Today we were joined for a in-depth virtual discussion with Tom Eschbacher, who built out the LinkedIn Marketing for Startups group (aimed at accelerating high-growth companies’ demand generation success on the platform), on how B2B startups are best leveraging LinkedIn. Today, LinkedIn is a fantastic (and often overlooked) channel for growth in early-stage B2B startups. As of Q3 2022, they have 59M registered companies, 850M members, and 443B feed updates.
And in 2022, with some gravitational forces working against startups including the economy and funding environment, it’s more important now more than ever for companies to be driving ROI and responsible growth through all of their marketing efforts – and LinkedIn is one channel where teams can make that happen.
First, a few high level considerations for companies that don’t want to dive deep:
Optimize Your Company Page: Your team is leaving meat on the bone if your company page isn’t all the way optimized – and this feature is completely free. There are many optimizations to drive traffic to your site and bolster your company’s brand and reputation. If you Google or Bing your company’s name, you will likely see some competitive ads, then your website, then your LinkedIn profile. That is a really powerful organic channel where prospects, employees, or even investors will be attempting to learn more about you. It’s very important, therefore, to use your company page to your advantage.
Take a Peak at the Tools LinkedIn Has Available Today: There is an unbelievable suite of audience and analytics tools that will make teams so much smarter, not just in terms of marketing, but even in terms of sales efforts. Work the company page, campaign manager, etc. You can do something as simple as applying a single pixel on your website to get smarter about your initial customer profile (or ICP).
Consider LinkedIn as a Customer Acquisition Channel: Today, when everyone is looking to drive revenue positive investments, you can acquire customers on LinkedIn. When you think about LinkedIn from a marketing POV think: That’s where I can acquire customers.
Startups today typically use LinkedIn for three primary purposes: Connect with Stakeholders, Understand their Prospects, and Acquire Customers. These are all fundamental to early-stage growth in a B2B company, and we jumped in on a high-level on how to quickly leverage LinkedIn to help.
Connecting with Stakeholders
The opportunity here begins with telling a good story. After all, these stories are how different stakeholders will experience your product and your brand. The three primary stories that must be socialized are:
Your Origin Story – Did you start in a garage? Who are the people involved? Why?
The Customer’s Problem + Your Solution – Don’t rush to specs and product features, talk about customer pain points, then how you fit their need
Your Vision – How can your company create a better future?
These three stories can all be a part of your company page. Furthermore, there’s already a lot of content you’re likely already sharing today – content in your blog, your Substack, or your company newsletter. That content can be repurposed and posted on LinkedIn. Companies with active LinkedIns have a 5x lift in page views, a 7x average increase in impressions per follower and 11x more clicks per follower. And this is free for you to do! You do not need to create content specific for LinkedIn, a lot of the good content marketing you’re already doing will meet an eager audience without any editing at all.
Furthermore, you can add a custom call-to-action (or CTA) to drive the right kinds of leads where you want to drive them (e.g. learn more, visit us, contact us). Do what matches the main purpose of your page – are you doing it for recruiting? Marketing/sales opportunities? Investors? etc. Do you as a company want to bring visitors to your home page, careers page, or requested demos page? Obviously you want to drive people back to your site – but what CTA best matches the content you are sharing?
A new addition here is that you can now go in as the page admin and see the individuals who follow your page – this is definitely worth checking every month or so. Maybe some angel investors, or a few folks from X company are visiting (are they in your sales process?). There is good intel in there for FP&A partners or sales partners. Furthermore, consider the content that you are posting. What sort of content should it be? LinkedIn has a content suggestions tool on your company page where you can build a specific audience – what are your buying personas? – match it to that. You can narrow it down to industry, location, city, etc. and figure out what is trending with them right now.
What other types of stories should you be considering in order to connect with stakeholders? Besides the three up top, consider:
Thought Leadership – For example, a third party website highlighting your founder’s vision
Product/Market Fit – Promoting a case study
Company Culture – Highlight cool things about your company to appeal to new hires
Finally, consider that people respond better to content when it’s coming from a person – there is just a natural relatability there – so take advantage of LinkedIn features to emulate that. You can share directly from your company page with your CEO or Head of Sales posting and showing up as a “repost” on that page. Soon, companies will also have the ability to promote these posts, which wasn’t historically available, but LinkedIn has started to realize just how important the creator/influencer recommendation is.
Understanding Your Prospects
This is especially important for seed and pre-seed companies. Most founders begin by getting feedback from their first-party network, but are otherwise not sure where to start. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that ICPs are discoverable and you can use LinkedIn to better understand your audience! On the company page, you can see who is looking and where you are getting traction – sort by a multitude of fields including company name, industry, size, job title, job seniority, job function, etc. Your ads platform/campaign manager lets you place a pixel on your website which will marry the LinkedIn members who are visiting your site from all channels and create an aggregate/holistic view – these are the folks who are coming to your site. You can use these engagement reports once you begin advertising – this way you can take a look at the different companies who are engaging with you across organic, paid, and your website. This is one of the biggest enhancements LinkedIn offers in helping sales and marketing align more closely.
Reps need to know what is piquing a customer’s interest so that they can better understand how the audience wants to engage and what they want to engage with. This can greatly improve conversion. Your LinkedIn rep can also help by using insights tools to create a map for you of where you’re getting deeper penetration compared to your competitors (e.g. look at your engagement vs. your six competitors for key audiences – what percent of mindshare are you with groups A, B, C, D, etc.). The goal is to feed insights with competitive intel.
Today, LinkedIn is currently the number one social platform for lead generation -and there’s a good reason for that! The data shows that compared to other social platforms LinkedIn users are 4x more likely to use LinkedIn to improve their career and learn, and when people are in a learning mindset, they’re more likely to resonate with the content. Furthermore, a whopping 71% of professionals use it to inform business decisions, and it remains the top channel to find relevant, safe, and quality business content.
