B2B Ecommerce (November 2019): The Step by Step Guide to Setup, Build & Grow a B2B Ecommerce Business

US$6.7 trillion.

That's the global B2B ecommerce revenue forecast for 2020.

The B2B ecommerce market size is growing rapidly YoY, but there's a big challenge here:

50% of B2B buyers prefer to purchase via B2C platforms.

The problem?

B2C ecommerce websites and businesses evolved quickly, leaving B2B portals far behind, and today, they provide a richer customer experience than most B2B ecommerce portals.

If you want to make it big as a B2B ecommerce business in 2020, you have to adapt, change, and change fast.

And we're going to show you exactly how. Step by step.

Let's dive in:

Table of contents

Step 1: Select a Niche to set up Your B2B Ecommerce Business

There is a simple yet well-known saying in the marketing world:

“The riches lie in the niches”.

Nothing could be truer.

It's always better to be the shark in a small pond rather than try to be a whale in an ocean.

And this is especially true in B2B and ecommerce- you're much better off focusing on a specific niche or sub-niche than trying to take on all industries and marketplaces at once.

Even Amazon began by focusing on books. They pivoted after they grew.

There are three simple factors to consider when you're selecting a niche for your B2B ecommerce business:

1. It should be big enough.

I often come across B2B business owners who choose to build businesses in very small micro-niches that sell a very small range of products.

I admit- it's easier to market your product and grow when your targeting is specific.

And yeah- it's easier to succeed because the competition in such micro-niches is low.

The problem?

After a certain point, growth tapers. Simply put, if the niche is too small, the target audience will also be small. And you won't be able to grow after a certain point.

So always choose a niche where you'll have sufficient room for growth, and at the same time is specific enough so that you can be a known brand in that area.

2. It should be lucrative and non-commoditized ideally.

Imagine choosing a niche where people are brand-blind. These are commoditized niches, where it's very difficult to build a brand or earn customer loyalty through product quality, due to the simple fact that there may be a ton of players in the market, and the product of same or similar quality may be available from a wide variety of sources.

Food is the greatest example.

The problem with this scenario is not that it's difficult to move inventory- it's that it's difficult to make good profits in such niches due to the competition.

You're always better off focusing on lucrative non-commoditized niches where you can build a brand, and earn higher margins.

The concept that lower prices solve buying objections is a myth.

3. It should have a steady growth trend.

Take a look at the Google Trends report of “email marketing” over the past 3 years:

B2B Ecommerce

Oh yeah- it's dropping folks. Newer (and better) technologies like chatbots and push notifications are slowly gaining traction, and overtaking email marketing.

So consider this:

If you're a B2B ecommerce marketplace selling email automation software solutions on your portal, you're gonna be in trouble in a few years.

And here's the lesson:

Always choose niches that are evergreen, or those that have a growing content trend.

Consider “chatbots”:

Notice the steady growth?

Now that's a good niche right there.

Wondering how to look for growing trends?

The easiest way is to search for your niche keyword in Google Trends and take a look at the graph for the previous 2 -5 years. That should give you a fair idea as to whether the niche is trending upwards or downwards.

Step 2: Perform a Market Fit/Gap Analysis to see if You're Solving a Real Problem

You'd be shocked to learn about the number of businesses that don't actually solve a problem.

In any business, it's imperative that you solve a problem in the market.

In fact, it's what entrepreneurship is all about: solving problems around us.

Many businesses fail because they're not solving problems or they're trying to solve problems in saturated markets where there are better or superior solutions.

A market fit or gap analysis will help you understand problems in the niches/markets you choose and poise you for success.

So how do we run a market fit analysis?

It's simple:

You ask people what the problems are.

Then you ideate products.

And then you reach out to the same people and see if the product will solve their problems.

Apart from helping you gain a lot of insights into the market, a market fit analysis will also help you gain the initial traction that's imperative in making the right decisions at the start.

So the first step is to reach out to people- not just any people- people who fit your niche buyer/customer persona and ask them about their problems.

Consider this.

I once wanted to build out a set of software solutions for the founder/marketing community that I could sell through my website.

