this scattergun approach has been removed, encouraging members to make a deliberate effort to visit the Group’s page and engage in more authentic conversations with other members.

It’s also possible to allow those outside your connection network to ‘follow’ you as a member rather send you a connection request; this means they are more likely to see your content in their feed and join your conversation, making it easy to establish a relationship and share your insights with people who are interested in what you have to say.

  • Enhance your posts

Posting videos (which automatically play in your audience’s feed), and tag both individuals and organizations in posts, is a good way to give recognition, notify them of something that may be of interest or encourage them to respond in some way.

If you’re a company page admin, you have the option of notifying your employees when you post to a page (limited to once a week), so that they can like, comment or reshare.

Encourage employee advocacy on LinkedIn

You can also reshare your employees’ public LinkedIn posts from their page, and to respond to and reshare any posts on LinkedIn where a company’s Page is mentioned, like customer testimonials and product reviews. These tactics allow you to showcase conversations that people are having about your business, helping your brand stand out above the crowd, while facilitating employee advocacy (research shows that employees’ social posts can generate up to 8x more engagement than the same information when posted by their employers).

But, as we’ve emphasized, B2B doesn’t have to be boring and uncreative. LinkedIn advertising agency Seed to Branch regularly publishes fun, empathetic - and often interactive - content that’s still appropriate for their target clients: businesses looking to catch the eye of their audience on this social media platform. They all use their own hashtag - #studio888 - to highlight their regularly-posted spoof recreations of movies.

They also do a great job of tagging in relevant individuals and companies, and also sharing the work, to increase reach and engagement.

Seed to Branch leverage their content well on LinkedIn

Email marketing

Email marketing is one of the most cost effective marketing tools. According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing on average sees a 4300% ROI for businesses.

Campaigns can be centered around a monthly newsletter, notifying people about promotions, or even abandoned basket follow-up emails.

As well as maximizing the reach of your content and amplifying your brand’s message, it is easy to manage, gives you full control, and allows you to establish a direct contact with your online audience.

The beauty of an email marketing campaign is that you can communicate a vast amount of information, in bulk, to a targeted audience in an instant. You can use them to share a variety of resources, information, messages, images and links.

Other benefits include:

  • Pre-engagement

Emails are one of the few forms of marketing that users choose to receive. By opting into or registering their interest on your website, they have often asked you to directly contact them about future products, services or to offer the latest news. This level of engagement with your audience often leads to higher rates of engagement and conversion.

A word of warning: unsolicited emails can not only appear ‘spammy’, but could also lead to a fine under the privacy law, GDPR.

  • Segmentation and targeting

Marketing automation platforms, such as Act-on, Pardot and Hubspot, allow you to easily segment your marketing list and create email campaigns that are tailored to, for example, those who have previously engaged, shown an interest in a particular product or topic, with a specific job function or who have met other criteria.

  • Tracking

You can conduct your own in-house tests to find out the headlines that are encouraging a higher open rate, the links that are being clicked and the calls to action that are resonating with a particular contact list.

  • Lead scoring

Email marketing campaigns linked to analytics and automation platforms use ‘lead scoring’ - a points based system that allows you to generate a funnel tailored to your brand’s overall sales and marketing objectives, where you assign unique values to each element of your campaign, such as email click-throughs and website visits. This helps to paint an overall picture of how your audience interacts with your brand, enabling leads to be managed more effectively.

What makes a good lead gen email?

  • Personalization

This boosts click through rates, turns readers into website visitors, and then become leads.

  • Visual appeal

In terms of overall design, layout, branding etc. You should also ensure it displays correctly for the different email providers recipients may be using.

  • Incentivization

Think how quickly your own inbox fills up with businesses vying or your attention. Offer them something to encourage them to open, such as a gift or a downloadable asset, and they will be more likely to respond.

  • Timing

Make sure that your emails hit your audience’s inbox at the peak of their likeliness to engage. Learn from previous open rates to target certain times, days and months.

  • Integration

Your strategy should convey the same message as, and complement, all the other elements of your marketing strategy.

  • Copy

Consider all aspects of the language, from subject line through to your call to action. The latter should give a compelling reason to click through to your website. Don’t just take your customers to your home page; show them exactly where you want them to go and make it quick and easy to complete transactions, forms and sales.

In this data-driven era, digital marketing makes it easier and more cost effective to achieve tailored B2B campaigns, that target core decision-makers, and help build sales pipelines.

Want even more content, insights, and best practice tips from senior sales enablement practitioners? Don’t forget to register for your free pass to the Sales Enablement Festival, Oct 28-30!