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How to Measure B2B Paid Search and Paid Social Campaigns

03.05.20 // Mike Nierengarten

Quick note: My goal in writing this was to address how CFOs, CMOs, and VPs of Marketing at B2B companies can evaluate their paid search and paid social efforts.

Ignore Conventional Measurement

Metrics for PPC campaigns are abundant. Clicks, clickthrough rate, conversions, cost per conversion, etc. are all readily available. Measuring “things” in paid media is exceptionally easy. Folks may be led to thinking evaluating paid media is therefore easy. Please ignore this sentiment.

Measuring the benefit (or lack thereof) from paid campaigns is tough.

Measuring the overall performance of paid media, whether or not paid media is working for you as a channel, is difficult. It’s even more challenging in B2B. In business-to-business marketing, we have the added challenges:

  • Lengthy, convoluted sales cycles
  • Buying committees
  • High volatility and turnover among decision-makers
  • Paid search and paid social rarely close business on their own

As B2B marketers, we cannot measure our paid media campaigns based on the closed-won they deliver directly. Paid campaigns aren’t closing sales themselves, and so we typically judge paid media by captured leads and amount of pipeline and revenue those leads generate. Invariably, measuring paid media by leads led to a bunch of issues:

  • Lead attribution: first touch, last touch, or custom multi-touch attribution
  • Leads or accounts: different contacts at the same account
  • Brand & user experience: ungated content and privacy concerns

First Touch or Last Touch? Both Create Problems

In back-to-back lunch meetings this week, I spoke with savvy B2B marketers who struggled with higher-up decisions to measure their performance based on either first touch or last touch.

In my first meeting, we talked about how digital campaigns achieved target pipeline but the pipeline was failing to close. Then they mentioned they were measured solely by first touch (net new) leads.

🚨 Alarm bells ringing!!! 🚨

The higher-ups had unintentionally set up perverse incentives. Focusing on net new leads had hurt their ability to close the pipeline they were creating.

First touch dis-incentivized their team from helping move leads through the sales cycle. – zero credit for influencing pipeline. No need to target your database of leads if your boss isn’t going to give you credit. Actually, with first touch attribution, you are encouraged to negatively-target your existing database of leads.

Clearly blocking your best leads is not in the best interest of your company.

Last touch has just as many holes. My second meeting discussed how they were essentially discouraged from finding net new business for their company. If higher-ups are only giving credit to the last source, marketers are effectively encouraged to focus solely on targeting their existing database of leads and running campaigns targeting brand terms. That’s insane.

Abandoning Leads is Not the Solution

I get that lead gen isn’t perfect, but account-based everything is not perfect either.

Switching to a marketing-qualified account process for tracking paid media campaigns will not help companies with attribution. Ultimately, companies have to figure out how paid media is influencing companies in the buying cycle:

  • Running brand awareness campaigns on LinkedIn to named accounts is going to influence decision-makers at those accounts
  • Offering a buyer’s guide to folks searching for a specific software solution is going to influence their decision
  • Inviting your target accounts to an event through Twitter advertising or directing conference-goers to your booth through geo-fenced campaigns will move folks through the sales cycle
  • Running display campaigns to your sales qualified leads and pushing them to a demo will help you close win business.

When evaluating paid media campaigns, it doesn’t matter if you are using MQLs or MQAs if you aren’t tracking how those campaigns contribute to pipeline and revenue.

Unfortunately, evaluating paid media by first touch, last touch, or multi-touch, MQLs or MQAs doesn’t provide the full picture.

Prospects Don’t Love Forms

Ungated content complicates things.

In a shock to no one, people don’t love providing information in order to get educational content. Folks will use fake names, fake emails, or abandon the process altogether when asked to fill out a form. Nonetheless, 5% or so of visitors will find the content relevant and intriguing enough to fill out a form with their business email, and so lead capture forms dominate most paid media campaigns.

That is changing.

Many companies are recognizing their prospects don’t love this exchange, whether for privacy reasons or otherwise, and are looking to utilize more ungated content, videos, and chat bots. Moving to ungated content has made attribution, an already tough challenge, increasingly difficult.

Especially with many third party cookies on their way out, companies are going to have a very difficult time fully understanding the impact of their paid campaigns. Actual campaign ROI will never be known. Evaluating paid media channels is going to require a bit of creativity and getting outside the ad platforms and martech systems typically used.

The Solution: Segmentation and Experimentation

Missing data is not new. Having data is new.

Companies have ran countless television, radio, sampling, sponsorship, and direct mail campaigns without knowing the full effectiveness of those campaigns. We are going to need to get comfortable with not knowing the full impact of paid campaigns as well.

In the absence of complete data, we need to dissect and segment the data.

In order to understand if our campaigns are successful, we need to segment our campaigns by objective. Evaluating net new lead gen campaigns is different than evaluating target account, brand awareness, or nurture campaigns. All campaigns should be generating pipeline and revenue, but they impact revenue differently. We can’t just look at paid search as a whole. We must segment:

  • Net new lead gen campaigns generate first touch MQLs that lead to pipeline
  • Brand awareness campaigns increase direct traffic in the targeted region
  • Retargeting campaigns move folks to lower funnel offers
  • Account-targeted campaigns drive engagement at target accounts

Segmentation is absolutely crucial to evaluating paid media campaigns.

It’s not just segmentation. Buckle in for experimentation.

Want to know how paid social brand campaigns influence customers buying your solution?

  1. Run an experiment in a given market
  2. Analyze upticks in inbound
  3. Measure the conversion rate and days to close of your sales folks

Experiments get you directional data. Do your account-targeted campaigns drive engagement? Does that engagement demonstrate more meetings/demos, more pipeline, and more revenue won?

Experiment with turning things off as well. Feel free to allow yourself to turn off top of funnel paid search keywords if you think your nurture campaigns aren’t strong enough to convert top of funnel leads. Give yourself the okay to shut down a region where you feel paid social is ineffective.

See what happens.

Segmentation and experimentation will get you the directional data by campaign type you need to evaluate your overall paid media efforts. It requires more work than looking at a ready-made dashboard, but looking holistically at the impact of your paid media campaigns is by far the best way to evaluate them.

About Mike Nierengarten

Mike has been in online marketing since 2004 and started Obility in February of 2011. Mike is a numbers geek who feels more comfortable staring at Excel spreadsheets & AdWords Editor than sitting in lengthy meetings. Mike saw Obility as an opportunity to rethink SEM management and focus solely on the unique needs of B2B clients. Mike enjoys board sports, exploring restaurants, and lively discussions about the economy. He is also a passionate traveler. His long-term goals focus on spurring economic growth and addressing inequality in the Portland community. View all Mike Nierengarten’s posts >