Typical B2B ecommerce scenario.

The challenge?

I didn't know all the problems in the niche.

So I did the obvious.

I simply messaged founders and marketers on LinkedIn and interviewed them, one by one.

And here's how I automated the process (this is just one B2B channel that you can use for gathering data and ideas. There are tons of channels and methods, including face to face conversations, that you can use for this).

I first searched for founders and marketers on LinkedIn Sales Navigator:

 

The advantage of using Sales Navigator on LinkedIn is the easiness of prospecting options and filters- if I was looking to research about problems faced by founders and marketers in the US, I can simply enter filters:

Geography: United States

Company Headcount: All ranges from 1-5000 (above 5000 would be large corporates who may not fit our target audience), and

Seniority Level: CXOs, Owners, Partners, and VPs.

That simple 3 filter search gets us 6.5 Mn results of users, and if we're just looking to reach out to users who are active on LinkedIn (only 30% of LinkedIn users are active on the platform), we have a list of 645,000 users- users that fall into our target audience.

But there's a challenge here: for every search on LinkedIn, they show us only the first 1000 results.

So it's imperative that we filter down further to get all the results.

The best way to do this is to filter results city by city.

So, say I was targeting users in the US, I”ll make a list of all the US cities, and use the city name as the Geography filter. This will help me get up to 1000 results for each city filter I use- it's a quick hack around the 1000 search results limit in LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

Looking for a list of all US cities?

I've put together the whole list here: Just make a copy.

The next step s reaching out to these users and interviewing them, or asking them questions.

But we don't want to do it one by one, do we?

Here's a simple hack you can set up to automate this.

And the best part?

It'll take lesser than 5 minutes to set up:

Phantombuster automation for LinkedIn auto-messaging

On LinkedIn, if you want to message someone, they should be a first-degree connection of yours (think friends on Facebook).

Herein lies the challenge- you'll have to send them a connection request/invite, and they'll have to accept it before you'll be able to message them.

Here's where Phantombuster comes in:

I brag a lot about Phantombuster and I love it- it has a ton of API and automation setups that you can use to automate various social media hacks, and they have a free trial to start with 🙂

Think of Phantombuster as a set of programs that runs on the cloud. You can connect it to your social media accounts through a session cookie and set up automations.

We're going to use Phantombuster's Sales Navigator Search Export API to scrape lists of users that we just prospected in Sales Navigator, and then use the Network Booster API to send personalized connection requests with questions or interview invites so that we can begin conversations.

Here's a step by step tutorial video from my Art of Growth Hacking tutorials where I cover the entire process step by step:

Just to recap, this is the process that we're following for this:

1. We first filter city by city (from the above list of US cities) and copy-paste the search URLs (browser search URLs) in a google sheet.

2. We then change the permissions of the Google sheet to ‘Anyone with the link can view'.

3. We use the ‘Sales Navigator Search Export API' in the Phantombuster API store, and start filling out the form:

sales-navigator-search-export-form

First, copy the browser session cookie for your LinkedIn account.

This is how you can get your browser session cookie:

Open LinkedIn in your browser and right-click > Inspect Element:

Click on the arrow dropdown icon next to ‘Network' and select ‘Application' from the drop-down menu:

When that's done, select https://www.linkedin.com below Cookies and copy the ‘Value' of the ‘li_at' element in the table.

This is your LinkedIn session cookie. Paste this the Phantombuster Sales Navigator Search Export API form.

In the ‘LinkedIn search terms' field, paste the google sheet link (the one above where we listed the sales navigator search URLs) and in ‘Number of profiles to scrape' enter 1000.

Enter the column name of the column in the sheet where you've pasted the sales navigator search URLs list for the ‘Column name from which to search terms or URLs' field.

When it comes to ‘Number of lines of your spreadsheet to process per launch', I like to set it to a safe range of 100 per launch. Anything above that could piss off LinkedIn.

I also like to check the ‘Remove duplicate profiles' box at the bottom so that all the results we get in the CSV results file are unique.

Now click on ‘Save' and ‘Launch'.

