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How to use LinkedIn to find and sell B2B accounts

Local media agencies can use these tactics to find and sell into B2B categories

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Most media executives use LinkedIn primarily as a personal professional network or to research advertising contacts. But LinkedIn can also generate leads and close sales for B2B purposes and amplify campaigns for B2B clients.

Like Facebook sponsored posts, sponsored updates can be targeted to job titles, and it's a better B2B setting than Facebook. 

Unlike Facebook, there are typically very few fans and shares - so B2B customers are almost completely reliant on sponsored posts to distribute messages inexpensively to highly targeted customers or categories.

Think of the Facebook page as a place to reach readers, and LinkedIn as the page to reach companies. As Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, puts it, "LinkedIn is where you go to invest time; Facebook is where you go to waste time."  So LinkedIn in, while less "used" in daily life, can generate fantastic leads for some B2B customers.

Below are ten top ways to find leads and create demand marketing strategies for B2B companies using LinkedIn, developed in conjunction with Dennis Yu of BlitzMetrics (see also instructions for how to create a sponsored update - it can get tricky!)

1. Make the media your first  B2B client - and treat them like a client

A great inexpensive way to understand LinkedIn as a B2B marketing tool is to set up your own media company as a client. Local media are by nature B2B companies, as well as B2C, with the same challenges that other local B2B companies have - finding the right decision maker, delivering the right message for a competitive, analytical buy.

Find a list for a LinkedIn content schedule to promote your digital agency as your first B2B client here.

2. Assess which B2B categories have customers on LinkedIn

Not all companies have customers that use LinkedIn, but many do.

On a national level, customers for technology start-ups, selling B2B will almost certainly be using LinkedIn, as will all kinds of commercial professional services (commercial law, real estate, finance, accounting, health services) where the LinkedIn profile serves as a resume and business card. 

Top industries on Linkedin order of prominence:

• Higher education

•.Information technology and services

• Financial services

• Retail

• Computer software

• Marketing and advertising

• Hospital and health care

• Insurance

• Telecommunications

• Oil and energy

Of the top ten most "followed" companies on LinkedIn eight are tech companies. On a local level, business journal customers are typically on LinkedIn, as they tend to be networkers - and on LinkedIn. The newest industry with growth on LinkedIn is Charitable organizations.

Top three industries for social selling with LinkedIn are IT, Education, Business Services (insurance, real estate, banking and so on), and marketing and advertising  according to Kurt Shaver, CEO of the Sales Foundry.

3. Use LinkedIn for B2B prospecting

A great "soft way" to use LinkedIn is to identify key players at companies and send soft messages about any company news, job moves etc. Follow the local companies. Sooner or later the key executives will know who you are. And, of course, search for these top categories, by market and job title, so see who is there.

Alternatively, if you have a B2B list, use LinkedIn to research the background of executives you are calling on.

4. Develop a suite of LinkedIn products to sell

Basics products include a customized landing page, content creation, a lead capture landing page of some kind and sponsored updates.

• Customized company page

Too often company pages are after-thoughts, considered necessary but essentially "parked." Company pages are often searched by highly qualified job seekers, so this can be part of a recruitment strategy.

The launch of sponsored updates on August 6, 2013, changed the equation by allowing companies to push content marketing from the company page; making it powerfully utilitarian virtually overnight.

Sponsored updates reach key executives, so they need to be more carefully wrought. Make sure the key elements on the company page - Image, products and offers - are carefully rendered and up to date.

•  Content creation

The content can live on the client site - and be promoted via LinkedIn, and other kinds of targeting, to establish thought leadership, drive conversions via white papers, or deliver other messages for likes.

Remember: Sponsored updates should be highly interesting and exceptionally relevant to end users. The standards are actually higher than mere news - high enough to generate a professional  "like". 

When executed correctly, content generates demand by establishing thought leadership and expertise, in addition to direct marketing of white papers for lead generation. This lets companies reach outside their network to generate leads and track ROI from LinkedIn. 

"People misunderstand LinkedIn because historically it was used to communicate one to one person, person to person. With sponsored updates you can send newsfeeds to anyone," Yu said.

• Landing pages with email capture

This is the most overlooked element for B2B marketing sales, however, any content marketing needs to go back to the client site and be mapped from there to a lead capture. It could be just an article page with an email capture form, or a promotion, "Ten tactics for (making,saving) money on x", that leads to a lead capture page or both.

• Sponsored updates

Sponsored updates are essentially LinkedIn's own form of native ad.  Essentially the company "sponsors" its own posts, to send them outside the media's own network of contacts to any targeted audience on LinkedIn, where they appear as 'featured" posts inside the personal newsfeed:

Payment is a relatively inexpensive a "pay-per-click" platform. While the clicks can run $4 to $10 each, the targets are generally smaller and you are reaching key executives in targeted industries or even companies. Think of this as paying only for the pieces of direct mail that the top executive actually opened. Best practice here may be to plan to include a few hundred dollars in sponsored updates so that content created can be "amplified" across the LinkedIn network.

