What Most B2B Marketers Get Wrong About SEO And LinkedIn

In an age where all B2B marketing is digital yet very little of it actually works, it’s tough to know whose advice you can trust. Perhaps the first clue is when they acknowledge, up front, just how ineffective most marketing really is.

Alex Boyd, founder and CEO of RevenueZen, isn’t shy about sharing what most B2B marketers get wrong about SEO and LinkedIn. But he’s hesitant to give advice without first understanding the context and nuance of a particular situation, which is usually a sign someone has earned their chops.

I recently caught up with Boyd to hear his thoughts on SEO strategy, demand gen philosophy, LinkedIn spam, and why, at the end of the day, a simple phone call can go a long way.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Kevin Kruse: What have you seen change or shift in marketing and demand generation in the last several years?

Alex Boyd: Anything “mass” has decreased in effectiveness as well as anything easy to measure with a low barrier to entry. Those types of activities have less value because everyone presses the buttons that are easy to press, like sending a lot of emails and running a lot of very general ads. When you think about what marketers need to do to justify their tactics, it’s usually putting up big numbers on a dashboard to show to the CEO who doesn’t always “get it.” And so the easier something is to measure and show on that dashboard, the more marketers will do it, even if the channel is saturated and the leads aren’t converting.

Kruse: What’s a common misconception people have about demand generation?

Boyd: A lot of people think all leads are created equal, but they’re not. How you got that lead in the first place is so important. On paper, a lead is an object in a CRM with an email address. But how would a salesperson define a “lead”? It’s somebody who’s gotten more interested in your product than they were before. The person who says, “I saw your CEO in that great Forbes article and I have a few friends that use your company. I’m ready to sign,” is a lead. But, to many marketers, so is the person who entered their email address just to download a checklist and always dodges your calls when you follow up. Those two leads are not equal. Demand generation isn’t about the quantity of leads. It’s focusing on how the lead got to your company, and whether or not the environment in which they arrived warmed them up to what you sell.

Kruse: In general, what’s working in B2B marketing, assuming “working” means generating a lead that comes to you in the right way and with some interest to potentially buy?

Boyd: You already know it depends, but I’ll share what I’m seeing: first, founder-driven, brand marketing—meaning sharing the perspective of what the leadership team believes in a personal, organic way. LinkedIn is a good example, but this could also look like the CEO giving a fireside chat, or speaking at an event. People want to know what the people behind the product believe because that tells them more than a list of features. The feature list is static, but what the founders and leadership team believe is dynamic—it tells you about the future and where the company is headed. CEOs shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that managing their social media accounts is “below them”: many prominent CxOs of tech unicorns are very active on social.

Secondly, organic search still has a lot of potential. Most SEO is still done quite badly, even by experts. The biggest thing that Software-as-a-Service companies in particular get wrong about SEO is they think they need to optimize for people searching for exactly what they do. That’s table stakes. What the SaaS companies who see massive growth through organic search do is they compete for the attention of their buyer. It’s not a game of what your product does, it’s a game of attention. And if you get in front of people and put your name, brand and insights in front of them while they’re looking for related content and they happen to encounter your product that way, you’re going to show them a new way of doing things. And that’s the core of SaaS marketing: showing someone a new way of doing things.

Kruse: Do you have a real-world example of how that kind of attention-grabbing SEO works?

Boyd: One of the best ways of doing SEO at first is to talk about the basics. Most companies will create a blog for announcements and news, but nobody is searching for your company. So why not rank for keywords they’re already searching for? A company called lightyear.ai is a great example. They’re a marketplace for IT and networking solutions—kind of like a kayak.com for IT. They don’t assume that people are searching for “IT product marketplace”, because they’re not. They rank for things that people search for to educate themselves on how to buy IT. It’s a subtle shift in thinking: when you’re a small startup, your new idea is not the center of your prospects’ universe.

Kruse: How should you approach SEO if you’re trying to sell something new?

Boyd: When you’re selling a brand-new product, the way you do SEO should change. Nobody is searching for your unique new product category – yet. If you sell something new, you need to rank for things that are related to what you do but aren’t your product. If you’re building an AI to help recruiters sort through resumes, you don’t want to rank for “AI resume screener”, you want to write about the Top 10 Ways to Screen Candidates, or How To Write An Amazing EEO Statement. Once your company is larger, this game changes and you then want to focus on people who are already looking for exactly what you do.

Kruse: You’ve been creating a new product for LinkedIn. Tell me about that.

Boyd: The way that people engage on LinkedIn has been broken for a long time. A lot of people see relationship-building as transactional: “I liked your posts, please take a meeting.” There’s a feeling of entitlement. That needs to change.

The right way to engage on LinkedIn involves writing good content, engaging with others, networking, and actually building community. Our product shows you which of your target accounts are talking to your competitors, customers and strong connections. And it tells you exactly which important conversations to take part in. The whole point of our product – Aware – is to give people the ability to send a LOW volume of hyper-targeted messages that have 60%+ conversion rate: unheard of.

Kruse: What’s one piece of advice you’d like to leave marketers with?

Boyd: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Tech marketers spend so much time geeking out on growth-hacking funnel jockeying, but sometimes you just need to pick up the phone and call a prospect instead of waiting around for an answer. I think we need to spend more time building relationships with people, which sometimes means just calling them up.

Kevin Kruse is the Founder + CEO of LEADx, a platform that scales and sustains leadership habits throughout an organization. Kevin is also a New York Times bestselling author of  Great Leaders Have No Rules, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, and Employee Engagement 2.0.