3 Ways We Failed at B2B PPC in 2014

Business-to-business PPC isn’t always as straightforward as the retail sector. Oftentimes, PPC managers are presented with interesting scenarios and unique products and services that require a lot of creativity (to say the least) on the advertising side to try to make it work. Many times, we’re presented with situations that have the odds stacked against them, but we say yes anyway.

In the spirit of reflection as the year comes to a close, I want to share with you three scenarios that just didn’t pan out this year with the PPC campaigns we created, and give tips on what we’ve learned so that you may learn from our mistakes.

1. Promoting B2B Products That Weren’t Fully Developed

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It might seem a little crazy to take on a project where the product line isn’t fully developed yet, but a client approached us with the idea to start generating buzz early with a couple prototypes ready for sale.

From our experience with this industry, a niche B2B educational product, we knew that PPC was a challenge in general. But this client had a strong brand backing the new product, and we were up for the challenge.

We did everything we could – made sure the account structure was set up with best practices in mind, obtained a healthy budget, explored the industry-specific keywords driving demand, and ensured the ad messaging reflected the benefits and the brand.

The ads drove interested parties to a website, which only featured a couple of the products out of many planned. The website itself was still working out bugs; although functional at a basic level, it was “bare bones.”

In the end, the results fell flat. Looking back, it’s hard to say whether the program failed because the industry niche was not a good fit for PPC, or if it was simply too soon in the process to launch a campaign.

What you can learn from our mistakes:

  • Ensure it’s the right time in the launch process to go live with a PPC campaign. Although PPC can be a great way to generate buzz in some cases, the campaign needs to be very deliberate about that purpose and the timeline associated with it.
  • Manage expectations, even if it’s not a popular perspective. Sometimes a “let’s try it and see” approach is just fine, but it’s important to bring your wisdom and expectations to the table so everyone knows that based on the factors, it could fail.

2. Promoting a B2B Business and Offering on Its Death Bed

toy-soldier-ppc

PPC has the ability to generate targeted leads for B2B sales, but it’s not a miracle worker. So if you know an offering is about to fizzle out in terms of customer demand, or if the company is going under, you can’t expect any form of advertising or marketing to help significantly.

We knew that going into a couple of PPC campaigns this year, but we still took them on. One campaign intended to revive a dying B2B offering that never sold well. The other tried to bring a business back to life after its website had been hit by a Google penalty.

In the case of the fizzled B2B offering, no one – not even the client – was expecting much to happen from PPC. However, the other example I shared had a bit more riding on it.

This client came to us after experiencing a Google penalty from bad SEO practices implemented by a service provider. The client’s website disappeared from the results altogether, and the revenue loss was devastating to the business.

Before coming to us for help, this client let go of its PPC agency to try to save some money by crowdsourcing PPC, which essentially eradicated any chance of a meaningful impact that PPC could have on the business.

We worked hard to help this client keep their business open, but we also made it very clear when they came on board that PPC was not the magic bullet, and we can’t undo what’s been done.

In the end, we were able to lift the PPC account by 25 percent from where it was, but this business never really recovered from those SEO and PPC missteps, and had to close their doors a few months later.

What you can learn from our mistakes:

  • Make sure you’re really prepared to take on the inevitable. PPC can be fun and rewarding when things are going great for a business – and even better when PPC is the thing that gives a business that extra lift. But when the success or failure of a business or its offerings is riding solely on PPC, it’s almost inevitable that it will fail, and that it will be an emotional ride on both sides.

3. Promoting B2Bs With Non-Competitive Budgets

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It’s a fact that for every one mega-brand, there are a handful of smaller brands with similar solutions that want to be able to compete in the paid search results right alongside the big boys. As a PPC manager, you have to not only be creative with advertising the differentiators, but also acquire a competitive budget.

When we took on a B2B software tech company that had competitors like Hewlett-Packard, we knew we had a challenge ahead of us. But we also knew, based on our experience, that paid search was an important way to reach the client’s target market (keeping in mind that according to the 2013 Capterra “Software Buying Trends Industry Report,” buyers go online first when researching software options).

This client came to us with very high expectations. We managed to bring in leads at a cost per acquisition (CPA) of $200 on average. We were very pleased considering one qualified lead meant a six-figure sale.

But the client had a very specific target market; they only wanted certain industries in need of certain tech solutions. Even after many ads and landing page iterations, we still weren’t able to bring in the ideal lead.

Over time, we found that we just couldn’t compete for the keywords and volume needed against behemoth paid search budgets like those coming from HP. We managed to bring in one to two leads per week, but it still was not enough.

We kept thinking we were getting closer, but the client gave up, citing they just couldn’t afford the budget.

What you can learn from our mistakes:

  • Be realistic about what you can do with the budget you have. When taking on accounts with massive competitors, make sure you’re assessing the campaign needs against what’s possible on your end. You may decide not to take the account on, or if you’re an in-house PPC manager, really dig into the ways in which you can differentiate your campaigns. As much as we hope it’s an equal playing field out there, a more open budget almost always makes a difference. To that end, educate stakeholders that a more open budget doesn’t always mean you’ll spend every dime, but it will help you remain competitive when you need it.

Lessons Learned Going Into 2015

It’s OK to say no to PPC projects that you know have a slim chance of working, and it’s even better to set expectations based on your wisdom. I would argue it’s a great thing to say yes to a challenge and then fail. Truth is, if we don’t fail from time to time, we have less experience with which to draw upon when making those strategic recommendations.

Here’s to a successful 2015, filled with both wins and fails!

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