Depending upon the number of sales navigator search URLs that you'd like to scrape, you can launch the API multiple times to scrape user lists and details.

You'll be able to download the results CSV file from the Files section in the Console of the API:

console results CSV file download

This CSV file will include, among other details, the LinkedIn profile URLs, first and last names and company names of all the users that you scraped.

I like to upload the CSV to a google spreadsheet. This will also be required in the next step.

4. Now that we have the prospects, there are two methods we can use to reach out:

We can either directly message them on LinkedIn, or we can figure out their email and set up an outreach campaign. I'm going to follow the first method, as you'll get far more responses that way.

We're going to use the LinkedIn Network Booster API in the Phantombuster API store for this:

LinkedIn_Network_Booster___Phantombuster

Click on ‘Use API'. When you click on the ‘Hamburger icon' below ‘Console', you'll be asked to fill in the following fields:

network booster configure phantombuster

I like to invite them to an interview so that I can ask them questions (they tend to give detailed answers and share more opinions when I'm talking to them, as opposed to typing out in a chat window- people are lazy).

Here's a template that has worked out really well for me:

“I swear on Merlin's beard that I'm not a bot. I just need some advice. Got a minute?”

It's funny, frank, and jumps straight to the point. And it works:

configure

You can also use personalization fields in Phantombuster, and craft an invite like:

“Hey #firstName#, I swear on Merlin's beard that I'm not a bot. I just need some advice. Got a minute?”

Once you've filled out the Message field, also check the ‘Disable profile scraping' checkbox- your API will be faster that way.

That's it!

Click ‘Save'.

Now the badass part.

What we did just now was configure the API and define how to run the automation.

Now let's go ahead and set up the API to run automatically- day after day and week after week.

We do this from ‘Settings' in the API instance in the ‘My APIs' tab:

My_APIs___Phantombuster

This is what the ‘Settings' screen looks like:

In Launch, check ‘Repetitively (advanced)'. We're going to set up the API to launch multiple times every day, on specific days and months:

For ‘Selected minutes', choose ‘Once per hour' from the drop down.

I typically like to limit the connection requests to 100/day, so considering that every launch will send out 10 connection requests (we set this in the previous step), we'll have to set the automation to launch the API 10 times every hour.

One thing to keep in mind here is to set it to run from morning 8 AM onwards (in the time zone of your target audience, which in this case is the US time zone).

Just check those hours in the ‘Selected hours' section.

For ‘Selected days', just choose ‘Every day' from the dropdown.

Similarly, for ‘Selected days of the week', select ‘Every day of the week' and for ‘Selected months', select ‘Every month' from the dropdown.

For ‘File storage'>'

This means that after every launch of the API, the new results file will be appended to the previous results file.

In ‘Headless browser options', uncheck ‘Load images'. This will make the API execution faster, thereby using lesser API minutes of yours.

After that, click ‘Save'.

The settings screen at the end of the setup should look something like this:

That's it! This is where the true power of Phantombuster lies- you can setup automations to run for days, months and years without you having to lift a finger.

Phantombuster will check the automation settings every minute, and if the conditions are fulfilled, launch automatically.

We can burn through the entire list of prospects we scraped slowly without having to do any manual work.

Now that the automations have been set up, let's take a look at how to interview prospects that reply.

The replies will show up as messages in your LinkedIn inbox as shown in the above examples from my own inbox.

The next step is to put together a market gap analysis questionnaire to gather insights, ideas, and problems from these prospects.

This will vary greatly for each industry and niche, but in the end, you need to be thinking of questions that will prompt prospects to shed light on problems they're facing in your niche.

Say, I'm looking to sell software products on my B2B website in the content marketing niche.

My questionnaire will look somewhat like this:

– Have you ever tried content marketing for your business?

– What are some pain points you've faced?

– Have you tried any automation setups for automating any part of your content marketing process?

– What are some softwares you've found useful for content creation, distribution or promotion? Are you happy with them and do you have any suggestions for improvements?

– What are some softwares you'd like to have for the same purposes? What are some features in these softwares that you'd appreciate?

