By Dean Kaplan, CEO and President, The Kaplan Group
You’re either marketing something people want, or a cure for a problem people have.
Obviously, marketing something people want is more fun. But, those of us who sell pain relief also have to market our businesses. As a commercial collection agency, I sell something that no one wants to think about, a solution to unpaid invoices. I’m proud that a lot of my business comes through repeat customers and referrals. However, to gain new business and leads I’ve made the decision to also employ digital marketing techniques. Fortunately, through a lot of hard work and trial and error, I’ve experienced an ROI of nearly 500%.
About a decade ago I made the decision to focus on search engine optimization (SEO) as one of my primary marketing strategies. SEO helps search engines find a website when potential customers are looking for information. Research showed that there were thousands of potential customers each month looking for collection services and I wanted them to find our firm. I tested paying for high placement in Google’s search results, but that failed
It also turns out that customers typically trust organic rankings more than the paid advertisements. Since trust is a huge factor when someone is considering hiring a collection agency, this was an even more important factor for us. But figuring out how to rank high in search engines took a long time.I hired several different firms to assist me and tried many different strategies and tactics. Most efforts didn’t result in sustainable improved rankings. It was quite painful at times, and of course, the business wasn’t growing as desired. But eventually we figured it out, and it came down to two key items: Creating quality content and getting links by promoting that content.
In the early days of SEO companies were often advised to “stuff” their site with keywords. We did that and got some nice results at the time. Today, everyone knows that you can’t just have content that the search engines crawl, you need to have quality content that people want to read. Quality content will keep people on your site for longer and actually help you convert visitors into customers.I use Google analytics to see how long people stay on a web page, how many different pages they visit, and the typical flow from one page to the next depending upon where they initially started. This helped me understand what information they were seeking and what information I was providing that they wanted. It also told Google that it was quality content because people were spending enough time on the page to ingest it.
Initially I focused on creating a lot of high-quality, evergreen content (content that would always be valuable despite the passage of time). This included some free downloadable ebooks and explanations of terms and how the collection business works. We created an excellent resource center for our industry, that offers information on topics far beyond just the services we offer. I relied on my blog to keep the website fresh and have new content to reach out with.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great for some businesses, but not for ours. We maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter because I know it’s important for people to see. But, we focus our social media energy on LinkedIn, which makes much more sense in our industry. There’s no “one size fits all” answer to digital marketing. Make sure to research what others in your industry do and come up with the right solution for you.
Earning Links to Our Website
Our website started climbing in Google’s rankings once other websites started linking to our quality content. That was the message to Google (in addition to the time people spent reading it) that this was the content people were searching for when they had a debt collection question. The more links we got to our website from other quality websites, the higher we started ranking.
Getting those links was even harder than creating the content. It took years. The effort paid off along the way as we got more leads and clients as we started climbing in the rankings. But it could take hours just to get one link, and you were never certain what effort was going to lead to a link and what effort would go unrewarded.
Getting guest posts like this one is one way of getting a link. There were a number of industry websites that are always looking for quality content for their visitors. I became a regular writer for several sites. Then I started focusing on general business websites whose visitors could benefit from some expertise I could share. Finally, with the help of a PR consultant who found the opportunities, I started writing for industry specific websites. Sometimes the sites wanted an article about dealing with and avoiding past due invoices. Or, they were seeking something about entrepreneurship or running a business, something every business owner knows.
I’m fortunate in that I have a well-established business that was not in need of a huge influx of new clients. So, initially, the cost of these programs was under 10% of revenue. After a few years I wanted to achieve some critical mass and so I increased spend to between 10% and 15% of revenue for a couple of years. With that investment, we suddenly started seeing annual revenue growth of 50% for three straight years. In terms of dollar amounts, our budget has doubled in size, but now represents less than 5% of revenue as our revenue is up over 400% in seven years. This translates to an ROI of nearly 500% from our digital marketing investments.
I’m happy with my decision to use digital marketing for my B2B company. My marketing might not be as flashy or fun as someone selling clothing or beauty products, but I’ve found the right combination of techniques to drive my business.
Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group, a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has 35 years of manufacturing, international business leadership and customer service experience. Today, he provides business planning, training and consultation to a variety of global companies.