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I was talking to a B2B SaaS CEO last week about his #1 priority, and he said "lead gen." I asked him if he could elaborate more, and he said he felt like they were wasting their money on leads that don't convert. I asked him what campaigns they were running and if he's done PPL. It didn't seem like he'd heard about PPL before, and he wasn't very clear about what PPC meant. So, I wanted to write a bit about what each of these channels can do for your B2B SaaS business, and what tips and best practices we’ve gained leading lead gen campaigns for dozens of software companies.
Each channel can offer you a consistent source of qualified leads, but they come with their own set of dos and don’ts, and one may be a better fit for your needs. This guide should give you a good sense of what their strengths and weaknesses are and how best to approach them.
Let’s start with PPC.
What is a PPC campaign?
A PPC, or pay-per-click campaign, is an online marketing or advertising campaign where you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. PPC ads are typically displayed on a SERP (search engine results page) or on websites that are running ads, such as Capterra and others. For almost every search query you have, you will find an ad running for it on Google and Bing (Microsoft Ads), the two most prominent PPC platforms.
PPC ads are ranked by a variety of factors, including the keywords you’re bidding for, your bids (how much money you’re allocating per keyword/ad/campaign, etc.), and then your landing page experience as well, among other things.
PPC works similarly to an auction—for example, the Google Auction. Every time someone goes and looks for a keyword you’ve selected, Google looks at your keywords, bids, landing page and ad quality, as well as a few other factors, and decides where (or if) to show your ad to this person. You could be displayed as #1 if you’re bidding enough and have matched the other criteria. You could also not be displayed at all if there are enough bidders that have a higher ad quality score than yours.
You typically allocate a monthly budget for your PPC campaigns, monitor that budget regularly to make sure it’s pacing properly, and then are charged every time someone clicks on your ad. One thing to note here, it’s good to be very clear and specific with your ad copy because that, alone, could prevent you from paying for way too many unqualified clicks. Let’s say your selling a CRM specifically for lawyers. If you advertise a “CRM” without adding that it’s specifically for lawyers, everyone that looks for a CRM will see your ad and click on it. Your leads will include lawyers, but I bet you that over 90% of them won’t be lawyers. Those are all ad clicks your paid for to drive traffic from an audience you don’t even service.
Google's annual financial reports showed that they generated $146 billion in ad revenue in 2021. Almost 79% of all B2B SaaS companies use PPC campaigns as part of their lead generation strategies.
If you’re looking to launch or refine your own PPC campaigns, the best place to start is selecting the right platform for your campaign. Let’s look at five of the main PPC channels used in B2B SaaS lead generation and why they may or may not be a good fit for you:
Five core B2B SaaS PPC lead generation platforms
1. Google Ads: this is, by far, the biggest channel. Using Google Ads, B2B SaaS companies can target prospects based on search queries/keywords, locations, and other factors. The most common Google Ad form is text-based ads that show up on top of a SERP if someone searches for relevant keywords. Google ads are great for driving traffic to your website if you’re running a product-led growth model. I’ll touch more on this later in the article.
2. Bing Ads: or Microsoft Ads, are similar to Google Ads in the way they work. Depending on the industry, you could have your Bing Ads perform better than Google Ads. For example, I worked with a B2C client once that was in the aging-in-place industry. Our target audience was affluent 65+-year-olds, and our cost per lead from Bing was much lower than Google, and our conversions between the platforms were pretty similar. It just depends on who you’re going after. I say if your ICP is tech companies, Bing is not going to work. But if your ICP is blue-collar businesses—maybe the personas tend to be older, etc.—then consider doing some keyword research to see if Bing could be a good option for you.
3. Capterra: Gartner owns Capterra, Software Advice, and GetApp. I’ve used both Capterra and GetApp for PPC campaigns and have seen varied success with them. Basically, what you’re doing here is using Capterra’s huge monthly traffic instead of Google or Bing to get more quality traffic to your website. Capttera is owned by Gartner. They run ads, just like you would, and have a huge number of monthly users that turn into leads. So instead of you going out to do the work yourself, Capterra will do it, and you just make sure you’re showing up there so you’re in front of their traffic. I personally think that if you run a tight ship, manage your bids on a regular basis, and run tests on your landing pages to optimize conversions; this could be a viable option for you. The biggest difference between Google and Capterra is that Capterra traffic is more likely to be in the market for a tech solution. Google still has more traffic than Capterra, but your Capterra leads are most likely going to be much higher quality than Google leads.
