In my experience, using LinkedIn for B2B lead generation can be an extremely effective marketing strategy. It can also be an extremely expensive strategy and a waste of budget if you don’t put in the up-front work.
When I started running LinkedIn ads for my company two years ago, this is what I was working with:
- A company in a very niche industry (digital color management)
- One of four core industries to target, depending on the campaign. And several other secondary industries
- More than a dozen industrial products
- The task of going after leads with job titles that aren’t common enough to appear in LinkedIn’s targeting options
- Because we’re catering to such a niche audience, the volume of website visitors needed for running a retargeting campaign often isn’t there
Thanks to these factors, running successful LinkedIn campaigns required some creativity and a lot of trial and error. I knew we’d never be successful if I checked off a few targeting parameters, wrote some simple copy, attached an image, and launched the campaign. It was going to take more strategic thinking than that.
My efforts have paid off. The most recent cost-per-lead benchmark I saw from LinkedIn was $100-$150 per lead. Meanwhile, I’ve run multiple campaigns that hover around the $30 per lead mark.
Here’s what I’ve learned about running successful LinkedIn lead-generation campaigns over the past two years. Of course, this advice isn’t guaranteed to work in all cases, but it should help you get on the right track with your own campaigns.
Don’t Start with a Lead-Generation Campaign
Wait a minute. I just told you we’re going to talk about lead-gen specifically. But hear me out. How would you feel if a stranger sent you a private message saying: ““Hi, nice to meet you. Please give me your name, company, job title, and email address”? You’d probably run in the other direction.
That’s the equivalent of launching a lead-generation campaign to an audience targeting an audience that doesn’t know you. Instead, start with awareness if there’s even a chance your audience isn’t familiar with what your company has to offer.
An example: Last year, I was tasked with reaching a brand-new audience for our business. The problem was, we’d never worked with contacts in this industry before. So I took my time and divided my budget strategically. Before even thinking about lead generation, I launched three sponsored content campaigns, one every couple of weeks, focused solely on generating awareness.
Since my company sells instruments and software to help companies control the color of their products (yes it’s as fascinating an industry as it sounds like), here were the topics of my three awareness campaigns:
- A blog about how humans see color — and why we often disagree about the color of objects
- A blog about physical factors like medications or our mood that influence our perception of color
- Finally, a blog that explains why controlling color is so important in their specific industry
When we finally launched our messaging ad (or InMail) lead-generation campaign, our final open rate was 72 percent (LinkedIn benchmark: 56.6%) and 39% of these people completed our lead form (LinkedIn benchmark: 7.14%).
This approach gave us credibility because we were sharing valuable information, not broadcasting out a sales pitch. LinkedIn is a platform where every few connection requests come from someone trying to sell to you. Offer more than that.
Choose Your Campaign Format Wisely
I’m a big fan of messaging ads for LinkedIn lead-generation. The platform also lets you attach forms to sponsored content that appears in users’ LinkedIn feeds alongside an image or video, but these have never converted well for me. Here are a few benefits of using private message ads:
- I’ve been told by contacts at LinkedIn that users can only receive one sponsored message ad every couple of months. This means their inboxes aren’t flooded with similar messages fighting for their contact information. Meanwhile, a single LinkedIn user can see sponsored posts from a single brand up to four times a day.
- The cost per send is significantly lower for messaging ad campaigns. In the example I shared above, our cost per send was $0.22. Of course, not every recipient will fill out your form, but even if they skim your message, I still believe you’ve captured more of their attention than serving them an add while they’re scrolling through their LinkedIn feed.
- These messages stay in a recipient’s inbox. I always see our open rate and form-fills increase even after our campaign budget is spent. This is because people can reference the message days or weeks later and fill out the attached form. For sponsored content, when your campaign budget is spent, the ad no longer delivers.
- Sponsored messages can come from an actual person at your company. This makes them far more personal than a post from your company (more on that below).
One more note: you could also choose to have the form live on your website. However, this requires keeping someone’s attention across multiple platforms. Without offering high-value content in exchange for a form-fill, you might find that people are reluctant to leave LinkedIn to give you their information.
Make Your Message Personal and Don’t Waste Your Audience’s Time
This advice applies specifically to messaging ad campaigns. I mentioned above that these campaigns are more personal than sponsored content campaigns because they come from someone at your company. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding who the message should come from:
- Based on the audience you’re targeting, who at your company would have the most credibility?
- What makes them especially qualified to send this message? In the example I shared earlier, our head of marketing used to work in the same industry we were targeting. So we wrote a campaign message that included her past experience and related to the challenges of this target audience. Just make sure whatever you write is true!
- Does the sender have a clear, professional LinkedIn picture picture and a filled-out profile that shows their experience? If a recipient of your message investigates the sender’s LinkedIn presence, will it align with your brand?
Beyond choosing the right sender, do some research to understand the business challenges of your target audience. This can provide great information to inform subject lines (messaging ads) or headlines (sponsored content that appears in a user’s feed) that you can A/B test. Does your audience care about cost most? Quality? Speed? These are all things you can find out by testing different copy.
Finally, offer something truly useful in exchange for that form-fill. Being vague won’t work here. Clearly state that offer in both your text and your call-to-action button.
