Everywhere you turn, there’s an endless list of marketing tactics for expanding your business: 7 best practices for this, 14 ways to get more of that, how to accomplish something while sleeping. We have 50-bajillion ways to get our stuff shared on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter. Well that’s as dandy as a June bug on a summer’s day.
But what about us B2B folks? Where’s the love? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my enterprise clients are going to go hog wild and talk about how much they love my analytics tips on their Facebook Timeline. Something tells me that a B2B SaaS product isn’t going to make it either.
So what’s a B2B marketer to do?
Don’t despair! Hiten Shah (co-founder of KISSmetrics) put together a presentation at the unSEXY conference to help you solve this exact problem. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the 5 best distribution hacks for B2B marketers. Let’s dive in, shall we…
Pop quiz! What’s the fastest, easiest, highest-potential way to increase your customer base in the B2B space?
Answer: get jiggy with other people’s platforms. Say what? Look for integrations with other products.
When you integrate with a successful product that already has a substantial user base, you tap into that market and get your product in front of them. That’s a huge audience you’ll gain access to.
Here are some great examples of platforms you can integrate with:
- Shopify: 30,000+ businesses
- Salesforce: 100,000+ businesses
- Box: 120,000+ businesses
- 37signals: 150,000+ businesses
- Yammer: 200,000+ businesses
- Constant Contact: 400,000+ businesses
- MailChimp: 2,000,000+ people
- FreshBooks: 4,500,000+ people
Granted, simply building a product integration with one of these gorillas won’t instantly send you a flood of new customers. It will take some time before you get traction with that audience. And the key to getting traction is your partner page.
Products that are integration friendly usually have a partner page that lists all of the other products they’ll integrate with. Check out this example from 37signals:
This is how people will find you the first time. They will be scrolling through all the options, so you will have only a second or two to grab their attention. Often, the platform will post your logo with a one-sentence description of what you do. Spend plenty of extra time on that first bit of copy because this is where you’ll either keep someone’s attention or lose them forever.
Also, put extra effort into your partner page (if the platform gives you one). Rock the copy, post great screenshots, and put together a first-class video. Here’s a partner page from Shopify:
And definitely spend some time going through all of the other partner pages, since they’ll give you a good idea of what the standard is. Your goal is to exceed that standard, so your product stands out.
Once your partner page starts pulling in users, you want to double check and make sure this user base is a good fit for you. Every platform has a different audience. Some will stick, but others won’t. So look at usage rates, revenue, and reviews from those users. If you’re getting good feedback, look for other ways to integrate your product with that platform.
If you want to cut a business development deal with a platform and do co-promotions, or market to their customer list, or anything else, they will want to see results first. Your partner page gives you the results you need to close bigger deals.
Integrations Best Practices
Make your product better. Don’t integrate for the sake of integrating. Look for integrations that will add more value for your customers. Users of other products aren’t going to make the jump to yours unless they can clearly see the benefits of it.
Measure your conversion and revenue. Every audience is different. So is every user base. Some groups will love what you’re doing, but others won’t click. When you start integrating your product, make sure you can track those integrations. If you find an audience that’s a good fit, focus more energy on making that integration even more awesome. However, if the integration flops, try a different one.
Make your partner page awesome. Remember, your partner page is the critical piece for gaining traction with that new user base. Other than building a valuable integration, this is what gets you off the ground.
2. Work Emails
When you gain a new user, you also gain a connection to a whole new network. There are co-workers, friends, professional contacts, clients, and other customers that this person already knows. You’ll increase the value that you provide and multiply your user base by tapping into that network. How are we going to do it? Email addresses. Yup, we’re going old school.
For this devious little plan of ours to work, we’re going to need people to give us emails that are from their company. It’s not going to do us any good to have users with emails like email@example.com. So instead of simply asking for an email address, specifically request a WORK email address.
Here’s how Yammer does it:
This signup box does a great job of encouraging me to give them my KISSmetrics email instead of any of the other half dozen emails I have.
After they get my (the new user’s) work email, they can start connecting me to people from the same company. Yammer immediately looks through their user list and tells me who else has already signed up with an email address from kissmetrics.com. Then there’s a much greater chance that I’ll stick around and use the product regularly.
But Laaaaaaaaaars! Yammer is a social network that’s built around connections and sharing. What about my product?
Does your product allow multiple users on the same account? Because if you’re B2B, it should. And in that case, emphasize the invitation over the connection. Let’s use another Yammer example. In step 2 of the signup process, a new user is asked to invite other users:
See how Yammer encourages me to invite people from my company that may not have signed up already? You could easily apply this to something like an accounting product. Encourage your users to invite their co-workers so they can also use it. This will enhance the value that you provide them and broaden the reach of your product.
The main point is to look for ways that help you spread your product throughout the organization of your customer. Your users already have an established network simply by working as an employee. Take advantage of it and start mapping those emails via connections and invitations.
Work Emails Best Practices
Optimize onboarding. The best time to get people to invite their co-workers is during the onboarding process. Once you have the basic contact information for the account, tell your users to invite other members of their team. This will bring you new users at a much faster pace.