4. LinkedIn Ads: while it's not exclusively for B2B advertising, many B2B businesses find it to be a particularly powerful tool for reaching their audience. On LinkedIn, you can use ads to target users with specific criteria, such as job title, industry, or location. That’s why if you’ve spent enough time building your ICP and personas, this could be a great channel for lead generation. A lot of brands use it for brand awareness; some use it for more sophisticated, multi-touch lead generation campaigns, which is what I recommend. You can do single-image ads, message ads, video ads, carousel ads, event ads, and many other variations.
5. TikTok For Business: if you're considering expanding your advertising efforts to new platforms, TikTok For Business may be worth exploring. Although it's relatively new, I’ve only heard really good things about people that have used it for B2B. TikTok doesn’t have the same level of targeting capabilities as, for example, LinkedIn, but it’s a great place to create and share content. Also, while almost 70% of TikTok is under 39 years old, if you carve out a niche for yourself, you can build a great following on TikTok that you can use for both demand generation and lead generation. Be the first one to do it and master it; you’ll reap the rewards of being there first and learning how to make the most of it.
Once you've found the platforms you'd like to use and how you'll approach your campaign, the question becomes: "How do I measure the performance of my campaigns?'
The answer is simple: metrics.
High-level B2B SaaS metrics to watch for in your PPC campaign
1. Impressions: this measures the number of people that actually saw your ad. If your impressions are low, you need to think of new keywords, channels, and targets to go after.
2. Clicks: this measures the number of clicks you get on a specific ad.
3. Click-through rate (CTR): this measures the percentage of people that saw your ad and actually clicked through it. If this is low, you need to adjust your ad copy, your targeting, and your keywords.
4. Cost per click (CPC): this measures how much each click costs you. It’s the total cost of your PPC campaign, divided by the number of clicks on your ads. While this is not your cost per lead, your cost per opportunity, or your CAC, is the first indication of all of those other metrics. The lower your CPC gets, the lower your CAC is and the higher your ROI & ROAS (return on ad spend) is.5. Conversion rate: this measures the percentage of people that click on your ad and get to your landing page vs. the ones that actually then filled out a demo form or downloaded a lead magnet, or in general, taken more action that shows intent. A higher conversion rate means that your targeting is working properly, you’re going after the right keywords, and your landing page content and landing page experience are where they need to be. If this is low, invest in your landing page experience, then make sure the keywords and ad copy you’re running are directly related to the landing page.
A few honorable (and really important) mentions:
Your PPC reporting should not stop at conversion rates. Make sure that you’re reporting on cost per SQL, cost per demo attended/opportunity, and pipeline revenue, as well as overall revenue, ROI, and CAC. The only way to run a tight ship when it comes to PPC is to report on impressions, all the way down to CAC.
When should you use PPC for B2B SaaS?
PPC is best suited for product-led growth and low ACV offerings. If you’ve got a good product that can convert people on its own, PPC is a great tool to push people to the site. If your product is high ACV and requires a great deal of sales-team interaction and learning materials for prospects to convert, you may have a harder time making PPC work for you.
PPC is also good if you’re using it for brand awareness, getting the first impression with someone, or putting your brand in front of someone that has a pain you’re solving for. To make this interaction valuable, however, you'll need an integrated retargeting campaign that touches this person at different times through different platforms. Educate them more about your offering, qualify them for your sales team, and then convert them when they’re ready to convert.
PPC is still alive, and it’s huge if you pay attention to it. The main problem is that B2B SaaS companies either don’t know how to properly and tightly run PPC or don’t give it enough time to run.
What about PPL?
Last month I generated 87 SQLs for one of my clients. That translated to $700k in pipeline. 42 of those SQLs were from pay-per-lead (PPL) campaigns that I'm running. Safe to say, it's one of my favorite channels as of late.
Like with any paid channel, however, it can be as easy to waste away your budget as it is to produce an ROI you can be proud of. To make sure you're making the best use of your PPL budget, let's look at what makes PPL effective and some core best practices and considerations to take into your next campaign.
What is a PPL campaign?
A PPL, or pay-per-lead, campaign is an online marketing campaign where you pay every time you get a lead. You don’t pay when they click on a specific ad; you don’t pay when they see a specific page; you pay when they fill out a contact/demo form and request a sales conversation.
There are a lot of companies out there that offer PPL campaigns for B2B SaaS companies. Those companies typically have their own content and advertising efforts online; they drive traffic to their software listing websites or at least their demo forms. These companies are then compensated for each lead generated, which is typically a potential customer who has provided their contact information or has indicated their interest in the product or service being advertised. Now you, as a B2B SaaS company, sign up to get those leads in a specific category and with specific filters and pay those companies once they send you the leads.