Keep Your Forms Simple and Clear
Even if they’ve made it from your campaign copy to your attached form, don’t assume someone knows exactly what they’ll get. Use your form copy as another option to clearly state what you’re offering (and even how they’ll receive it).
For the form itself, the fewer fields, the better. It might be tempting to learn as much about each person as possible, but resist the urge and only include what you absolutely need to know.
I also highly recommend skipping LinkedIn’s option to attach custom questions to your form. Unlike pre-set form fields, custom questions cannot auto-fill based on a user’s LinkedIn profile. Create any friction in the form-fill process and you risk people closing the browser window before clicking “submit”.
One final tip on this front: If it’s critical that you get business email addresses vs. personal ones, LinkedIn has a specific “work email” field. Not everyone has their work email on their profile, but choosing this certainly gives you a better chance of getting a lead you can actually use, instead of an old, neglected aol.com email address.
Build Your Audience Targeting Carefully
I love how specific LinkedIn’s targeting options are. But as I mentioned before, they don’t always match the job titles I’m going after. A lot of times, even the industries I want to reach aren’t an option… they’re just that specific. Even if you’re in a similar position, you can make LinkedIn’s vast targeting options work for you.
Here are a few approaches to take:
- Talk to your sales team about the companies and job functions (not titles) they’re most interested in reaching. At my company, we have some industries where our ideal contacts are in the marketing department and others where they work in quality control or research. Understanding who your sales team talks to at this company can go a long way in getting targeting right.
- Think more broadly about the industry you want to reach. One of my company’s core industries is “paint and coatings”. Paint is not a company industry option on LinkedIn. Neither is coatings. But I discovered that many of the companies we’re trying to reach are categorized as “chemicals” by LinkedIn. One way to figure this out is to go to the LinkedIn profiles of the companies you want to reach. You’ll see the industry they selected right underneath their name.
- Based on your target audience, Google “top companies in [insert industry]” and use this to broaden the reach of your campaign. Odds are, there a lot of companies you haven’t thought of before.
- Experiment with different combinations of targeting stacked together. I’ve found targeting by LinkedIn group membership and job function to be extremely useful. Being a member of a LinkedIn group often means you’re fairly serious about that industry. By layering in job function (in our case this could be things like “research” and “quality”), you can tap into audiences you might not have been able to reach otherwise. Depending on your audience size at this point, you might also add in “seniority” to target the people most likely to be in decision-making positions. For good measure, I also add C-Suite positions to my targeting. There’s no harm in getting on their radar with a well-written message about how you can help their company be successful!
Start your Maximum Bid on the High End
I got this advice from a contact at LinkedIn and it seems to work well. You’ll only pay enough to have your ad win out over the highest bidder (so if your bid is set to $7 and the current highest bidder is paying $5, LinkedIn will charge you $5.01, not $7, to reach your audience. Only you can decide what you’re willing to pay per engagement, but if you’re comfortable bidding on the higher end of LinkedIn’s recommendation it should pay off.
Have a Clear Plan for What’s Next
So you did the steps above and people are filling out your LinkedIn lead-generation form — great! But don’t just let them sit there until you get around to giving them that useful piece of content you promised.
Have you set up an (ideally automated) process for getting the content to leads fast? If you promised an ebook but you took three days to send that ebook, your chances of those people actually opening the email and downloading it could decrease dramatically.
We’re inundated with information every day across multiple social media platforms. Personally, I’d probably forget about that form fill after a day or less and be more likely to delete an email from the company when it finally arrived.
LinkedIn lead generation forms can connect to marketing automation platforms like Marketo, which gives you the opportunity to keep the attention of your leads while keeping your own attention on all the other things you need to do as a marketer. Even if you don’t have these tools, I wouldn’t recommend taking more than a day to reach out to anyone who filled out your form.
Beyond sending the initial content you’ve promised, once they’ve opted into regular communication from your company, don’t stop there. Would it be amazing if a single piece of content resulted in a B2B sale? Absolutely. But that isn’t typically the reality.
That’s why continuous, useful engagement is important. So plan ahead and think about how you’ll keep their attention over time and take them from “I’ve never heard of that company” to “that company’s products are exactly what I need!”
One More Little Messaging Ad Detail: Send Yourself a Test Message
LinkedIn lets you send yourself a test version of your InMail message before you launch a campaign, and I highly recommend doing this. Make sure the spacing is correct, key phrases are bolded, and any links go to the right place.
Ask yourself: if you received this message from a company, would you fill out the form? Is there anything you can do to make it more engaging and easy to read?
These tips have been extremely useful for me, and I hope they’ll help you run better LinkedIn lead-generation campaigns, too. To recap:
- Start with awareness campaigns to build brand recognition
- Choose your campaign format wisely
- Make your message personal and don’t waste the recipient’s time
- Keep your lead-generation forms simple and clear
- Build your audience targeting strategically
- Start with a high maximum bid
- Have a clear plan for future engagement with your new leads
- Send yourself a test message
LinkedIn campaigns can be tricky to navigate, but in my experience, it’s well worth the time and effort! Have you tried any of these tips for your own campaigns? Do you have another strategy for lead-generation on LinkedIn that’s worked well? I want to hear about it.