Show people who they should follow. If your app has any social component to it at all, definitely offer suggestions on who they should follow. This doesn’t have to be some fancy algorithm; start with making suggestions based on the domain of their email. (You’ll probably want to exclude emails from typical domains like gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.)
Measure the number of people in each company. This is how you determine success. If over 90% of your users have emails with completely different domains, you’re not doing a great job of encouraging co-workers to invite each other. You’ll also need to know which companies are power users so you can find your best customers. When you know who your best customers are, you can figure out ways to turn average customers into your best ones.
Discover engaging interactions. To encourage organizations to use your product more frequently, you’ll need to discover which interactions separate the normal users from the power users. With most products, there’s an “Aha!” moment when a user suddenly sees the value and starts using it heavily. The more “Aha!” moments you create, the more invitations your users will send out.
Sharing isn’t just for funny cat photos and bears falling out of trees. If you offer the right kind of content in the right platform, professionals will gladly share your stuff with each other. That means you get other people to spread your message for you. How awesome is that?
But your embeds won’t spread on hopes and dreams. You’ll need the right content if people are going to spread your embeds for you.
Let’s look at a real example. Wistia hosts videos for businesses and offers a lot more flexibility than Youtube. Since hosting and sharing videos is a perfect opportunity for an embed, they’ve taken full advantage of it. Whenever a customer embeds a video into an email, website, or blog, Wistia gets a chance to introduce themselves to a new group of people.
Take a look at Mixergy (a Wistia customer) and see how Wista gets a plug every time Andrew Warner posts an interview:
In the bottom right of the embed, there’s the Wistia logo and a link. And it’s not just a link — people get a demonstration of the Wistia product right then and there by watching the video. It’s perfect for getting in front of new people and demonstrating the value of the product.
If your product makes it easy to share content, embeds are a perfect way to build your business and find new customers. Remember, your product needs to provide something that’s worth sharing. If people won’t link to you, they’ll never use an embed.
Embeds Best Practices
Why should people embed? This is the hardest part of getting embeds to work. Some products have sharing built in (like Wistia and SlideShare) and work really well. For others, making embeds work takes a lot more creativity. Start with giving something that can be shared. Once you make that work, you’re on the right track to successfully using embeds.
Make it as easy as possible to embed. The embed process needs to be dead simple. If you’re forcing me to run through the woods, hop a creek, and climb through grandma’s window just to get a cookie, you’re doing it wrong. Build a “paste, copy, done.” Even better, set up a checkbox that does everything automatically.
Track how well your embeds convert. Just like everything else suggested here, you’ll need to know if this tactic was worth the effort. So track your embeds and see if they are working. It’ll probably take a few tries before anything takes off.
Track relevant calls to action. If you’re offering embeds for free (like SlideShare), include a strong call to action in the bottom of the widget. Something like “Need to share your own presentations? Try Slideshare for free.” But when your paid customers are using embeds, I would go easy and include a simple logo with a link. You don’t want to get in the way of your customers and alienate them.
Optimize for search, but don’t obsess. Here’s a quick way to double up on your SEO while you work the embed angle. As you build the embed, make sure that it’s SEO friendly, so that it passes some nice link juice to your domain and content. This post on using SEO with videos and embeds from SEOmoz will get you pointed in the right direction. Don’t worry about optimizing every ounce of SEO juice. B2B doesn’t acquire customers from organic search as well as B2C. So grab the quick wins and move on to your next project.
4. Powered By
Use “Powered By” as the simplified embed. It’s not as powerful as being able to strut your stuff, but you still get to plug your product.
Instead of trying to get users to share something and building an embed for it, you’re simply tagging your product when it’s being used.
This is a popular tactic for the limited or free plans in SaaS products. It works like this: you have a subscription plan at $20/month, but the product will include your brand. If people want the unbranded option, they’ll have to pop for the $50/month plan.
The beauty of this is that marketers, founders, designers, engineers, and everyone else in business are constantly looking at other businesses for inspiration. I frequently sign up for trials, newsletters, and other promotions to find new tools. And I’m not the only one.
Qualaroo uses this exact framework:
If you’re on the Free or Premium plans, your Qualaroo surveys will say “Powered by Qualaroo” at the bottom. Plugging your own product is a perfect way to get noticed by new people and to tell them where they need to go to find you.
Other products that work perfectly with this:
- Any widget that users add to their site
Really, anything that gets sent to other people or that will be publicly visible is a perfect match for this.
Powered By Best Practices
What are you powering? Don’t slap your logo and a “Powered By” tagline on any random item that you can get populated on other sites. It needs to make sense. Otherwise, you’re losing out on a huge opportunity because no one will understand the connection.
Test the copy of your call to action. “Powered By” might be the best phrase for you. Or maybe it’s “Cheerfully Delivered.” The only way you’ll know is by testing your copy. You also want to test the calls to action like your “learn more” link. Test, test, then test again.