This is one of my favorite ways to generate leads. I set very specific filters, manage the leads that come in on a regular basis, and regularly change filters to make sure we’re getting the highest quality leads.
With those campaigns, you’re typically setting up filters at the beginning to make sure the leads you’re receiving are within your ICP. So, for example, I have a client in the logistics and delivery space, and I’m running a Software Advice PPL program for them. The first thing I do when I’m setting up the campaign is pick the industry; after that, I pick the filters. That’s company size, industries, functionalities, etc. You’re basically setting up your ICP there. Here are some of the filters we get to choose from:
Now every time Software Advice gets a prospect on the phone that matches these criteria, I’m one of 5 vendors that get that lead. Speed to lead is huge.
PPL can be a great way to add a channel of qualified leads instantly, but there are a number of things you’ll want to consider when deciding on your approach and platform.
Considerations when building your PPL campaign
1. Qualification: Not every platform sends you highly qualified leads. Software Advice, for example, has a call center that calls every single lead and qualifies them before sending them your way. A lot of the other platforms just send you whatever lead fills out their form. When picking a platform, make sure to ask them about their qualification process: what questions they ask, how many touches before you get the lead, do they run BANT or MEDDPICC qualification or something similar, etc.
2. Filters: Not every platform has equally extensive filters as Software Advice that we saw in the example above. For example, here is what another platform does for qualification once I’m in the logistics/delivery category:
In these cases, you’ll need to be particularly careful about honing your own qualification system so you aren’t just sending any lead that comes along to sales.
3. Pricing: All of these platforms are, of course, priced per lead. Some of them require you to have a minimum monthly budget, and they generate enough leads to hit or exceed that budget; others just charge you at the end of the month for how many leads you got. When shopping for a new PPL platform, ask about their pricing, and ask if you can get a month-long trial before you sign up for a 3-month or annual contract which some of them require.
4. Refund policies: All PPL platforms have refund policies when it comes to leads that you shouldn’t have received based on the criteria you selected or just if you got a bad lead. Read those policies and understand them very well before signing up for a channel. I have come across some platforms that let me basically get a refund for every lead that I can’t reach out to, while others have much tighter policies.
Finding the right PPL platform for your needs
Here are some quick insights on four PPL channels that we've used for some of our clients to give you an idea of the variation between them and the offerings available. Many PPL platforms are industry specific (eg. Hotel Tech Report), so it's always recommendable to research platforms that would be of service to your specific audience as well.
Estimated Monthly Traffic
Minimum Monthly Spend
Comments from my personal experience
None. You can set a cap or monitor your lead flow on a regular basis so you don’t go over budget.
Software Advice is owned by Gartner. It gets a huge amount of traffic and almost always is in the top 3-5 in SERP results when you’re looking for any software. Their lead qualification process is the best out of all the PPL campaigns I’ve used. They only send you the lead once they’ve given them on a call and confirmed fit. The price per lead, on average, isn’t too much more than the other channels, sometimes much less, but the quality is the best. There are still a few industries on there where you wouldn’t get a significant number of leads per month, but it’s worth testing anyway.
They always provide a minimum when you’re first signing up, but it really depends on how many leads you get.
Business.com has an SQL program, but they don’t necessarily follow up with every lead. They have a call center to qualify leads, but if someone doesn’t answer, they still send you the lead. They have a lot of brands they use to run ads and then send you whatever they get in the lead forms. That information is not always accurate, so lead quality is lower here. However, in some industries, they have a much higher lead volume than Software Advice, so even if you’re only qualifying 30-50% of those leads, it’s still worth it. Their lead refund program is more lenient than Software Advice because of the quality of the leads.
No minimum monthly spend
This is the smallest out of all of them but has a more techy audience from what I’ve seen. They’re less busy since they’re smaller, so they help you more, but their categories are pretty limited. I’d make them the 3rd or 4th option for PPL.
MVF has a minimum spend of $10k per month. They have a lot of deals, especially closer to EOQ, where you can start a trial, and spend a bit less, but keep that in mind when looking at these platforms.
MVF is similar to business.com but more expensive. I’ve used them for both B2B & B2C. The quality of leads is not much better than business.com, but again, lead volume is huge. If you can’t do Software Advice and can afford MVF, give these guys a call.
Need intros to any of these platforms? Send me a quick message with the form below, and I'll reach out for an introduction right away.
PPL campaign metrics
Any successful PPL campaign will require you to dutifully track a number of core metrics.
1. Cost per lead (CPL): this is how much a lead costs you. It’s one of the questions I ask at the beginning when looking for a PPL channel. I use that then to calculate my projected channel ROI based on historic conversion rates. For PPL programs, this is typically a set fee. Depending on the industry and the average company size, your PPL could be as low as $30 and as high as $1,000+. The average I’ve seen here has been around $100 per lead. All B2B SaaS, just different industries.