– How much would you be willing to pay for these softwares? (the above-suggested softwares)

– Do you have any other problems that you've noticed in the content marketing space that you'd like to share?

The goal of the above questionnaire is to identify ‘gaps'- opportunities in the market that you can focus on.

The challenge?

The first interview or call or set of answers from the first prospect won't give you a good idea.

Nor will the second one.

But after a dozen of them, you'll start to notice patterns- real problems that a lot of people in your target audience are facing today.

These are the real opportunities.

I'd typically do about 30-50 interviews before making a decision on what problems I want to focus on.

This will not just help me validate the problem that I'm trying to solve with the products I'll be selling on my store- this will also help me understand future business opportunities,  and also establish some connections that can help me gain some initial traction.

Once I have a set of problems I want to focus on, I'll start figuring out solutions, researching on existing solutions for these problems in the market, and start prototyping or sourcing solutions for products.

Tip: In case you're into selling software, just know that there are tons of white label products on the market for almost every single problem in content marketing. You can just buy a white label product with master resell rights and then work with a team of developers to add new features or repackage and brand it as your own.

 

Step 3: How to Choose a Platform and Build the Website

The next big step in launching your store is setting up the website, and making sure that it's optimized for conversions, operations and delivery.

What's the #1 myth about ecommerce website development?

That you have to hire a development agency or team to get it done.

There are literally hundreds of ecommerce software builders and platforms out there that will get you up and running in a jiffy at 1/100th of the cost.

Heck- we even built an entire blog around ecommerce platforms:)

What is a b2b ecommerce platform?

It's an ecommerce platform built or customized for the B2B users and use cases.

All you need to do is find the right one, and set up your ecommerce website.

Before we start considering which ecommerce platforms to consider, there are some baseline features that we need to discuss:

1. Order and Payment options:

There is a big challenge in the B2B ecommerce space when compared to typical B2C ecommerce websites:

Order volumes and average payments are much higher.

This is why order customization and pricing or payment terms, and flows vary a lot for B2B ecommerce websites.

And this ties into the typical ecommerce store backend issues- all your fulfillment center systems or CRMs, customer service tools, and catalogs and inventory databases need to function and integrate together to create a single flow that works seamlessly.

And if you're considering an ecommerce store that services both B2B and B2B users, it gets more complex.

You'll want to offer dynamic pricing (say, based on their geography or based on product availability and involved costs or taxes in their geographical area) and delivery services (think hyperlocal products and services).

2. Credit:

Yet another defining feature of B2B ecommerce portals.

This feature kind of got carried forward from offline business and sales- B2B merchandise or product sales traditionally involves offering lines of credit or delayed payments after delivery.

And traditional B2C ecommerce stores don't offer this option. And based on the availability of credit partners in different geographies, you'll also need to be able to offer this feature as you see fit.

3. Customer service and UX:

When you're running a B2B eCommerce service, it'll make sense to offer stellar customer service. The reason's simple- average order values are high. It makes ROI sense.

With respect to UX, the website should offer highly personalized shopping experiences- and offer options to build loyal customers- including loyalty programs and in-built segmentation or personalization features.

 

Now that we have the main requirements we need to consider while choosing a platform, let's take a look at some of the best B2B ecommerce solutions and platforms on the market today:

1. SuiteCommerce from NetSuite:

shopify plus b2b ecommerce

NetSuite's SuiteCommerce is best suited for B2B ecommerce companies in the retail, manufacturing, wholesaling, marketing, FMCG and SMCG industries.

They're known as the ecommerce platform built around customers- and offer a 360-degree view of customer interactions, enabling users to plan marketing, promotions and merchandising based on actual customer data.

Also- they're omnichannel, meaning they allow the ability to engage cross-platform, providing deeper personalization.

The true power of the 360-degree customer view comes in understanding customer lifetimes- wherein you get a clear understanding of all interactions and transactions with all customers in a single system.

You can use this data to make better data-backed decisions on marketing spend and targeting groups that are most profitable for your ecommerce business.

And the platform offers a good partner ecosystem (say, like the WordPress dev community).