Test and optimize your landing page. If you send people straight to your home page from the “Powered By” link, you’ll be losing out on new customers. Instead, build a landing page that includes copy and a call to action that’s directly relevant to people that have seen your “Powered By” tag.
Track views, clicks, conversions, and LTV. Great! You just launched a “Powered By” link and have it on hundreds of other sites. Now it’s time to see if it was worth the effort. Track how many people view the link, how many people click it, how many people convert (sign up for a free trial, join your newsletter, buy a product, etc.), and what the lifetime value of those customers is.
Measure individual effectiveness. Just like your integrations, the quality of traffic will vary widely by each site with a “Powered By” tag. So make sure you can track individual sites. (This is easy to do with KISSmetrics.) Most won’t send you any customers. But a few sites will be a perfect fit for your product. When you find them, look for more ways to build the connection between your product and their audience.
5. Free Stuff
B2B marketing is so much more difficult than B2C because it’s harder to find groups of potential customers all in one place. Sure, we can play the conference or trade show game. We also might be able to get featured on an industry blog. But that usually only scratches the surface. Many of our customers get split between industries, continents, and professions.
We overcome this by encouraging our target market to come to us. Basically, we want people to “raise their hand” so we know who’s interested. Then it’s a straightforward process of demonstrating value and building trust. (It may not be easy, but it’s straightforward.)
So how do we get people to “raise their hand”? Give out free stuff.
But I’m not talking about any ordinary swag pen. We have to give freebies that people VALUE, that they actually want to use. This accomplishes several goals:
- The freebie delivers value and demonstrates that we know what we’re doing.
- People will share the freebies with their own networks (if it’s good).
- The freebie starts to build trust, which will be critical for closing the sale later.
SEOmoz does this beautifully with their Beginner’s Guide to SEO. They update it regularly, and it’s probably the single best introduction to the SEO world. When a client asks me where they should go to learn more about SEO, can you guess where I send them? Yup, right to SEOmoz. On the first page, they’ll see this little call to action:
Without even knowing who I am, SEOmoz has tapped into my network and is pitching my clients. And I’m completely okay with that. My client wins by getting the best crash course in SEO out there (for free), I win by directing my client to world-class content and building my reputation with the client, and SEOmoz wins by building their brand and potentially getting a new customer.
Now, does SEOmoz convert many first time visitors into paid subscribers? I doubt it. But they get their brand in front of people LONG before any other SEO SaaS product has a chance.
Months from now (or years), when that client wants to double down on SEO, the first place they’re going to look is SEOmoz, which probably will get the sale, too.
Here’s some other great examples of this in action:
When you’re thinking of freebies to bring customers to you, consider these options:
- Small apps or tools
- Infographics (interactive ones will add a lot of value over a typical infographic)
- Blog Posts
- White Papers
- Free consultations
- Beginner’s Guides
- Bundles that have several of the above items
Free Stuff Best Practices
Map to customer decision making. Your customers will go through several stages before they hand over their credit card. And you’ll need freebies for each stage. Looking for a way to reach new people for the first time? Build a beginner’s guide that introduces people to your industry. For people further along in the buying process, provide more advanced tools that position your product as the next step.
Think about what you can repackage. Find work that you’ve already done and can re-use for this. For example, take all of your blog posts on a specific topic, combine them into an ebook, and give it out in exchange for emails. Also, look through your internal documentation and repackage it.
Educate your prospects. For B2B, sales cycles take a lot longer than B2C. It can take months or years before someone is ready to buy. Because of the time lag, it can be pretty difficult to have someone remember you when they’re finally ready to purchase. The best way to overcome this challenge is to position yourself as an expert in your space by offering freebies that help educate people. When the time is right, you’ll be the first one they think of.
Test your ideas minimally. If you’ve spent any time putting together content and free stuff to generate leads, you’ll know that the content monster is one hungry beast. As soon as you release one freebie, 5 more start demanding your attention. So don’t worry about making it perfect; get it shipped and see if people love it. Then give it that extra polish after you hit a nerve and get a good response.
Measure and optimize revenue. Just like every other item on this list, it’s super important to keep track of what’s working. Most of your freebies won’t get anyone excited. But every once in a while, you’ll hit a home run. (It’ll go viral as the kiddos say). When this happens, you’ll want to know that the freebie actually helped your business. So tie your content back to revenue instead of metrics like page views and social sharing.
As B2B marketers, we have a lot of methods to hack distribution and get our product in front of more people. We might not have the same opportunity with Facebook and Pinterest as B2C companies, but we still have plenty of options.
The next time you’re brainstorming ways to increase growth and reach new audiences, consider these 5 distribution hacks:
- Work Emails
- Powered By
- Free Stuff
None of them require any ad expenditure, and each one has a lot of potential to get you to the next level.
Now it’s time for me to learn from YOU. What other distribution hacks have you used to spread your B2B product?
About the Author: Lars Lofgren is the KISSmetrics Marketing Analyst and has his Google Analytics Individual Qualification (he’s certified). Learn how to grow your business at his marketing blog or follow him on Twitter@larslofgren.