A company can still update to its' company page for free - especially job positions or other information for people who are actively seeking out information about the company itself. But company pages don't have anywhere near enough "followers" in the right categories to deliver a message.

The alternative is  over-exposing highly connected media executives by spamming their personal networks with company promotions - and they are still untargeted. So.... use sponsored updates of super-useful content to help a company gain "followers" just like Facebook likes - within the sphere of influence they select.

5. Create packages with three tiers- but go heavy on sponsored updates

Like other social media packages, identify the number of posts, pieces of content created and where they will reside. Unlike other kinds of social media however, sponsored updates will be the deliver mechanism, otherwise, there is essentially no traffic, so build some revenue for pay-per-click in to the programs - and be aggressive with it. Remember, a click or a like in the B2B universe can represent  significantly more revenue.

Yu claims that for most campaigns "without pushing the content, no amount of company contacts is enough."  So don't over-promise by posting content without a sponsored update strategy.

Cumulatively, over time, they will have to pay less - since they will have more followers, but today that is in the distant future.

This is especially true for campaigns aimed at the media's own potential customers (remember, your own media company is your first client).
"That is the biggest disconnect. (Media executives) don't understand that if you produce good content, you have to pay to make sure it's seen. They don't know you can reach people who have the job title of general manager at a car dealer," Yu said.

Besides this difference, packaging can simply be an iteration of B2B packages; there are essentially three basic products for B2B - SEM, retargeting/targeting, and social. If social is applicable, the B2B customer either wants to reach end users who are consumers - in which case B2C social media like Facebook and Pinterest are more applicable - or B2B, in which case LinkedIn may be a better choice, depending on the industry type.

So simply alter social packages to include LinkedIn as an option, but with much more aggressive paid updating.

6. Calculate  ROI - in advance

Don't let clients get hung up on the cost-per-click of sponsored updates; calculate ROI per lead from the get go. 

Sponsored updates show higher results than LinkedIn ads and bidding is less competitive because "it's so new."  So it is a great value.

To calculate the cost of a warm lead against alternatives to getting that warm lead, figure out the path to lead capture, the closing percentage from the client and the average sale. Typically, the ROI will be exceptional.

"(Because it's) so new, it's very effective. The cost (per click) is a lot higher than most mediums out there, but you know exactly who it is without sponsoring a trade show."

As a test example, LMI updated a post organically and received 792 views and no interaction; sponsoring the same update generated 13,982 views in 24 hours and 6 people liked us - redistributing the content to their network, and 2 people started to  follow our page for a total spend of about $24.

If this customer was worth, say $300,000 to $1 million a year, that would be a terrific ROI (unfortunately, they are not, but that's how to look at your new "warm" leads).

When done correctly, paid programs show ROI, so follow these tips to provide trackable results to show internal constituencies. 

7. To set up an account, create a list of top targets by by initiative. Then target by industry, job title and geographical area.

Sponsored updates allow media to target advertiser categories by city, company, job title and industry (see how to create and target a sponsored update here). So begin with the end in mind: Create the list of initiatives to promote.

For your own media company, for example, this could be launching your inhouse agency, selling mobile apps, creating a major event or driving SMB workshops.

Then create a short list of key categories.

We recommend starting with five, including at least one category the client wants to break into.

Knowing these priorities will give focus to the content marketing plan.

8. Four-in-five sponsored posts should be informative, not sales oriented

Because sponsored posts are relatively new, Yu says, "the first people to run (B2B) sponsored posts jammed them with straight up offers that were not entertaining and not informative, just 'Buy! Buy! Buy!' If you put the shoe on the other foot, it doesn't work like that...Only one in five posts can be a webinar."

Create sponsored posts that take advertisers through the sales funnel, such informational posts on a brand new topic, industry specific "Top Ten" strategies, case studies that show the authoring brand's expertise, and invitations to work shops. 

9. Have the content-marketing scheduled

As with Facebook posting, it is almost impossible to create the right mix of weekly sponsored posts on LinkedIn without a schedule. While most B2B marketers came out of the box with too many sales-oriented sponsored posts, local media are simply reposting business news, which keeps the page current and builds a following, but does not create a sales funnel.

A content marketing schedule - with content creation that resides on the client site - provides discipline to keep a true-marketing funnel in operation throughout the year, and drive customers on to client pages, where they can link directly to lead capture programs. Ultimately, the schedule is designed to connect with advertisers and generate leads.

We recommend a mix of industry specific posts, along with a mix of "calls to action" to attend events or webinars and softer, click here for a personal site review, prompts.

If your own media is your first client, here are some ideas for topics:

• Customer case studies

These make fantastic posts to push out to other companies in the same industry. 

• Proprietary industry trend information

Many companies have proprietary analytics or trend information they already track, which can be repurposed as content.

• Listicles with heavy use value for the B2B company's customers

Every company has areas of expertise that can be turned into listicles (this word was added to Oxford's online dictionary just this past week along with binge-watch).

Name a B2B category, such as commercial law, for example, and areas of expertise arise almost organically. "Ten more often filed lawsuits against commercial buildings" or "Five ways to get sued by employees" etc.