They also offer good payment integrations and options (more on that above), and you can easily set up separate payment structures, tax rates, and currencies for different geographies.

2. Magento:

magento b2b ecommerce

One of the most well known and robust open-source B2B ecommerce platforms out there.

If you're a newbie user, there's a lot of things to know here:

  • Magento is incredibly complex, and not a very good fit for the layman user. It almost always requires programming and development knowledge.
  • It's self-hosted, like WordPress- you'll need your own servers and scalable cloud infrastructure to set it up.
  • It's open-source, which means it's free.
  • And because it's open-source, it has one of biggest dev communities out there.
  • And again, because it's open-source and self-hosted, it's very flexible and customizable, and there's almost no end to the customization options if you have a development help available.

3. Shopify

shopify plus b2b ecommerce

Shopify as a platform is designed to be easy to set up and easy to use.

They offer everything you'd need in a B2B ecommerce platform- from custom payment and order options to customer service tools and integrations.

The best part?

They offer some killer features that are important for B2B users- like:

– the ability to offer wholesale pricing and password protected storefronts for select wholesale customers. The feature helps you implement ABM (account-based marketing campaigns) focused on individual large-value accounts.

-Here's an interesting stat- less than 10% of B2B purchases are made with credit or debit cards. An overwhelming 50 percent of them are done via custom payment plans, credit options, and purchase orders.

Although Shopify doesn't offer direct options for credit lines, payment plans or subscriptions, they have a robust app store that offers 3rd party b2b ecommerce apps for all these.

– For multi-location businesses, they offer the ability to set up localized multi-language versions of your website, including currency converters and language translators. They've even got built-in tax calculators and data for over 70K jurisdictions so that you don't have to set up all these manually.

They also have 3rd party apps that offer further customization for multi-location ecommerce businesses and B2B ecommerce catalogs.

-For variable pricing (think wholesale customers and special bulk pricing for large buyers) they offer a tag system wherein you can define a tag for a specific customer account, and when you set a price list of products, use that same tag again so that those customers can avail the reduced bulk/wholesale pricing.

Note: We often get asked about which B2B ecommerce CMSs to use. Most of the platforms we discussed above have built-in CMSs in them- BigCommerce and Shopify have the best ones in our opinion.

4. BigCommerce

bigcomerce b2b ecommerce platform

One thing I love about BigCommerce is how it stays on par with self-hosted super-customizable options like Magento- they do not try to force users to adopt pre-fixed templates and workflows, and offer a ton of customization features.

From the POV of a B2B ecommerce business owner, payment options, and order and pricing customization are the most important features for a B2B ecommerce platform.

BigCommerce offers conditional content and conditional pricing for this. Based on set “customer groups” you can choose to show or hide entire categories and set different pricing levels or structures for different customer groups like wholesale or bulk order customers, etc.

And lastly, they also offer to limit shipping and payment options for different customer groups- say, allowing only some types of payment options for the EU region and a particular set of shipping partners for customers from that specific region.

These 4 platforms are my 4 main choices. And among these, I like to side with Bigcommerce or Shopify.

 

Step 4: 2 Proven Growth Strategies for Growing Your B2B Ecommerce Business

Do you know the one thing I love about B2B?

Targeting is far simpler and easy to do. You'll have a much better idea of who your target customers are and where you can find them online.

It's, in fact, one of the most important benefits of b2b ecommerce businesses.

The best way to find your target customers is by taking a look at your existing sales data and map out the buyer persona.

What's a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is simply a representation or collection of data about your ideal customers, based on actual market research and existing customer data.

A detailed buyer persona is super important for any business- it'll help you understand how to market your product or service, where your customers hang out online, what their likes, interests and pain points are, and how you'll be able to attract them to your business.

When you're running a B2B business, ideally, you should have at least these elements in your buyer persona map:

– their location (geographical focus)

-their job (their positions at their company/business)

-the industry

-the company size (number of employees working at their company

-an idea of where they tend to hang out online

-likes, interests, pain points, etc

 

Why are these details important?

