The Black Box Wine Shop (A Metaphor for Using Google Ads for B2B Marketing)


Guest Post By Scott Horn, CMO at Huntress Labs

The Wine Shop

Imagine… your town has a unique and extremely popular wine shop.  They sell wine in black boxes that are identical and sealed.  The shop decides what to put in the box – it could be a great bottle of wine, a bottle of Two Buck Chuck or a box of rocks that is the same weight as all the other boxes.

When you arrive at the shop there’s a long, long line going all around the corner.  People are eager to get in. And when it’s your turn you get to the front door and see a BIG sign stating “All Sales are FINAL, No Returns or Credit Under Any Circumstances”.

There are black boxes everywhere on every wall from floor to ceiling, every table – there are thousands of identical black boxes.  A store clerk greets you at the front door, asks you how much you’re willing to pay and then they select a box for you, collect your money and send you on your way.  The prices are different every time you visit the store.

When you get home you eagerly open your package and you’re not sure what you’re going to get.

How That Story Relates To Google Ads

It’s pretty much what happens to B2B Marketers when you advertise using Google Ads (or Bing or anything similar – at least in my experience.)   You advertise against a set of keywords, have someone click your ad, your dollars flow to Google and you only find out after Google has your money whether it was worth it.  You may never know – it all depends on whether they converted on your landing page form.  It doesn’t really matter whether the prospect was in your Ideal Customer Profile, wasn’t or you just can’t tell – Google gets paid anyway.

I wrote this because I’m hoping that among the many experienced and super-smart Marketers out there, someone has figured out how to make Google Ads work for B2B.  I haven’t met anyone yet although there are a seemingly infinite number of SEM agencies who claim to have mastered it and yet don’t seem to deliver the results.  I’m using Google Ads as a representative example of all the other search engine marketing options out there.

Some of you out there reading this might be thinking – well you have to get the basics right if you want Google Ads to work.  Fair enough – so let’s lay out some conditions that anyone using Google Ads will want to have in place BEFORE starting an Google Ads Campaign.

  • Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy needs to be working well at scale. You’ll want to have relevant content that ranks well on organic search for the keywords and phrases you’re targeting.
  • As part of SEO you’ll want to have a proven optimized landing page that’s gone through A/B Testing – including an Offer/CTA that works, Subject Line, # of Fields that make sense, etc.
  • You’ll want to decide if it’s worth it to you to do SEM against your own branded keywords or competitive keywords. Opinions vary on this one – personally – I wouldn’t waste $$ on branded keyword advertising if my organic rankings are poor.  And doing competitive keywords is an arms race (you go after them, they go after you, you raise all the bids) in which Google is the only winner.  A small case could be made for associating your brand with other brands by buying 3rd party branded keywords seems very expensive for an unmeasurable gain.
  • And some folks may be thinking that requiring a form fill is nuts.  While forms can be abused when companies slap them in front of everything, having some forms for some things makes sense.  You have to capture a minimum set of info from the prospect to know it’s them at some point otherwise you just have anonymous prospects.

So with the above covered, let’s cover why Google Ads is like the Black Box Wine Shop.

The core problem is that Google does NOT enable B2B Marketers to filter who sees Adword ads based on critical business info – things like a person’s title, job function (Finance, IT, etc.), company size, etc.  (LinkedIn is better but has some issues too.)  Google may know a lot about who is searching for something but it’s primarily consumer data (age, gender, income level) and things like day of month, time of day, device and browser used.

Additionally, most people use a single profile with their browser based on a personal profile and email account so there’s no good way to connect with Robert Smith, CTO of Galactic IT, Inc.  Google in the last few years has added a few broad options that aren’t that granular.  Duane Brown wrote a helpful blog about the new options – they’re slightly better – but not big game changers.

I suspect anyone who’s ever tried to use Google Ads for B2B has had the experience of getting together to review Google Ads Campaign results.  Maybe there’s an agency involved. Everyone’s excited – there’s been a bunch of clicks!  The agency talks about impressions, CPCs (cost per clicks) and then they pull up the list of prospects that actually filled out the landing page form (conversions) – and it’s a much, much smaller number than the first two numbers.  Then you look at the people that converted via form fill and you see or an (actually had that one happen…).  The agency is at a loss – Google Ads is GREAT!  They tell you your landing page needs optimization, maybe you need better ad copy, maybe add more negative keywords or something else.  The agency isn’t always wrong – but they can never tell you exactly what to do – they just want you to try stuff and keep spending (with both them and Google).  Until at some point – the CEO or CMO shuts the whole thing down – hopefully before a bunch of money is wasted.

And just like the Black Box Wine Shop – your money is spent, maybe you got something valuable, more likely you didn’t.  Hopefully you run into someone who was ALREADY a customer of the Shop so you learn from their experience.  Which is partially why I wrote this – I also selfishly wrote this because I’m hoping somewhere out there is an amazing marketer who cracked the code.  If you’re that person please reach out.

If you’re at an agency and reading this – and perhaps you’re going to try to pitch me your services – because you ARE the agency that’s figured out.  I’d be excited to meet you.

I’m happy to give you our business if you agree to one simple thing – we only pay for success with converted prospects that match our company’s Ideal Customer Profile.  You are willing to bet with us and you agree to waive all your fees and pick up the Google Ads costs for everything else.

We, at Huntress Labs have a detailed ICP and we’re happy to provide it.  To all the Marketers out there I hope the story helps and when someone in your company (perhaps your boss) is frequently asking you why your company isn’t advertising with Google Ads – feel free to share this story with them.