In this episode, AJ Wilcox, a speaker, B2Linked founder, and digitial marketing expert, talks about LinkedIn Ads and its benefits. Learn why AJ prefers LinkedIn Ads over Google Ads or Facebook ads. He also dives into why LinkedIn offers a higher quality of leads and why narrow targeting works best on LinkedIn versus Facebook Ads to hit the exact right people. Revealing which companies are ready to use LinkedIn, AJ gets down on why LinkedIn Ads is still worth using despite the high costs.
We have AJ Wilcox coming to us from B2Linked. He is a LinkedIn expert. He is the guy that you want to sit down with because this is what he does. He doesn't do Facebook. He doesn't worry about Google Ads. He sits there and all he does is LinkedIn and it bears to sit there and listen to an expert that can sit there and go, "Is this right for me?" If it is, how do we do it right?” AJ, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much. I’m excited to be here.
I'm excited to have you here. We tried to do this once, it didn't work out well. We did it again and I love having you here. Thanks for being patient with me as I was getting over this cold.
I’m happy to be.
This show is all about who are you, what do you do, why do you do it, and who do you do it for and why do they care? It's about your story. Let's start with the story of AJ and the story of B2Linked and give me a little history before we get into this show.
It started out as me in college. I got into digital marketing because I was studying marketing, but I was working a technology job where I was getting paid more than anyone else on campus. I went, "I don't want to leave tech." One of my guest lecturers stood up and started talking about search engine optimization and that was exactly it for me. It was, "This is technology plus marketing. That's what I want to do for the rest of my life." I went up after class and begged that poor man for an internship and that started my career into it. I started out doing search engine optimization, Google ads, building websites, that type of thing and I liked it.
Then about five years later, I was brought in as the digital marketing manager running all digital marketing for a local technology company that just got VC-funded. They had money. On my very first day talking to the CMO where I was laying out the strategies that I wanted to implement, she stopped me and said, "That sounds great. Go ahead and implement it, but just so you know, we started a pilot two weeks ago with LinkedIn ads. Let’s see what you can do." I saluted and said, "Yes, ma'am, absolutely." I walked out of her office and went, "What are LinkedIn ads? I've never heard of them. They must be terrible if I haven't heard of them.”
I didn't want to look stupid with my new boss. I went and jumped into the platform. Then about two weeks later, I had a sales rep come up to me. He introduced himself and said, "AJ, we are fighting over your leads. Keep it up, whatever you're doing." I went, "What are you talking about?" I logged into the CRM system that was recording all the leads and looked at the leads he was talking about. All of them were sourced from LinkedIn at that point. That was not the only channel I was running. I took it at that point going, "There's something to this. If this one channel is producing all of the leads that the sales team loves, maybe I should keep investing." I did. I grew that account to become LinkedIn's largest spending customer worldwide. I ran that account for about two and a half years. At that point I went, "There are probably more companies than just this one that needs LinkedIn ads because no one was talking about it." No one was asking questions. It was like LinkedIn ads didn't exist and I was killing it. I decided to start an agency and that's all we do.
That's crazy because LinkedIn has been around many years now at the outset and the world has changed. The world has changed dramatically. Everybody knows about Facebook ads. People understood about the Google ads and they realize this they say, "You either dabble in them and you do them poorly or you educate yourself and you figure it out or you hire somebody and you do it well." LinkedIn ads, for a lot of companies, they are sitting there like, "They're expensive. They don't work. They're not somebody that's going to be good for our company." You worked for a company that killed it with LinkedIn ads obviously because you wouldn't be using that spend on LinkedIn if you didn't. The question is, “Why would somebody want to look at LinkedIn ads versus Google ads versus Facebook ads? What type of company is going to see value in it?”
