Customer-Channel Fit: How to Identify the Right B2B SaaS Marketing Channels
Last updated: September 19th, 2023
In our experience, many B2B SaaS companies abandon their paid media channels too early, without fully exploring all the options available to them, and based on hunches instead of data.
We’ve learned from discussions with prospects and clients that there is a tendency to make false assumptions about their optimal customer-channel fit, often because of past difficulties they’ve faced while using one digital marketing channel or another.
Some of the common challenges we hear about include:
- With Google Ads: Companies often reach a scaling ceiling with the amount they can spend on the keywords they want to target. When they reach this ceiling, most transition over to Facebook or LinkedIn Ads because they don’t know what else they can do with Google.
- With LinkedIn Ads: They know it is supposed to be a great channel for B2B advertising, but they aren’t sure they want to invest in the higher costs associated with the platform. So they choose to advertise elsewhere or test it out only in a limited way (which is reflected in their results).
- With Facebook Ads: They’re able to spend a lot of their budget, but their customer acquisition costs are high and it doesn’t seem to be leading to many conversions. They suspect it’s not the best social media channel for a B2B SaaS product, but they feel like they’ve run out of options so they continue advertising there anyway.
When B2B SaaS businesses sign up to work with us, we center our initial project (our pilot program) around testing paid media channels. And we focus on paid as opposed to SEO in the beginning for three reasons:
- You can see who is converting and you aren’t left guessing about how traffic will convert.
- You begin seeing results immediately as opposed to needing to wait weeks or months before you can see what’s working.
- You can test content to find out what’s interesting to your prospects and avoid investing in and creating SEO content that lacks customer-content fit.
By testing more of the options available to you within each platform, you can make more informed decisions and be more confident you’re spending your marketing budget in the right places.
In this article we’ll cover the mistakes we see SaaS marketers making, our advice to mitigate these mistakes, and an overview of our approach for finding customer-channel fit when we test paid media channels with new clients.
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If you prefer to listen to this article, you can check it out on our podcast, SaaS Marketing Bites or listen here:
What Limits You from Finding Customer-Channel Fit? And How Can You Be More Certain You’ll Find It?
Finding customer-channel fit is like having the wind at your back. When you find it, everything is easier because more potential customers are close to the end of the sales cycle and they’re congregated in one place.
Let’s look at what general mistakes SaaS companies are making in this area of their marketing efforts, and then dig into the channel-specific mistakes we see.
General Mistakes with Customer-Channel Fit
1) Not testing certain channels
The first mistake we see is SaaS companies will decide not to test certain channels at all. For example, when prospects come to us they sometimes say they’ve chosen not to run LinkedIn Ads because the click costs are too high.
The problem with this is that if these assertions are not tested then companies are simply making assumptions that can often be proven false. So if your theory about B2B LinkedIn Ads is that they won’t work for you because they’re too expensive, you may be right, but our stance is that you should test out ads on LinkedIn to a certain scale before writing it off as a non-viable channel.
2) Not setting up a workflow that maps out every step from a channel through to a conversion
SaaS businesses usually have hypotheses about how they expect the channels they’re using will perform, but we haven’t seen their strategy for judging channel performance be much deeper than that.
In our process, we set up a workflow that maps out a path from that channel through to a conversion. A simple workflow can help you see the subtle areas that you can tweak within a channel to iterate and improve things, and better diagnose what’s wrong when things aren’t working.
Without this workflow, you can easily come to the conclusion that a channel isn’t working when the actual problem could be the messaging in your ads, the structure of your landing pages, or any number of other factors at play.
3) Not setting up remarketing from the outset (and not using a pixel delay)
There is an old saying in the SEO world: “The best time to get started was 10 years ago, and the next best time is today.”
This same principle applies to remarketing in the paid media world. You don’t need to set up your creative for remarketing ads from the outset, but you do need to set up your systems to begin collecting the necessary data for remarketing.
As soon as your marketing campaigns are live, you want to be pixelling website visitors who engage with your ad and specific pages on your website so that when you’re ready to begin remarketing you haven’t missed out on these initial prospects.
The other thing we do is include a 5 second pixel delay that tells the platform to only add a remarketing pixel to someone who actually waits for your page to load. This allows you to avoid wasting remarketing dollars on users who click on your ad but don’t actually engage with your page, and allocate those dollars to more qualified leads.
4) Leaving the same ads running without changing them up
We see this all the time. By leaving the same ads running, you create ad fatigue for your audience. They grow tired of seeing the same ad over and over, and this can lower your quality score and raise your PPC costs.
By periodically using new creative with fresh visuals and messaging, you can limit ad fatigue, avoid turning off prospective new customers, and keep costs down.
Now let’s look at some of the channel-specific mistakes we see.
Google Ads-Specific Mistakes
For software companies, nailing your intent-based search engine channels like Google and Bing is essential because if customers are looking for you and you aren’t there, they’re going to choose someone else who is.
Companies will typically bid on the high-intent keywords directly related to their product, but there are other areas to Google Ads where they miss opportunities:
- Many choose not to use Google Display Network which reaches over 90% of internet users because they think banner advertising is untargeted (it is if you execute poorly).
- Others avoid bidding on competitor keywords because they perceive it to be unethical (when in fact it can be done tastefully and effectively).
- Often they’ll choose not to bid on keywords that include their own brand name because they assume they’ll get those clicks.
- Most won’t use in-market or custom-intent segments because they are less familiar with these features.
All of the above allow you to scale your spending (and ultimately your lead generation) further with Google Ads.
A common mistake we see with LinkedIn is that companies will decide higher click costs make it less viable than the other platforms. But the metric they should actually be making decisions around is the cost to acquire a demo.