Right now, 80% of all leads generated on social media come from LinkedIn, and for 40% of seed companies, their primary ad objective was lead generation. It would seem that seed and pre-seed startups are no longer able to just stay heads down working on an MVP. And, LinkedIn is further optimizing for these needs by improving their product suite to better optimize for the changing landscape.
Right now, there are a huge number of categories for customer targeting:
Years of Experience
Member Skills and Interests
In today’s discussion, we primarily wanted to focus on the three bolded categories which may not be as immediately obvious as the rest. These are all second-party data, meaning data that is coming from you. For example, for account targeting you can say something like “Tom on my sales team has these 500 accounts, so we want to run account-based marketing (ABM) to move them through the sales funnel.” With content targeting you can do that for individuals as well. This becomes more valuable the larger your CRM becomes. Conversely, if you are a product-led growth (PLG) company, and you are doing a bottoms-up motion, you could do contact targeting on all of your free users, and run a conversion campaign to convert people into paid.
The other good PLG tactic companies often implement is getting into sales assist – you can take the company names of your free users, load them into the platform, and then layer in the right seniority to find the decision makers at those companies, to let them know: “Hey, your teams are using the free version, and you can get more efficiency by launching whatever the next tier is.” This is more of a middle-out strategy.
Finally, there is also retargeting. You can run a video that says something like “Hey Customer, this is what we know is your problem,” and you can then retarget a certain percentage of users who completed that video (or watched part of the video) with a single image ad that talks more about the value prop. Anyone who engages with that, you can retarget with a lead gen form, ebook, or whitepaper (could ask them to download this, and then you have their contact info). And once you get their info, it’s not just on LinkedIn anymore, it’s also through your CRM. The ultimate goal is to gradually push folks down the funnel into a demo.
One other feature that’s worth talking about are lookalikes – you can take any of these lists and go and find more people who are “alike.” Foe example, people or companies who have purchased your product. The difference with doing this on LinkedIn is that LinkedIn is building those lookalikes based on a company’s business DNA. Of course, the process isn’t perfect, you want to put in exclusions on top of the lookalikes. If there are certain audiences you know you don’t want to speak to, be sure to exclude them. For example, perhaps you want sales but not business development, put up some guardrail.
What is the LinkedIn Audience Network (LAN) and Lead Gen Forms?
This is where your ads are being distributed – you can find people when they are not on LinkedIn, for example (the same people, different places). This is great if you have upper funnel or straight-to-site goals. Are you trying to increase brand awareness or drive people to your website to engage with something? LAN is really effective because you know you’re reaching the right people. LinkedIn has invested a lot in brand safety, so you have controls on what sites you’re reaching people on. Where it can fall short is trying to reach people for mid-funnel lead gen. You can’t do lead gen forms for LAN and lead gen forms are important because you increase lead volume, quality and speed. They are very popular because it sucks to click on an ad, open a new site, and fill out information all over again just to reach something you’re only mildly interested in. There’s normally a huge bounce rate for this – a 3-5% conversion rate max when you send people to your own site. Lead Gen Forms, however, change the game. They can 3-4x those numbers with the benchmark being at around 12% – because it’s only two taps (tap to learn more, tap to get a pre-filled submission form that goes directly into your CRM). There’s just better volume and better accuracy. 89% of startups that advertise with them use Lead Gen Forms.
How many filters should you use for Lead Gen Forms? What are the best practices there?
Change the question to what should my audience size be? You could add 20 filters and still have an audience of 20 million if they’re not the right filters. It will always come down to the tradeoffs of having a large vs niche audience. One of the things you hear is that startups really want a very tight audience when they are starting a campaign. You do a list and get to like 12K people. You won’t get the exit you want if your audience is 12K people. You’re missing out on your buying committee. 7 people are involved in B2B buying decisions, not even including influencers. Assuming you’re not just selling to 10 large pharma companies, get the first audience north of 30,000 just to see what happens. The risk is that if you have too small of an audience, 1) you won’t reach them, 2) you will have to pay a lot to reach them, and 3) they will fatigue so quickly. That being said, don’t go too broad either, work with sales on the right exclusion filters.
How are webinars doing right now?
Webinars were super hot in the summer/fall of 2020, but then there was a big backlash, and what LinkedIn saw happen (and what is still a best practice) is on-demand content. You can gate on-demand content and that tends to play. People just want to watch things on their own time. Unless you can guarantee a great audience and some benefit for being live, then do it on-demand. Just do 2-3 a year and have them continue to live on as evergreen pieces.
What should time to touch look like on leads coming in through LinkedIn?
The first follow-up should be universal, and time to touch is super important. A lot of this will depend on the size of your sales team, but at the very minimum you want same-day. Their time to touch on the LinkedIn team is down to 18 minutes. The biggest mistake the sales team makes is not customizing their outreach to the channel that the lead came through (and this is dependent on marketing to make sure that sales know what content they downloaded or engaged with, and where). It should say “Hi NAME, I saw you engaged with X on Y, I’m following up…” That will elevate it immediately from all the other cold inbound that decisionmakers get.
Also, mix your channels. It shouldn’t just be email as a follow-up. Use sales navigator to follow-up as well as a nice compliment.
Leading the New + Emerging Business org within LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, Tom Eschbacher has built out a 25-person group dedicated specifically to helping startups achieve their demand gen goals. Each half, the LinkedIn Marketing for Startups team partners with ~800 VC-backed B2B startups to build an ROI-positive channel strategy.
Tom has been at LinkedIn since 2016. Prior to that, he worked in ad sales at Vevo, Shazam and the National Basketball Association. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two young sons.