I'll take it away. The LinkedIn ads, the whole special part about it is LinkedIn knows everything about us professionally. They know our job title, what company we're at, what size of the company, who we are connected with, what we're interested, what skills we have, what groups we're members of and it just goes on and on. If you're in the type of company where let's say there's a very specific type of user who would be your ideal customer, if it's a business person, chances are you can narrow very closely, tightly down on them. LinkedIn's going to give you the leads that are exactly the right people. We call it spearfishing. They’re ones that you're most excited to put their logo on your website when you're done. Whereas with Facebook, the targeting is certainly a lot cheaper. The targeting is a lot broader. Think of it as a shotgun versus a sniper rifle. Sniper rifles have expensive bullets, but it's a one and done. Facebook, it's like a shotgun. You spread it wide and a few BBs are going to hit your target, but the rest is going to fall around it. Facebook is really good for companies who are just trying to task, trying to understand, “What do I have? Who's interested in it?”
At some point, they're going to come to LinkedIn because their sales reps will start telling them, "We're getting a lot of really low quality leads here. Can you tighten this up?" That's where LinkedIn all of a sudden starts to make a ton of sense. Google specifically is really good. People should be using search channels like Google and being an SEO. What they do is they bring the people to you who are already looking for you there. They're showing intent by their query. They're looking for the type of product and service you do. They're going to bring in these deals that close tomorrow. These are ready buyers, but you have no control over who they are. The sales team may say they're lower quality leads but they close fast and it's pretty good to have a variety to your sales team. Certainly LinkedIn, think of it like the sniper rifle. It's much more valuable for hitting the exact right people.
When you're talking to an initial client, what are the things that you're looking for? What are the keywords you're looking for? What's the phraseology? What's the thought process? What's the strategy of these companies that make them right for LinkedIn ads? They're not right for everybody because as you said, they are expensive. If you look at them, I look at it like email versus direct mail. Direct mail, if you can do a targeted direct mail campaign that is printed out, variable printed and sniper attack to individual people, I've got 45%, 55%, 65% response rates on those, which is impossible via email. The question is, when does it make sense to bring out that sniper rifle, load in the great big cartridge and go elephant hunting?
I have four qualifications that I use anytime someone asks me about LinkedIn ads. Number one, I want to know that their audience is there. Can you describe who your ideal person is by their job title, their company size, their industry and those types of things? If we know that your audience is there, that's tick one. Tick two, I want to know that you have a large enough deal size or lifetime value of your customers so that if you're paying for LinkedIn's expensive clicks upfront, I want to know for sure you're going to see a return on your investment. In my mind, I'm like, $10,000 $15,000 more as lifetime value. LinkedIn ads are a total no brainer. If you're less than that, then you better make sure that you're testing properly and that your funnel is tight. Of course, some people are making it work with much smaller deal sizes and lifetime values, but that's where I set my minimum app. Number three, I want to know what type of content you have. Are you hoping to send someone right to an ad that says, "Click here to talk to our sales rep?" No one's going to click that. You won't get any leads,
It’s known, like and trusts.Search channels like Google, Bing, and SEO bring you the people who are already looking for you. Click To Tweet
Exactly, but if you have that type of content that can get people to know, like and trust you. Let's say you have a free checklist or a cheat sheet that solves a pain point for your customers. It's insightful. You're throwing a free webinar or a free in-person event in their area, where you're going to have drinks and happy hour and all that. These are the types of things where people go, "I know if I give my email address, someone's going to follow up, but I'm willing to do that because this is too good to pass up." Number four, you got to have enough budget to know whether or not it's working. What I tell people is it's usually within about $3,000 to $5,000 in spend before you get enough conversions that your data becomes statistically significant. If you're working with an agency like ours that has a minimum cost associated with managing it, then I tell people, "Make sure you're spending that $3,000 to $5,000 per month. That way by the end of each month you can evaluate results and say, "Yes, this is working. We should keep going or scale-up,” or “No, it sucks. We should fire AJ."
We don't want people to fire AJ.
If it's not working, I don't want you to spend with your money on LinkedIn.
Let's look at me as a case study because I do a couple of things. I've got the workshops and the consulting, but I'm just in the process of building an online series of courses that match my two-day workshops. The two-day workshops start about $25,000 US, but the online courses are going to be about $500 a person. What I'm looking to do is sell them as site licenses for larger organizations. That way we can look at and sit there and say, "You may have 1,000, 3,000, 5,000, 10,000 employees. You may not be able to afford to have me come in and teach your people, 25 people at a time at $25,000, but you may be able to afford a site license for your 10,000 people to be able to have it on a yearly license basis. My question is, if I'm looking at B2B companies, if I'm looking for companies with 1,000 to 10,000 people. I'm looking for VP, HRs or people who run that type of role, am I looking at the right thing? What are the things that I should be thinking about when I'm starting this type of campaign?