Because if you want to grow your business, you have to find out what ‘growth channels' will work for you more than marketing strategies.

Consider LinkedIn as a growth channel. It's the biggest professional social media network in the world. And it's a great B2B growth channel.

But LinkedIn is feasible only if your customers or target audience are active on the platform. And the only way to figure this out is by understanding who they are- from a clearly mapped out buyer persona.

And here's the obvious problem-

Not all growth channels will work out for your business. Just like LinkedIn above which is not a good fit for, say, most B2C businesses.

Content marketing, another growth channel, may not be a good fit for say, industries where people are not used to researching online.

In this article, I'm going to cover two growth channels that have been proven to be effective for most B2B businesses out there- LinkedIn and Cold Email.

I'm going to show you, step-by-step, how to implement growth strategies effectively across these channels, and explain the entire process.

1. How to Brand Yourself as a Thought Leader on LinkedIn and Generate Leads

Until a few years ago, LinkedIn was a mostly ignored social media network of professionals.

Most users used it just for hiring.

And then LinkedIn started promoting two features of the platform heavily- the new LinkedIn feed and Sales Navigator.

The LinkedIn feed was introduced by LinkedIn to promote content creation on LinkedIn- something that other platforms like Facebook and Instagram had started long back.

So when they introduced the feed, they had a huge challenge- they had to bring more content creators and publishers onto the platform- they had to incentivize content creation.

And how do you incentivize content creation for a social network consisting of professionals?

More exposure- much more exposure than other social media channels.

And that's how it started.

With increased reach for each post on the LinkedIn feed, content creators and publishers sharing content on LinkedIn started getting a lot more views, engagement and consequently more business and leads from LinkedIn than Facebook or Twitter or even Instagram.

Today, on average, a post on LinkedIn enjoys 7x more views than any other social media network out there.

This is sure to change in a year or two as more and more content creators start competing for exposure on the platform, but until then, Linkedin is one of the best social media networks to generate organic exposure and traction for your brand.

And then there's Sales Navigator.

LinkedIn first launched a standalone sales navigator product in 2014 to help its users with finding business potential leads on the platform.

But when you take a moment and think about it, LinkedIn is one of the only social media networks out there that offers such a product- a prospecting engine with literally millions of potential leads that you can market to.

Now that we have both these elements clear, let's get into the actual steps on growth hacking on LinkedIn.

There are three elements in LinkedIn growth hacking:

a. Optimizing your LinkedIn profile

b. Automation setups to build a relevant network and make connections

c. Content marketing on LinkedIn

 

Let's cover each of these in detail:

a. Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile to Clearly Communicate Your Offering

When prospects ask me why they're not generating leads on LinkedIn, I tell them that the #1 reason is that they don't have an optimized profile that clearly communicates what they're offering as a service or product.

This is because LinkedIn works differently from most online marketing and growth channels.

Whenever you find someone interesting on Linkedin, say from a piece of content, or from a search result or a message, you first check out their profile.

This changes the dynamic entirely because now all outcomes of them actually reaching out to you for a business inquiry will depend on your having an optimized profile.

And most users don't have an optimized LinkedIn profile.

Let's take a look at how you can portray thought-leadership and trust through your profile on Linkedin:

– your profile image, name, and tagline:

linkedin profile step 1

Wherever you come across a user on LinkedIn, three elements are visible- the profile image, the name, and the tagline.

You should entice users to check out your profile using these three elements to the best of your ability.

Profile image: Ideally, you should have a clean, lit-up profile image of you smiling. There are a bunch of tools like Snappr that uses image recognition and machine learning to analyze your photo and give you an idea of how well it'll perform and how you can improve it, but the basic goal is the same:

linkedin profile step 2

Use a lit-up headshot of you smiling.

Name: Just a pointer here- use a pronounceable name. Super complex names have been proven to put people off, and it's difficult to earn trust. Just use something that's shorter or a nickname.

Tagline:  You literally have 5-10 seconds of user attention when someone lands on your profile. After the profile image and the name, the first thing they notice on the profile is your tagline.

How you clearly communicate who you are here will determine whether they will continue to be interested.