• Events 

If companies are attending trade shows that target customers may be at, this is a chance to send out an alert, "Five best x to look for at y trade show" next week.

• Best practices 

This is really just another form of listicle. For companies communicating to resellers, recognizing the top resellers and compile lists of what they do right. 

• Congratulate customer business success  and promotions

It never hurts to acknowledge your own clients - and your client's customers - of promotions and moves. For this you may need to send an inmail as well, but monitoring these activities and putting personal posts on the schedule is an important part of the content plan.

• Workshops, webinars and demos

A great way to soft-sell a workshop or webinar, is to upload video into your posts, sampling a bit of the information - enough to be useful, but listing all the other amazing topics that will be covered. And as long as you stick to the 1 in 5 rule, its perfectly fair game to invite followers and other groups to attend commercial promotional events.

• Seasonal prompts 

Always get a seasonal list from your B2B clients of whatever affects their customers buying patterns and use this for content and updating. This will help build out an annual calendar.

• Special offers 

Why not occasionally test a free offer, such as a free apples to apples comparison, a rebate toward first purchase, etc...

10. Use best practices in targeting 

LinkedIn has some very specific targeting capabilities and since the price per click is so high, this is important to master. Here are some tips on effectively targeting sponsored updates: 

• Put the name of the market and the target industry in the headline. 
Example: "Ten Completely Ethical Ways Dallas divorce attorneys can reach out to people in troubled marriages," or "Cincinnati Auto Dealer generates 1,000 new fans from Facebook promotion." 

• Iterate versions to appeal to different industry categories. Sponsored updates allow you to literally change the posts to appeal to different categories, which means the same post on say, Pinterest, can target retailers, restaurants, or other categories, with different versions.

• Make a list of top companies in each target industry and post them in the "company" field when selecting targets. Go broad in the selection of company titles to include all jobs that may influence a buying decision, not just the marketer. Generally this is minimally the general manager, owner, and sales manager. 

• Utilize "company" targeting for one-to-one communication such as thank you's and congratulations notes. This avoids the lengthy "request to connect" process required for one to one communication with people in that company. Again, a great choice for congratulatory or thank you messages aimed at just that group. Combine with Twitter via Hootsuite to get the full social impact.

Here's a list of job titles you can select from: 



11. Establish a variety of soft-opportunities to shift the relationship offline 

A weakness of content marketing on LinkedIn is that there is no way to track conversions - although it is possible to track "likes" and "follows" by name, with a link to the profile.

This is where the content landing page needs to have a prompt or lead capture of its' own. Neglecting this part of the process will turn this program into a cost rather than an investment.

Here are some additional ideas for "end of the article" lead capture, besides a white paper promotion: 

• Post a telephone number on the content landing page. Call tracking and/or email capture, with a prompt such as "For a free personalized report on your company's local web presence"  should be at the bottom of your posts.  

• Include links to "sign up for updates on free workshops in your area."

• "To talk to a specialist about creating a (mobile, social, targeted) strategy, call (this number)."

• Create a contest. For a media company, why not suggest a "Remake my marketing" with a benefit of $5,000 in free advertising to the winning entry?

Analytics do allow administrators to optimize posts and to see profiles of users that "liked" the post. So a soft follow-up from a sales rep - such as a "thank you," invitation to connect via LinkedIn, and comment, "If you are interested in discussing digital strategies at your company, feel free to contact me at (phone number and email) - is a great next step. Avoid a hard sales call immediately following a "like" of a post, the prospect may feel duped by the informational nature of the post.

Conclusion: B2B sales via LinkedIn is a courtship not a whirlwind romance

Unlike B2C decisions, which can be as spontaneous as finding a nearby restaurant, B2B purchases are analytical and often require 6 to 9 different kinds of information before a lead is generated.

A "word of mouth" referral or LinkedIn sponsored update could come first, midway or last in a series of different kinds of information sources, which could include meeting someone at an event, attending a workshop, or being called on by an area sales rep. Your potential customers will research the person that messages them, as well as company pages - or the client site behind a super-interesting post.

But online/offline combinations allowed by local LinkedIn marketing are especially powerful. 

B2B LinkedIn strategies with content for each stage in the funnel is important. If the "client" is your own local media company, for example, "wow" the advertiser with content before inviting them to a workshop.

"If (the copy) becomes promotion you become "that guy" selling, selling, selling, like the bums on the street corner who ask for change," Yu says.

Many thanks to Dennis Yu, CEO Blitz Metrics, Dennis@BlitzMetrics.com, for sharing his expertise with us. Here are some other helpful links:

 To set up sponsored updates, use this report.  

Facebook versus LinkedIn analyzed 

LinkedIn's Sponsored Updates Users Guide

Find technologies to execute campaign strategies in the directory, MediaExecsTech.com.

Recommended in this story:

- SEM provider Matchcraft and retargeting with Simpli.fi

Dennis Yu Dennis Yu, Chief Technology Officer, BlitzMetrics

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