You already know where you want to end people up. You're either having them buy a larger site license or dropping them in the $25,000 two-day workshop and that's great. On both of those, you have a very significant end to your funnel and you can work back from there figure out, what is it that people need to invest in, invest their time and money into for this to be worthwhile? Getting someone from a free webinar is probably a great start. You're already coaching, teaching and training. You already have these materials. Buying GoToWebinar for a month to put something on the test that would be a really low investment. You want to make sure that you drop enough knowledge on them that they say, "This was great. This was life-changing. I'm ready for the next step." I don't know if the next step is to buy our $500 a training course from there or if there needs to be another step after that.
I certainly think that you’re ideal. Those VPs and HR, people who are over learning and development, those people are certainly reachable on LinkedIn. The cool part about that audience specifically is HR people live on LinkedIn. They're there surfing around all day long. It creates a lot of ad inventory, which brings costs down for everyone. If you're going after personas like HR and sales who live on the platform, you'll end up usually paying $1 or $2 less per click than pretty much everyone else on the platform. It's a great audience altogether.
My question is if I'm hiring an agency like yours, and you said you were about $3,000 a month for your fees and then another $3,000 to $5,000 on top of that, realistically, am I looking at three months, six months, nine months before I'm starting to see the type of ROI where I'm starting to see 10X on my money? You need to sit there and say, "There's a lot of upfront investment." There's not only investment with you, but it's also a creation of funnels. It’s creation of time. It's the back and forth things.
There’s a lot of money set aside to be able to set this thing up properly and to let it run. Realistically, you say, "We have one month to have the 5,000 up front, then we can fire AJ." That's not realistic. What's a realistic timeline to be able to look forward to? How do you manage your customers through that? People sit there and say, "AJ, we're spending a lot of money. Where are the results? How come we're spending so much money, but we're not getting any results out of this?” How do you manage that through it? How do you set the expectations?
That’s an excellent question. When we're running ads, we get metrics down the funnel and the more we have at the top, the more we're going to have down below. When we very first start a campaign, during month one, let's say in the first three or four days, we're not looking to have deals closed. We're looking to see if people are even clicking on the ads. Our metric for the first three or four days is going to be click-through rate. That might sound funny because click-through rate means nothing to anyone except for us. It tells us, is our message a match with our audience? If so, we can get our costs down per click and we can get some traffic.
After about a week, two weeks depending a little bit on your budget, we'll start to have a meaningful number of conversions. The people who've signed up for something. When you have enough of those, then you start looking at how many of those hopped on the phone with you or how many of those were downloaded a secondary asset. After that, you look at how many people got a proposal. After that you're looking for how many people closed. Let's say that through that whole process, it takes six months for you to sign a really big deal. During month one, you're caring about conversions. Month two, it might be conversions plus appointments.
Month three, it might be all about appointments. You can make the call. If you're looking at it during month three and you go, "No appointments are coming in and we've spent $6,000 a month for the last two, three months," you'd be okay to cut it off because you know something's inefficient there in your funnel and you probably need to fix it. Certainly, you look for whatever metric you have enough data on to understand is it graduating at a high enough rate to the next stage of the funnel. Even if deals aren't happening during month three, you know that you're at least on a trajectory to get there. You're efficiently getting people to a metric you do care about, which is phone appointments.
Are you managing the entire funnel process in terms of once you hooked them, once you get them involved, getting them on the secondary email and the third email on the fourth email? Are you helping to build those funnels out to make sure that those conversations are ongoing and happening? Are you just there getting people into the top of the funnel? Where do you start and where do you end?
