“Facebook ads? But we’re B2B!”
Back when I worked on the marketing services team at WordStream, this was the response I got from B2B clients after I suggested expanding our efforts outside of search. I’d share anecdotes of previous success and talk them into starting out small; after a few weeks of seeing the results, they were sold. That was years ago, when lead ads and pixels were nothing more than a glimmer in Mr. Zuckerberg’s eye.
Facebook is now robust enough to do the convincing by itself. At least, it should be.
For B2C advertisers the case is obvious, right? Facebook is an exceptional tool for growing brand awareness and engaging with prospects, a place to find new customers, to offer promotions and serve exceptional remarketing creative, ultimately inciting affordable conversions. When it comes to multi-touch B2B marketing, however—industries with months-long sales cycles and niche clientele—skeptics remain.
To those B2B outfits that still believe the world’s most popular social platform is nothing more than an echo chamber for fake news and feline hijinks: you are missing out on a massive business growth opportunity.
Today, I’m going to walk you through the fundamental components of B2B Facebook advertising—everything you’ll need to find the right prospects and destroy your competition (fret not: we’ll cover ad creation at a later date). You’ll learn about:
When you’re finished, you may also want to check out these eight free Facebook advertising courses for any level!
First and foremost…
This is me begging you.
Please. PLEASE install the Facebook Pixel on your website before moving forward.
(2021 update: PLEASE please also use the Facebook Conversions API—the pixel is losing its power!)
The Facebook Pixel allows you to optimize for almost any type of on-site action, provided you put the damn thing on your website.
The various segments of the pixel can be customized based on campaign goals; this allows you to track conversions as sales on some pages and form fills on others. Being able to distinguish between conversion types is obviously important to your bottom line: nobody ever traded a dozen email addresses for a yacht.
Once you’ve got the code installed, ensuring that it’s firing correctly is simple; download the Facebook Pixel Helper, a Chrome plugin that glows a putrid shade of green when everything’s working correctly, to make your life easier.
In the event the plugin reveals an issue, check out Facebook’s pixel troubleshooting suggestions; whatever you do, ensure that it’s firing correctly before you start pouring ad spend into the channel. It’s especially important for B2B Facebook advertisers to have some sort of conversion tracking enabled; in addition to providing your business with important attribution data, having a working pixel will also allow you to maximize the value of custom audiences (more on those in a bit).
Now that your Facebook pixel’s installed and firing (it can take up to 24 hours for it to register so don’t be afraid to kick your feet up) it’s time to put your products or services in front of the right people.
B2B advertising is almost always a complex, multi-touch affair (and that’s after identifying the right audiences and ad formats). This is where understanding the types of campaigns available to you comes into play.
Facebook offers a highly scaffolded campaign creation experience. What does that mean in English?
Facebook silos campaign objectives into three categories: Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion. Although each of these categories has a legit use case for B2B advertisers, not all the individual objectives are worth deploying on a consistent basis.
See those little guns? Pretend they’re blasting objectives right out of your Business Manager UI.
Product catalog sales and Store visits are, by and large, useless for B2B advertisers. Reach campaigns can be great for getting top-level content in front of unfamiliar prospects, but without a robust content program and some serious remarketing in place, these campaigns are tough to tie back to revenue. And while you might be able to find some use for them, the three eliminated objectives in the Consideration column only have the potential to represent mid-funnel value for your business if you have the requisite collateral. Frankly, most small B2B advertisers don’t have apps and find images more cost-effective to spin up than video.
The four remaining objectives—Brand awareness, Traffic, Lead generation, and Conversions—are the areas in which you need to focus if you want to successfully advertise your products or services to other businesses on Facebook. From left to right, these objectives align with what we in the business call a “funnel.” Here’s how it works:
These campaigns pull prospects into the top of your marketing funnel. The goal of these campaigns is to pique prospects’ interest.
Likely, they’re not going to lead directly to a sale (though some people may be so taken with your messaging that they can’t help but sign on the dotted line). The audiences you target within brand awareness campaigns should be broad, made up of layered characteristics your prospects may possess. Brand awareness campaigns are also a great place to use 8%-10% lookalike audiences based on your past converters or existing customers. This allows you to avoid putting your techy SaaS offering in front of geriatric technophobes.
Traffic campaigns allow you to drive…. Traffic! You’ve got two options here: you can send prospects to your Facebook page (don’t, it’s a waste of money) or your website (ding ding ding!).
These campaigns are one of my favorite methods of building highly specific remarketing lists (and, in turn, lookalike audiences). The strategy is relatively straightforward; while with Brand awareness campaigns you’re likely looking to cast a wide net, Traffic campaigns are the place to begin ratcheting down, matching your products and services to specific demographic, psychographic, and industry profiles.
Pound for pound, Facebook lead gen ads represent the best bang for the B2B advertiser’s buck. They allow you to collect prospects’ information directly within Facebook, removing a potential point of friction: your website.
This isn’t to say that your site’s not gorgeous; the real win with lead ads is the fact that they’re auto-filled using information pulled directly from a prospect’s Facebook page. If all it takes to sign up for X—where X is your offer—is two clicks, a prospect who isn’t particularly familiar with your brand is more likely to convert this way than if they’d been asked to enter that same information manually.