As you can see in this graphic, higher click costs don’t necessarily mean higher costs per demo:
We’ve used simple hypothetical numbers here just to visualize this point.
Even though LinkedIn can be the most expensive platform, in our experience, it’s often worth investing more in because the certainty you’re reaching your target audience for B2B is higher than any other platform.
The main mistakes we see SaaS marketers make with LinkedIn can be summed up as:
- They don’t give LinkedIn Ads enough of a budget to be successful.
- They set up targeting that’s too specific (e.g. targeting a single job title).
- They deliver content that doesn’t fit the mindset of their target customers when they’re using LinkedIn.
If you get your targeting and content right and give it enough budget, you can set yourself up for better results on LinkedIn.
The biggest challenge with B2B ads on Facebook is that the audience seeing your ads is much more likely to be B2C. The way to overcome this is to use ad copy and creative that is very clear it’s for a specific person.
For example, by using ad copy like “Attention Brand and Creative Managers! Are you paying too much for visual content? Find out in less than 2 minutes.”—your ads can be seen by more of the right people. But often companies miss the mark with this.
We also see B2B marketers go wrong with Facebook Ads when they:
- Build audiences with demographics and interests vs. using lookalike audiences (which are based on real customers and consistently yield better results).
- Opt not to use automated or all placements for ads (a feature we see works well).
- Use the same creative across all ad placements (instead they should use dedicated creative for different placements).
These are the mistakes we tend to see SaaS businesses make when it comes to their paid channel strategy. What follows is a streamlined approach that we’ve developed to test these channels for SaaS businesses in order to determine their viability.
Now we’ll show you our process to test paid media channels that we use when we’re onboarding new clients.
The PBS SaaS Marketing Strategy for Finding Customer-Channel Fit
In our pilot program, we work with our clients to establish the right fit in three important areas:
- Journey-Offer Fit
- Customer-Content Fit
- Customer-Channel Fit
Note: These are 3 of 8 different types of fit that we think about and help establish for our clients.
In our journey-offer and customer-content fit sections, we do the setup work that creates the foundation for finding customer-channel fit. First we collaboratively develop a lead magnet that we’ll be offering to prospects who are higher in the funnel (they’re not yet ready for a demo or trial).
For the lead magnet, we will typically use a case study, calculator, cheatsheet, or mistakes list in .PDF form. The goal is to create high-quality, relevant content that will stand out to their ideal customers as something that is actually useful (the key to good content marketing).
Next we design and develop a landing page funnel that maps out the journey customers will take from a channel through to a conversion, including a two step email marketing automation that delivers the lead magnet and later a follow up email from a salesperson.
Then we begin setting up our campaigns in each of the platforms where we’ll test for customer-channel fit. Each of them are set up to begin collecting remarketing data from the outset (including a 5 second pixel delay), and we test all three simultaneously.
Here are the key elements to our approach for each platform.
In our deep dive on scaling Google Ads, we provide an in-depth look at our process that we use to scale ad spend and conversions for our clients. We walk you through the how and why for each step:
- Targeting with In-Market and Custom-Intent Segments: Let Google show ads to people they’ve determined are in the market to buy what you sell.
- Brand Consideration Intent: Show ads to people who search “your brand + reviews” or “your brand + alternatives” (directing traffic to you and not review sites like Capterra).
- Brand vs. Competitor Intent: Show ads to people who search “your brand vs. competitor” (and send visitors to an honest comparison page hosted on your own site).
- Google Display Network Managed Placements: Display ads to people on websites related to your general topic to reach people higher in the funnel (eg. Software for X industry).
- Upload Target Account Lists: Target with Google’s “customer match” feature to reach audiences that share characteristics with your pre-existing customers or leads.
In our recent article about LinkedIn Ads, our director of paid media offers his recommendations on how to get your targeting and content right with LinkedIn, and explains why LinkedIn is often worth putting more budget towards.
- For targeting, cast a wide net: LinkedIn works best when you give it a range of related job titles to start, and then see which specific titles, industries, and companies are engaging with you, and use those for remarketing.
- For content, communicate that it can be easily consumed: We find LinkedIn users respond better to messaging that implies your content is digestible and immediately useful.
While we often see a lower volume of leads through LinkedIn, the lead quality is usually higher and the customer acquisition costs can work out to be similar to the other platforms.
We find the greatest results with Facebook come from leveraging its suite of targeting features. Specifically we use the lookalike audience features in a variety of ways:
- 1% Customer Lookalikes: By uploading a list of existing customers or members, we’ll create a 1% lookalike audience for each country. Facebook then shows your ads to users they have determined are similar to your customers based on the data you provide (state, country, email, phone number, LTV, etc.).
- 1% SQL Lookalikes: We’ll also create lookalike audiences based on sales qualified leads that are either collected through a CRM system or a list of users who have previously converted and booked demos.
- Broad Interest + Lookalike Overlap: Lastly, we’ll create audiences using behavior, interests, and demographics that match those of our client’s customers.
In addition to using lookalike audiences, we show remarketing ads to people who have visited our website or downloaded a lead magnet. And if our client has a prospect list from their CRM system, we’ll target those users specifically using their emails.
For ad placement, we’re currently using “all types” for both static and video ads which are shown in feeds and stories, and in some cases we’re leveraging messenger to deliver lead magnets and demos.
Over the last five to eight years, opinions in the digital marketing community have shifted back and forth about how much we can trust the features of these advertising platforms.
From our perspective, as the capabilities of all three of these platforms continue to improve and become more sophisticated, we find that more and more we can rely on the targeting features they’re offering to get results.
The approaches to each platform listed above are some of the most effective forms of advertising currently available to SaaS businesses. By testing out each of these platforms to their full capacity, you can increase your level of certainty that you’re investing in the optimal channels for your digital advertising.
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