We are insanely good at getting people into the top of the funnel. Everything past that turns into a sales role. You can probably tell I'm a crappy sales guy. I tend to tell people, "Let sales take it over as soon as it gets into their court." We've seen a lot of different clients. We've spent $110 million on the platform and run ads managed for over 330 different accounts at this point. I can certainly consult and we can share what we think and how it approaches benchmark and all that, but testing to find what it is to get people into top of the funnel from our ads is where we functionally cease. After that it's up for the client to figure out, what steps two, three and four look like through the sales process.
When you're bringing a new client on board and you're working with them through the strategy, who within the organization are you working with? How does the first month, two months, three months go in terms of building this out so it's successful?
When we start, we're either dealing with someone who's in the marketing department in larger companies and in smaller companies, it's the business owner. The larger the organization, the lower seniority you're dealing with. If you're dealing with someone from a fortune 500 you might be dealing with a specialist or a manager. Our clients’ range all over the place, but what we do during the onboarding process is even if you say that your budget's only $3,000 a month, we treat your account like it's going to be a Fortune 500, something that can scale one day.
We're building the account in a way where rather than just creating two campaigns and running ads, we might create ten, fifteen, twenty campaigns. It's a little bit like buying a Ferrari to drive to the grocery store. Maybe it's overbuilding, but we do that because if the client comes back to us during month two or month three and says, "This is working great, double it or triple it or quintuple it," we have very simple levers that we twist and overnight we're getting you to scale. Our specialty is very high functioning, high volume accounts. Certainly, we can help with the smaller ones too, but that's how we plan to build it out.
During month one, we're testing any assets you have. During month two, we're testing new assets or if you don't have new assets, we'll refresh our ad copy, refresh the ad creative to make it still look like it's new to these audiences so that we can keep testing. We start getting the data involved. If you can tell us how many sales-qualified leads, how many proposals went out, how many closes came from our efforts? Then we can start optimizing our funnel towards even if campaign A looks inexpensive, it's not closing or not booking appointments. We're going to run ad or offer B instead. This is the types of decisions we can make, going on. It's just a constant optimization. We have clients we've worked with now for over four years who are some of LinkedIn's top spending accounts worldwide. We're still running the same formula. The ad refreshes every month to the same audiences trying to keep things fresh. We're always finding efficiency is audiences we can exclude, new ways of reaching them, reminding them. You can keep going after that.
I started at direct mail years ago. It's the same philosophy of AB testing. You can't just throw 100% of everything into one bucket and hope for the best. You need to sit there and say, "We've got A, B, C, D test. We're going to run A and B. B is working better than A. Significantly better, yes. Get rid of A. Now we're going to run, B against C. If B is still better than C, then we're going to run B against D and be able to tweak it out." You always need to be testing. You always need to be sitting there going, “Is this going to resonate with my audience? Does this resonate with this audience versus the other one resonates with another audience,” because people in Amarillo, Texas are going to respond differently than somebody in New York City or LA? Being able to have that nuance to be able to sit there and say, "We're going to target the San Fernando Valley, these particular people and we're going to target them this way,” that's where the sniper rifle comes out. I look at you and sit there and say, how do you go and decide with the client which markets to go with and how to communicate differently across different markets?
If they've done a good job with their asset, they've created something that truly is interesting to their ideal customer. There are all kinds of exercises we can do to make sure we're reaching the right customer. It could be they tell us job titles and then we go and research. It could be that they give us the LinkedIn profile links to their top ten favorite customers and we go and look for commonalities between them and try to build that out. The audience is we can settle on and we can create enough micro-segments of that audience. Over time, we can find the pieces that work great and are their ideal customers and those that fail out. We want to pause and turn off. On the actual creative side, we are testing often enough that the message looks fresh because we know if you keep showing the same ad to people month over month eventually they're going to get sick of it? It’s that testing process of you run an A B test to understand what resonates better, but then you switch it up fast enough that people don't get tired of the win because it will eventually turn into a loss.
What are the things that you see that work well and certain things that don't work well on the LinkedIn program? Because there's got to be certain things where you sit there going, "Don't do that. We're not going to go there." Let's start with that. What are the things that you see that are like, "Mr. Customer, we're not going to go there because we know that's just not going to work."
