Why B2B Marketers Shouldn't Growth Hack

I took a year-long break from the product world to take over marketing for a small IT outsourcing company. I’d done content marketing before and written UX and marketing copy for a SaaS product with millions of users. What could be so hard about using this experience to dive into B2C marketing?

After a year, sales were up and the number of employees grew by a third. We’d moved from working with only North American clients to Europe and the Middle East. That should be unequivocal success. I ended up leaving in frustration.

The biggest mistake small companies make with DIY marketing is reading a bunch of marketing hacks. I set up metrics from the the growth hacking genre such as subscribers, social media engagement and backlinks. I soon learned that it was possible to fail in all of these categories but still sell. In hindsight, the problem is obvious: I was using B2C tactics and metrics on a long-cycle B2B service. Nonetheless, I managed to be a successful marketer if we measure success as more clients. I didn’t hit any of my OKRs.

Don’t let hype tell you how to market

Hype driven managers are your number one obstacle as a B2B marketer. These are the types that spend their days reading inspiration blog posts, calling pointless meetings and trying to micromanage their marketers. Think Michael Scott meet’s Taleb’s intellectual yet idiot.

Hype driven managers are hopelessly impractical. Why use a Google Sheet when you could build a Rube Goldberg data monster out of a dozen SaaS apps? A completely unrelated product with a different market went viral, how come our posts don’t have that many likes on Facebook? Let’s change strategy every few weeks. My experience shows that a lot of managers at venture funded companies are hype driven data-ists.

This stems from the mass psychosis known as venture capital. Sustainable growth and profit are passé. Going viral, regardless of whether it brings you any benefit, and loosing money are the marks of a successful business in 2019. The media fawns over Uber and Lyft as they lose billions each year, while Apple is castigated for turning a profit. This approach has filtered down to nearly every manager in the tech industry.

Even after successfully converting a lead, I’m challenged for not building a scalable system. This is patently absurd. Small companies don’t need scalability or viral social media posts. They need clients.

Don’t turn to HubSpot for your B2B marketing. They’ll happily sell you the functionality of a spreadsheet for hundreds of dollars a month plus a tall tale of scalability. Neil Patel will have you spending money to get to the top of Google, but that’s no guarantee you’ll get paying clients.

Growth marketing hacks tend to work for products with a short conversion cycle. This is what marketing marketers are selling you. The most important thing I learned as a B2B marketer was to ignore all of this.

Know your sales cycle

It pays to think of the non-digital equivalent of your product. Are you McDonald’s — cheap, consistent, reliable and profitable because of quick turnover? A fast food joint gets people in the door with cheap, quick food. Are you positioned in a place where people looking for affordable and fast solutions?

Let’s say you’re more of a BMW: expensive but powerful, secure and high-quality. Does a BMW dealership go to the closest bus stop and offer free test drives in order to increase engagement? There’s not a lot of overlap between potential BMW customers and people waiting for a bus, yet hype driven managers do the digital equivalent of this each time they check on the social media likes of their latest blog post. There’s nothing wrong with McDonald’s, but their marketing approach isn’t going to work to sell BMWs.

Once you’ve figured out whether you’re selling Big Macs or BMWs, you can make more informed decisions about whether to focus your energy on email subscriptions, blogging, business platforms like Clutch, cold emails or LinkedIn. Small companies don’t have the resources to do it all.

Blogging and content for long-cycle B2B sales

A good blog that churns out several long posts a weeks is expensive. Writers aren’t cheap and anything beyond a cookie-cutter Wordpress theme requires serious development time. Throw in some designer hours and you’ve got a real investment. My experience is that most companies with blogs aren’t actually doing the math to see whether it’s worth it. Too many blogs exist because of FOMO.

You’ll never compete with massive companies that have entire blog teams replete with writers, designers and SEO specialists. These teams pump out two to three posts a week and have huge semi-kosher linking schemes. Compete where you can win, which is usually domain expertise.

  1. Write long, informative posts about your company’s expertise 1–3 times a quarter.
  2. Well written whitepapers and customer stories are important for long sales cycles.
  3. Clear landing page copy makes the first impression that you need.

The SEO Playbook became my bible for writing blog posts. Dockyard nails landing page copy and customer stories. Shamelessly steal their style: make it clear what you do and how it benefits other companies.

Outreach emails

Cold emails and LinkedIn messages worked far better than I expected. There’s true spam, where you just randomly send out a long email to someone that has a low probability needing your services. Don’t do that.

It takes time, but market research pays off. If you specialize in Python and TensorFlow, you’ll get a much higher ROI on your marketing by emailing companies looking for Python developers rather than randomly spamming every Bay Area tech company.

Always write about what you can do for your potential clients. Nobody cares about you. And nobody wants to click your HubSpot calendar link. Act like a human and ask when would be a good time for a quick call.

Real social proof is powerful. Mentioning that you work with other companies in the same city or have solved similar problems in a different industry means more than including your NPS in a marketing email.

Racing to the bottom

Sites like Clutch can get you a lot of prospects. It’d be a mistake to avoid them entirely, but companies need to keep an eye on the ROI of business listings. The average prospect contacts a dozen companies, eats up a lot of your time getting a proposal, going back and forth, squeezing what free consulting out of you and then going with the cheapest offer. Unless you’re based in South Asia, you’re not going to win at this game.

Social media silos

I found Twitter and Facebook to be big time wasters. Posts rarely broke out of the silo of our followers, which were employees and their relatives. If your potential customer is 99% of the planet, that’s a start. It’s useless for B2B marketing.

Reposting blog posts to Medium, although be sure to import rather than copying and pasting, was the best way to reach outside of our silos. Also, being published in a prestigious publication carries a lot more street cred than linking to a company blog.

Doing what works

My bottom line is doing whatever brings in clients. This is the single metric that matters. A simple combination of google analytics, a few blog posts, some emails and a spreadsheet is all you need to get and record meaningful data without becoming fake data driven.

Management and marketing need to agree on a few assumptions for marketing to work at a small B2B business.

  1. Are you selling Big Macs or BMWs?
  2. What metrics match your sales cycle?
  3. How do you plan to reach your potential clients and what resources do you need in order to do so?
  4. Stick with it. Marketing campaigns take months to mature.

Successful B2B marketing is possible, even for small businesses with a limited budget. The key is ignoring hype driven management, not trying to port growth marketing hacks from the VC world and some old fashioned hard work.