2. Lead-to-opportunity conversion rate: this is one of many conversion metrics you can look at, but the idea is to understand how many of those leads you’re generating are actually showing up to a demo or signing up for your trial and making it into your sales pipeline. You measure this by dividing the number of sales opportunities you generated by the number of leads you generated. A higher conversion rate indicates that the leads you generated from the PPL campaign were of higher quality and more likely to convert into paying customers.
3. Sales cycle length: this is another one you don’t really know until you start running a campaign, but is crucial to keep track of. This is the time it takes for a lead to turn into a paying customer. The shorter the sales cycle, the better, of course, but you have to keep in mind your average deal size.
4. Average deal size: how big are the opportunities you’re generating through PPL? Are you generating 100 leads a month, but they’re all SMBs, or are you getting two leads a month, but they’re big fish or qualified enterprise accounts?
5. ROI: at the end of the day, you need to make sure those campaigns are worth it. Make sure your marketing reports are broken down by channel. Look at the different PPL channels you have running and see your total spend over your total revenue generated. There are a lot of factors here; maybe your goal is ARR, so you don’t mind your ROI being negative the first few months. Maybe you have a longer payback period. Just one last metric to always look at.
PPL vs. PPC
While both PPC and PPL are viable lead channels for B2B SaaS companies, when timelines and budgets are tight, you may need to decide to focus on one or the other. Let’s look at some of the key differences between the two to help you decide which is a better fit for your current needs.
Payment method & setup
The main difference between PPL and PPC is how you pay for the leads. With PPC, you set up your own ads, landing pages, etc. Optimize your own campaigns, try to use the right audiences and filters to reach your ICP, and look for the channels yourself. You do all of that, someone sees your ad, clicks on it, and you pay Google, Bing, Capterra, or whatever channel you’re using. With PPL, someone else is doing all the optimization for you. You set your ICP filters and pay when a lead comes in that matches those filters. Sometimes you pay more for this, but from experience, PPL leads end up being cheaper than PPC leads when you account for how many leads you end up unqualifying and how much time goes into setting up both.
With PPL, you don’t also set up your own landing pages or your own branding. So most of the time, your leads are solution-aware but not product-aware. They know that they have a problem, they know that this category of software solves it, but they don’t know what your specific product offers that others don’t. PPC leads are much more product-aware, especially if you’ve done your job well with your ads and landing pages. They know their problem, they looked for solutions, and they found your product.
When you’re running your own PPC campaign, you can track cost per impression or click, all the way down to cost per acquisition per channel, pipeline impact, etc. With PPL, you start tracking a little bit later in the funnel. You might start with cost per MQL or SQL, but you wouldn’t see those first few metrics that your PPC campaigns allow you to see in your own CRM.
Should you use PPC or PPL for your B2B SaaS lead generation efforts?
It depends on your budget and goals. If you’re rushing to get lead generation going while you start building your demand generation channels, get your messaging right, and maybe work on a rebrand or any other foundational growth projects, I suggest starting with PPL.
You should know enough about your ICP to know what leads you can service and which ones you can’t. PPL also gives you a really good idea of the types of leads in the market, what features people are looking for, how you need to position yourself, etc.
Once you’ve run PPL for a little bit and gone back and revisited your ICP planning and messaging, and positioning, then you should start testing PPC and test those theories you’ve come up with while running your PPL campaigns.
Generally, I’d say PPL campaigns can be a good fit for B2B SaaS companies that have a longer sales cycle and need high-quality leads. They can also be a good option for B2B SaaS companies that are looking to expand into new markets or verticals, as they can help generate leads in areas where the company may not have an established presence and have figured out messaging and positioning yet.
PPC campaigns can be a good fit for B2B SaaS companies that are looking to increase their visibility and drive more traffic to their website. They’re good for testing messaging and positioning theories. They can be particularly effective for B2B SaaS companies that offer specialized products or services, so you’re running ads with very specific keywords and getting even higher quality leads than PPL with much more narrowed targeting. PPC campaigns can also be good if you’re too limited on budget since a lot of PPL channels have a minimum amount you can spend per month (business.com & MVF both do).
In general, B2B SaaS companies may benefit from using a combination of PPL and PPC campaigns, depending on their specific goals and target audience. Diversify your lead generation strategies and channels so that when a channel stops working, you’ve got five others to cover for it.
Book a free 30-minute paid media campaign auditLooking to launch your first PPL or PPC campaigns or need to get your current campaigns into better shape?
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