Everything's a little bit nuanced because there are cases where things like this could work. In general you have those clients who say, “I want to push people right to the bottom of the funnel and push them to a sales rep,” and we go, "95% of the time this is going to fail, but we'll let the client do that if that's what they really want." Sometimes we'll have clients go exactly the opposite direction where they say, "We want to build trust with them and get this brand recognition. Let's spend the $6 to $9 a click that LinkedIn costs and send people to our blog post where we're not asking for anything.”
Inevitably when you're sending traffic to a blog post or an infographic or something like that, they have very weak calls to action, which means they're going to have a very low conversion rate. If you go that route, you are definitely good medicine, if you will. You're giving people something that's valuable and you're not asking for anything. You will build up goodwill, but you won't be able to track it and tell because you're going to end up with a $500, $1,000 cost per lead. At some point, you've got to report that to your boss or the CEO or the board and explain why you've got a $1,000 cost per lead.
If you're selling them a $40-million Learjet, that's okay.
Yeah, exactly. You can afford to waste some money at the top of the funnel to build that goodwill in the hope that you get someone to come out the bottom. Certainly, the Fortune 500, they're the ones who are sending people to blog posts and ungated content, but the vast majority of other people start with some gated content that truly is valuable. If you were your prospect, you'd say, "I'm willing to give up my email address for that." If you can find that asset that converts at 20% or above, you know you've got a winner.
What are the things that you look at, especially with the size of the graphic? With people on mobile phones more and more, what do you do in terms of visuals and messaging when you're dealing with a square inch or less of space when on a typical iPhone 7 or whatever to be able to get somebody's attention? How will you recommend that you utilize that space to really get yourself noticed in a really crowded space?
If you know they are on mobile and on a desktop for that matter, the color palette that people are going to be used to seeing is lots of blues, grays and whites. The job of your image is not to convert someone. The job of your image is to get enough attention so that they will bother to read the ad copy you wrote. The very first thing we say is to make sure your image has bright tones that contrast against LinkedIn's color palette. Lots of oranges, reds, greens, pinks, purples, yellows, those types of colors will jump off the page. That's number one, make sure that it's bright. Number two, nine times out of ten, you want it to look very organic. You don't want it to look like it was made by a marketing department. Don't overlay buttons with shading and have really attractive text overlays.
Instead, make it look like it's a post in their feed so that they will look and pay attention and not just gloss over it. One of the best images that we've ever seen perform was the client happened to get a picture of their CEO on stage talking at like an all-hands or some conference or something. They got the CEO pointing to something while the CEO was talking. What they did is they positioned the image so that the CEO was pointing to the button that was the call to action and that worked. I know it sounds silly, a little bit gimmicky, but try it out. It works.
We created a funnel page and to get people to push the button on the video, we put a red arrow pointing down to that, and it does, it looks silly and gimmicky, but the conversion rate went through the roof. People go, "I'm supposed to click here because the arrow says so." It's those little things that if you guide people gently, it's amazing the things that come out of it.HR people live on LinkedIn, they're surfing around all day long. Click To Tweet
Gimmicky, as long as it doesn't cross the line into hurting your brand looking cheapy, it's fantastic and everyone should do it.
Let's get into that in terms of a brand looking cheapy because companies spend a lot of money and a lot of effort protecting their brand image, their color scheme and their visual identity. Companies like mine, my colors are blue and gray. Those are my company colors. You're right. They do not pop on a typical LinkedIn ad. Would you suggest that I use the opposite color palette and sit there? You’ll say, "I know it's not my brand colors, but you'll get far more eyeballs and I'm going to have to live with it,” on the small ad to get attention rather than to sit there. You’ll say, “I'm going to be maniacal about my brand colors,” and all of a sudden just not have it be something that people recognize or want to relate to.
Most of the brands we've worked with, they have an accent color or something else in their color palette that we could bring out. If it's something like a red or a yellow then when you post, you just try to make the image have significant deep saturation amounts of the accent color and you can still stay pretty close to on-brand. With companies like yours where you run it, you can flex the rules a little bit. If you're at a very established company, chances are they would say, "We understand we're going to pay $3 more per click by not having an image that's off-brand, but that's a price we're willing to pay to uphold our brand," then it's okay. Certainly, anything that can get the cost down per contact helps in my estimation for your entire advertising program.