Facebook lead ads allow you to collect valuable contact information from your prospects, which you can use to build email lists, add prospects to your email nurture program, or simply hand warm leads over to your sales team.
These are your closers, the ace up your sleeve. They also tend to be expensive. For that reason, I advise that you NEVER use Conversion campaigns to send prospects to pages on your website proper; instead, maximize the value of every click (you’re payin’ for ‘em) by sending traffic to targeted landing pages. If you sell software, conversion campaigns should be used to funnel prospects to product trials or demo signups.
Understanding which campaign types align with your business goals will help you build an effective foundation for B2B advertising on Facebook. Of course, even the best B2B Facebook campaign will fall flat on its face if you’re not filling it with the right ad sets.
While campaigns are containers defined by objectives, the ad set level is where you’ll control everything from budget and scheduling to audience and ad creation. You know, the important stuff that makes Facebook a completely viable channel for your B2B marketing budget.
Before we talk ad types and audiences (the fun stuff), though, let’s jump into budgeting and scheduling.
In Facebook, you can assign each ad set a daily or lifetime budget.
If you’ve spent time managing a Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) account, daily budgets will probably feel more familiar to you; simply assign a daily spend threshold, a start date, and an end date. I like to use small daily budgets for early-stage B2B clients because they’re more predictable; they’re perfect for experimentation, figuring out what works without inadvertently blowing through budget.
That being said, Facebook will spend your money each day, no matter what.
For more seasoned Facebook marketers, I’d suggest working with a lifetime budget; just use relatively short (3-5 days) intervals for your start and end dates until you’re more comfortable with the shift away from daily normalcy. Facebook will deploy budget across the period you’ve selected in the way that makes the most sense in relation to your campaign goal.
Advertisers can game this system to squeeze a little more value out of lifetime budgets by implementing ad scheduling; think of it like a negative placement on the Google Display network.
Basically, you’re telling Facebook that you’d like it to determine when to serve your ads within a given period, but forcing the algorithm to ignore time slots during which your prospects aren’t likely to convert. This ensure that your lifetime budget isn’t squandered in the wee hours of the morning or on the weekends, when your prospects are too busy with fantasy football rosters to book a demo.
While budget management should be guided by performance, you need to keep those campaign goals we just ran through in mind.
Use ad scheduling in conversion campaigns to funnel prospects into product demos while they’re sitting at the office, then open your ad scheduling up (or revert to a lower daily budget) on lower value campaigns with offers that can be consumed at all hours (like a content download).
While determining ad spend and scheduling are important steps towards making Facebook a viable marketing platform for your business, all that hard work can be undone by poorly chosen placements. You see, “Facebook Ads” doesn’t mean “News Feed ads.” Unless you tell it otherwise, Facebook ads are eligible to show up in obscure corners of the internet, too.
Within Facebook itself, ads can be served in:
While some of these Facebook ad placements are useful to B2B advertisers (lookin’ at you, news feed and right column) the rest afford less visibility and decrease opportunities for conversion. You’re in the business of making money, not being ignored. You want ad engagement. Make sure your ads show up in the right places by opting out of automatic placements.
Facebook states that and choosing custom placements will “reduce the number of people you reach,” when compared with the automatic option. But if that reduction means an increase in quality, is it really an issue?
Facebook has a handful of other placement options but, outside of boosting brand awareness, they’re not particularly useful for B2B advertisers.
It gives you the ability to segment your advertising by device (I’d recommend sticking with “all devices” unless you’ve got some mobile-specific campaign ideas).
Facebook ads also allow you to advertise on Instagram: that’s right, the Image-centric social channel doesn’t have its own advertising interface. Instead, advertisers can opt to show their creative in either feed or story form. Finally, Facebook ads can also be served across the Facebook Audience Network (those obscure corners of the internet I mentioned earlier). In my experience, both Instagram and the Audience Network are only useful for B2B advertisers when included in remarketing campaigns; if you’re going with custom placements, opt out.
POTENTIAL GAMECHANGER ALERT
As I was writing this guide, Facebook just announced a change that allows advertisers to “select specific placements within the Audience Network to control where ads will be shown.” That changes things…
With the ability to target specific sites on the Audience Network, you can serve creative in places your customers frequent. If you currently use Managed Placements over on Google Ads, copy your list of sites into Facebook and see if any of them are on the Audience Network, too. It’s worth experimenting with!
Facebook’s suite of targeting options makes creating effective B2C campaigns straightforward.
If your restaurant has a projector, a particularly rare hefeweizen on tap, and serves up the most eclectic wings in the city, Facebook makes it incredibly easy to target football-loving beer aficionados looking to watch kung fu movies within 5 miles of your front door.
Finding a business’s primary decision makers, on the other hand, can prove to be a bit tricky.
While Google Ads gives you the ability to segment your offerings based on keywords (and thus, intent), Facebook is audience based. Instead of finding prospects based on a direct input (a search query), you can layer dozens of distinguishing factors to create a model of your ideal customer. In more touchy-feely corners of marketing we might call this a buyer persona. If you can consistently pair the right audience with the right offer, you’re well on your way to B2B marketing dominance.
