How B2B SaaS Companies Get High-Intent Leads With PR

In B2B SaaS, PR is Sales. I denied this for years. I disassociated PR from the bottom line because:

  1. a former boss told me to
  2. measuring the direct impact of PR is hard, to say the least

Younger me:PR builds awareness, helps people reach targets, but… uhh… tying it to sales? No way. I’m not responsible for that.”

Today me:

Now I expect emails from irate PR agencies, sooo…

B2B SaaS businesses should expect PR to boost demand gen.

Before I get into this let me be clear, increasing the number of leads is different from expecting a PR agency to hand you qualified leads. PR agencies don’t do that.

I know from working at PR agencies and B2B SaaS businesses that most agencies want nothing to do with convos around revenue. What causes them to tremble is the pressure of being held to sales metrics. That’s fair. However, because agencies are on marketing budgets, and marketing serves to make target audiences aware that a business exists, I feel that means PR pros are expected to impact a sales pipeline.

With me so far?

PR pros: Accept sales into your life

It wasn’t until I worked at a B2B SaaS company that I made the PR-to-Sales connection. But something was off: how PR affected marketing qualified leads (MQLs).

Ultimately, I scrutinized how MQLs were a worshipped metric, at the cost of me interfering with our team’s ability to get quarterly bonuses.

It went like this…

I’d watch BDRs smile and dial.

I saw them pursue “leads” our marketing team delivered. And I…

I held my breath. I’d hear them say…

“These people are not converting. They don’t want a demo. Where’d you get these leads from?”

Could my PR efforts be a problem?

It may sound bizarre, but I, a PR pro, dug into Salesforce. I wanted to see how these people entered our sales funnel and what notes Sales slapped on them. On rare occasions (when Sales would enter customer data into Salesforce), I saw that a prospect’s first touchpoint with us was a media story. Eureka!

Reworking PR strategy to improve lead quality

I reexamined my PR strategy and got customer-centric. Knowing what makes our best customers tick would change up which media outlets to target and which channels to disregard. Here’s what I did.

1. Talk to customers

Talking to customers is a no-brainer, but how much I fine-tuned what I did on a daily basis kinda surprised me. After interviewing customers about what media they consumed, how frequently, which topics were meh, and what media types (e.g., newsletter, podcast) they preferred, I learned what things they’d like to hear our subject matter experts (SMEs) comment on, what they expected to see from a company like ours, etc. From there, I adjusted the topics our SMEs provided commentary on. Since I already secured mentions for our company and executive quotes in TechCrunch and Fast Company, we had “sexy” media logos on our site. So I hyperfocused on retail trade publications since customers said they got newsletters from Retail Dive and listened to podcasts like Total Retail Talks.

2. I got picky

I was real selective about where I pitched and landed guest posts for SMEs. I sought out sites with strong page rankings that either published backlinks or gave us implied links. This improved our website’s ranking over several years. Teeny tiny sites that anyone could write for were removed from our radar because they made our company look small.

3. Married content marketing with PR

I combed through everything we put out. Ebooks, webinar slides, partner decks, all of it. The best content ideas were regularly gifted to us by customers or buried within proprietary data. When a blog post was published, I’d regularly transform it into a guest post for SMEs. When B2B SaaS marketers and copywriters give things to PR pros, the floodgates can blow open.

4. Added story arcs to case studies

We used stories to lure in prospective customers. Just like all other forms of entertainment, but for whatever reason the B2B space things emotional storytelling should only exist in B2C. We leveraged data a lot too, but our focus was on making our customers the main characters in case studies. This little adjustment made our company more relatable to prospects.

5. Ch-ch-changes

Our small crew weighed buyer intent data such as visitor activity on our site differently. It led to huge wins because we weren’t treating captured data like it was the holy grail. We took it into account but used our intuition more.

Create leads that Sales wants

Chasing zero or low-intent leads, many of which come from expensive co-marketing activities like sponsored whitepapers, newsletters, or analyst reports, drains Sales. Over time, Sales might resent Marketing. If that happens, oh boy.

The VP of Marketing argues that marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are solid while the VP of Sales argues they are trash. I hear this from clients more than I want to.

Hitting MQL goals means nothing if deals don’t close.

Have PR pros extract customer insights

Using a PR team to speak with customers (for just 30 mins.) is one of the smartest exercises a SaaS company can ever do. It can influence messaging, marketing plans, product roadmaps, and marketing collateral, unearth stories to take to journalists, shape actionable buyer personas, and much more. The soft skills of great PR pros are key because:

  • They know what journalists want to hear from vendors.
  • They can ask questions that marketing teams are scared to.
  • They know how to get customers to talk openly about a partner.

The outcome: a better understanding of how to market to prospects.

For example, if customer contacts with *decision-making power* repeatedly say they don’t read analyst reports, a marketer can stop trying to get their company in them.

PR lives in the dark funnel

PR plays a part at every stage of the buyer journey from Awareness to Selection. So, in some weird way, I felt I had to shoulder some of the blame for sending bad leads to Sales. But only so much is controllable, which is why I rejected the idea years ago that PR should be tied to Sales.

The main problem goes like this: someone reads about X company in Modern Retail, a marketer doesn’t know when they Google you to learn more. They may wait weeks, months, or sometimes years before they look you up and browse your site. And then Google Analytics calls them organic traffic.

Heck yes, the dotted lines between PR and increasing demand gen are hard to see, but not everything has to be seen in a Salesforce dashboard to be real and impacting the bottom line.

Do something with these words

PR makes a nonlinear impact on the total marketing-influenced pipeline.

In recent years, a lot of prominent PR agencies pursued B2B SaaS businesses seeing all the funding rounds and VC dough. Most came and went because they refuse to accept the truth, the truth that I denied for too long, that they are hired to indirectly increase lead gen.

“We aren’t responsible for new biz,” they say.

I say, put our feet to the 🔥.

If lighthearted, free PR advice in newsletter form sounds cool, subscribe to PR Now, my occasional newsletter. With GIFs.

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John Forberger

John Forberger

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I run Forberger Communications, a B2B Public Relations firm for retail vendors (SaaS businesses, Shopify apps, tools, agencies). www.johnforberger.com