You talk about bringing the costs down. What are some of the typical things that you can do to bring the cost down per click? You talked about going after HR people and salespeople can bring the costs down per click, but what are some typical things that people can do to be able to make sure that their budget is maximized?
I love this question. This is what we're especially skilled at, is maximizing people's budgets because LinkedIn is so expensive. We love to stretch every dollar as far as we can. The way that this works is LinkedIn's ad system is run as an auction and it's not just, “I'm willing to pay $6 and my competitors willing to pay $5 so my ad's going to get shown all the time.” It's a little bit more nuanced than that. LinkedIn and all the other ad platforms for that matter, let's say for the same scenario, I'm willing to pay $6 and my competitor's willing to pay $5. If their ad gets clicked on 30% more than mine, then all of a sudden, even though they're bidding less, LinkedIn goes, “We still make more money over the long run when we show his or her ad.”
That's this metric that they call relevancy score. They're waiting for everyone's bid against how often you make us money. What it comes down to is click-through rate. If you can find an ad or come up with an ad that gets clicked on significantly more than average or significantly more than a competitor’s, you can afford to lower your bid and say, "We're going to pay less. Each click is worth less to us,” and LinkedIn will still keep showing you above your competition. That's the goal. Come with good creative that you can bid the least amount possible and still spend the entire budget that you brought to the platform.
It's a matter of utilizing the dollars in more effectively by sitting there going, “If I have better ads, if I have ads that are going to click through more, LinkedIn is going to like me better.”
This is interesting, especially considering that when you take LinkedIn's advice, if you go through the campaign creation process and select the default, if you do that on Facebook, you're usually pretty protected. Facebook has a pretty kind auction. If you do it on LinkedIn, you will inevitably be paying something like $14, $15, $20 per click. Whereas you shouldn't be paying more than like $6 to 10 may be on the low-end. Don't follow their guidelines necessarily. Start by bidding low.
Do you have like a top ten tips and tricks? Is there a document you have that has the top ten tips and tricks here?
I speak all over the world on LinkedIn ads. I have a deck that I'll give where it’s like, “Here's my best advice,” but it's not a document that we can point anyone to. I am going to be doing a webinar here pretty soon with another company. I can send you the link to that when the link register is live. It's a straight Q and A. It's like, "AJ, share with us your top ten things that no one knows about LinkedIn ads and how you can use those to your advantage.”
Hopefully, we can get the link to that and be able to register for that. Here's one last thing that I ask everybody when they walk out the door, “When you leave a meeting, when you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you and your company when you're not there?”
This may sound a little bit vain, but when I leave, I want them to perceive me as a scientifically testing expert. I want them to know that we're not just an agency that’s just going to spend the budget they give. I want them to know that we're testing and we have data behind everything we do. That's what I'm hoping. It sounds like I'm saying when I drive away, I hope they think I'm smart. I do. I want them to get the fact that this is data-based.
It's also the fact that you are adding value. It's the fact that you understand the metrics behind, I hate to call it a game, but it is in some respects a game. It's constantly changing. The rules change, the bar changes and having somebody in your corner who lives this every single day and has the ability to sit there and say, "The rules have changed. By the way, Mr. Customer, we have to look at our strategy and change it slightly to be able to do that." Here's the data that proves that. That's valuable and in the end, you are being a great asset to your clients because you are able to do that. You can read the data and see where the trends are going.
I agree with you 100% and I hope that's the way I'm perceived.
AJ, it has been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for being part of the show. Thanks for adding value and I hope the readers enjoyed every minute of this because I was taking notes through the whole thing.
Ben, I'm flattered to death that you'd even invite me. Thanks so much for having me on the show, especially for round two. I was worth the second shot.
You have a great day.
AJ Wilcox is a LinkedIn Ads pro who founded B2Linked.com, a LinkedIn Ads-specific ad agency, in 2014. As official LinkedIn partners, they manage among the world’s most sophisticated advertising accounts worldwide. He's a ginger & triathlete. He & his wife live in Utah, with their 4 kids, and his company car is a wicked-fast gokart.
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