Facebook audience creation comes in three main flavor, each of which is useful for B2B advertisers: core, custom, and lookalike.
Outside of Custom and Lookalike audiences (which have their own interface), most your audience creation will occur at the ad set level. Enter any ad set in your account and you’ll see a screen that looks like this:
There’s a lot going on here (we’ll touch on that first “Custom Audiences” section in a minute), but it’s all very intuitive.
Location, age, gender, and language allow you to whittle away subsets of your audience who, despite conveying an affinity for your product, simply aren’t a fit. Think of this section as the audience equivalent of ad scheduling. It doesn’t do you any good if the Latvian version of your perfect prospect clicks an ad for something you only sell to businesses within 100 miles of Boston: save your budget for the people who can actually become customers.
The “Detailed Targeting” section at the bottom of the Audience interface allows you to include and exclude prospects who display specific characteristics. This is an incredible way to ensure your ads are served to the right people, making it easier to maximize the value of every dollar spent on advertising.
In addition to location, age, gender, and language, you can find prospects using a combination of the following demographic categories:
Between this robust suite of audience options and the equally expansive interest and behavioral categories, finding the prospects you’re looking for is a cinch. Speaking of, don’t sleep on the B2B category within “Behaviors” targeting; it allows you to use company size, industry, and seniority to put your ads in front of the right people. This will allow you to get your ads in front of decision makers, saving your budget for prospects with the power to pull the trigger.
While the CMO at NounVerb might not have known she needed your product (and therefore wouldn’t have found your company through search), Facebook ads allow you to preemptively offer a solution instead of sitting back on your heels.
If you’d like to dig into audience creation a bit more, check out our infographic for a detailed breakdown of Facebook’s targeting options.
If you aren’t quite sold on core audiences (yet), Custom Audiences might be a better starting place for your Facebook Advertising experience.
Custom audiences can be created using five different methods, but the only three that you should focus on as a B2B marketer are those based on a customer file (email addresses you upload), website traffic (using the pixel), and Engagement (selectively).
Creating audiences based on a customer file allows you to leverage your existing database to find your prospects while they’re commenting on their neighbor’s erratic lawncare habits. It uses your list of email addresses to find your existing leads on Facebook, allowing you to compliment your nurture programs with related offers. My favorite way to use Custom Audiences created from a customer file is to segment an existing email nurture list, isolating “Did Not Opens” or other inactive prospects, and hitting lukewarm (or ice cold) leads with ad creative they can’t help but click.
Website traffic audiences differ in that the audiences you can create are made up of people who have…. visited your website. You might not have their contact information, but that won’t stop you from leveraging on-site action driven by organic or paid traffic to serve prospects relevant ad creative on Facebook!
While time on site, site visits, and event completion can be used to create custom audiences made up of prospects familiar with your brand, the real value for B2B marketers is in the “People who visited specific web pages” option.
Say your company offers both products and services. You can use a Custom Audience to create an audience of people interested in your product but not your service, like this (and the inverse, too):
This will stop you from showing prospects an offer that simply isn’t a fit, improving your chances of turning them into a customer.
Finally, don’t sleep on Custom Audiences based on lead ad engagement. Before this innovation was added, I’d have told you not to waste your budget on engagement audiences for B2B advertising (outside of lead form-specific audiences I still maintain this belief). That being said, if you’re using lead ads to generate net-new prospects or push content, Engagement audiences are clutch.
As you can see, these Custom Audiences allow you to build new audiences based on actions taken involving lead ads.
If someone opened but didn’t submit the form, present them with a different, albeit comparable offer; perhaps they’d be more comfortable visiting your website instead of forking over valuable contact information via Facebook. On the other hand, you can use audiences made of prospects who did complete your lead ad form to serve lower funnel offers like product demos or free trials.
Using a combination of Core and Custom Audiences would be more than enough to help you find qualified B2B prospects, but Facebook has one more audience-creation trick up its sleeve: Lookalikes.
I saved the best for last.
While new prospects might not display the exact same characteristics and Facebook behavioral patterns as your existing customers, I’d wager a mirror image of the people currently paying you is a solid starting point for your lead acquisition. Lookalike Audiences allow you to create a brand-new audience of prospects whose demographic and psychographic makeup parallel your source audience.
“Source audience” can be any Facebook audience you’ve already created; to maximize the utility of Lookalikes, though, you should use high-value audiences like converters (based on the Facebook Pixel) or customer emails.
Once you’ve selected your source audience and a target location (country), Facebook will immediately generate an estimated audience size for your Lookalike:
This new audience consists of the 1% of Facebook users in your chosen location that most closely resembles your source audience. Combined with the interest, behavioral, and demographic targeting I touched on earlier, you’re ready to hit brand new prospects with some compelling creative.
Time to start closing deals.
For many B2B marketers, Facebook represents the next frontier in online advertising. To learn more about Facebook advertising, check out some of our other resources, including…
… and dozens more on the WordStream Blog!
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