Something that I prefer to use in taglines is an ambitious goal like this one:

linkedin profile tagline

It instantly portrays thought leadership and looks intriguing to visitors.

-your cover image

Now your cover image is a big piece of real estate on your LinkedIn page that you can use for grabbing attention to your brand or website.

I'd always recommend using a branded cover image like this one:

linkedin profile step 3

-your LinkedIn summary

The summary section is yet another ignore section of LinkedIn profiles. It's the one place where you can clearly convey your selling proposition- it acts as your pitch.

Adi_Suja___LinkedIn profile step 5

As shown in the image, there is a basic skeleton structure that I like to follow for LinkedIn summaries.

1- explain who you are and what you do

2- clearly explain (in simple words) what you're offering as a service or product

3- what are some good brands that you've worked with?

4- how can prospects get in touch with you?

5- A link to a contact/consultation form on your website or elsewhere. LinkedIn allows us to add links within the summary section. So make use of them. 90% of the leads we get at my agency comes via the above ‘Free Consultation' link.

-Experiences and skills

There is one key point to consider when you optimize your Experience and Skills sections- think of your LinkedIn profile as a landing page. Just like how we don't add distracting elements to a landing page, it's best not to add anything irrelevant to your Experience and Skills sections.

There's nothing unprofessional about adding irrelevant experiences and skills- it's just that they could distract your profile visitors.

– Recommendations

linkedin profile step 7

There is a common misconception that the profile and designation of the person that gives your recommendations should be impressive.

The truth?

It doesn't matter.

Visitors don't usually click on to vet profiles of people who leave recommendations on your profile- they just read through the recommendations themselves.

So just make sure the actual content of the recommendations is good. Anyone can leave the recommendations as long as they don't have the same surname (if you know what I mean :))

b. Setup Automations to Build a Relevant Network and Start Conversations

Remember me mentioning how a non-optimized profile is the #1 reason why most users are unable to generate leads from LinkedIn?

Know what's the #2 reason?

It's an irrelevant network.

When we start using LinkedIn, most of our first-degree connections will be our colleagues, college mates, and acquaintances. But there's a problem here- most of these users do not fit our target buyer persona.

And consequently, all your LinkedIn marketing efforts go in vain because your content is not being seen by the right people who would be interested in it and buying from you.

How do we solve this?

Enter Phantombuster.

Remember how we set up Phantombuster to auto-connect with users from our list earlier?

The same exact step by step process can also be used for continuously adding target users to your LinkedIn network as connections so that when we finally start content marketing, they'll be the first ones to see and engage with our content.

And instead of the interview related connection message we used earlier, we can use something like this:

“Hey #firstName#, came across one of your posts on LinkedIn the other day. Thought I'd reach out and connect.”

The advantage here is that once you spend a few minutes to set it up, prospects will be added to your network on autopilot day in and day out without you having to check every day.

And because you're adding a personalized invite, and because your profile image and tagline are now optimized, you'll get a far greater acceptance rate for your connection requests.

If you'd like to go overboard and also setup messaging sequences to try and sell to these prospects (think cold email on LinkedIn), you can use tools like GrowthLead.

c. Start Killer Content Marketing on LinkedIn 

There are two elements to content marketing- one is content creation, and the other is content promotion. Let's talk about content creation first.

There are a number of content genres and types that perform really well on LinkedIn- videos, images, case studies, random link shares, and even stories and pulse articles.

But the one type that has worked out really well for us and for our clients are personal experiences.

Through personal experience posts alone, I've driven over 2MN views to my content on LinkedIn.

Let me explain:

By personal experiences, I mean simple thought-provoking stories of real obstacles and challenges you've faced, successes you've had and lessons you've learned along the way, both in your professional and personal lives.

I think the reason personal experience posts work so well is that they act as a pattern-break from the usual content we see on LinkedIn.

And when you talk openly about vulnerable experiences and failures to your connections on LinkedIn, it builds trust.

Adi_Suja___LinkedIn post examples

Notice the engagement and view counts? That's 200K views for 3 posts over 3 days.

When's the last time you saw that kind of traction and exposure on new blog posts? This is why LinkedIn is so powerful.

It doesn't matter if the content is not directly related to what your offering as a product or service via your store- as long as it's an insightful personal experience post, it will help generate leads, provided that we promote the content.

/lead magnet Hackviral LinkedIn content marketing guide

Which brings us to the next section of LinkedIn content marketing- content promotion.

The concept is simple:

If you don't promote the content you create, you're missing out on ROI and quick traction. You need to religiously promote every piece of content you share on LinkedIn.

How?

It took me months to figure this out-

The answer is pods.

LinkedIn pods are communities of content creators on LinkedIn that help engage with each other's content.

I know- sounds lame.

But every social media content algorithm out there takes into account the engagement your content receives in the first hour of posting that piece of content.

If you receive considerable engagement, it's a signal to the algorithm that your content is engaging, and that it should be shown to more users and more of your 2nd and 3rd-degree network on LinkedIn.

We use pods to simply hack this feature of the algorithm.

You can choose to create manual pods on WhatsApp or Facebook by inviting other content creators, sharing LinkedIn post links in the group every day, and getting all members to engage (like and comment) with each other's content.

Or you can choose to use a paid software like Lempod that automates engagement.

lempod for pod engagement

The advantage of using Lempod is that you can join pod groups managed by others and choose to join industry-specific or location-specific pods to keep the engagement relevant.

And the engagement (likes and comments) are automated. The extension automatically connects to member LinkedIn accounts and likes and auto-comments on shared LinkedIn posts from the member accounts- saves a ton of time.

That sums up LinkedIn growth hacking.

Like every other marketing channel out there, LinkedIn won't offer you a shortcut to massive traction. You need to religiously create and promote content, and add more relevant connections to your network to start generating qualified leads to your ecommerce business.

And as you create and share more content, more users (who fit your target buyer persona) get to know you, like you and eventually trust you.

After this point, they'll reach out to you as a lead should the requirement arise.

2. How to Create a Steady Stream of Leads by Automating B2B Cold Emailing

What's a common amateur myth in online marketing?

Cold emailing doesn't work.

The truth?

Conventional cold-emailing- the spammy templated kind doesn't work anymore. But there are still ways to make cold emailing work very well for you.

And I'm going to show you step-by-step:

a. Prospect for potential leads for your cold emailing campaign

Remember that sheet where we imported the entire list of prospects that we scraped from LinkedIn using Phantombuster earlier?

Consider that you have a similar list of prospects that you prospected from LinkedIn Sales Navigator- prospects that fit your buyer persona and are potential leads.

We need to find email addresses of these prospects to reach out to them via a cold emailing campaign.

Luckily, there are tools like Anyleads or Hunter that allow you to find emails of prospects using the first and last names and their domain/company names.

And luckily for you, I've built out a custom google sheet with which you can use the Anyleads and Hunter APIs for this without any coding knowledge.

/lead magnet Growthetics Email Toolkit Google Sheet

For Hunter, all you need to do is enter the first and last names and company/domain names in the Hunter Email Finder sheet, copy the API key from your account in the designated cell and copy the formula (in Row 3) down, and the script will automatically get the results and import the data into the sheet.

email toolkit for cold emailing

The next step is to use the Hunter Email Verifier to verify all the email addresses found in the above step. DO NOT skip this step. It's very important that you verify email addresses you find so that you're only using valid email addresses. It's important for deliverability rates.

And just like how you used the Hunter Email Finder sheet, all you need to do is go to the Hunter Email Verifier sheet enter the list of emails you need to verify in column A, copy/paste the API key in the designated column, and drag the formula (in Row 3) down, so that the script will import the JSON results into the sheet.

email tolkit email verifier sheet example

Just to recap, we mapped out our buyer persona first, then entered the filters into Sales Navigator on LinkedIn, from where we scraped results (1000 per search result URL) using Phantombuster, and then used the email toolkit sheet above to find email addresses and verify them using the Hunter API.

Tip: You can also use Anyleads for the email prospecting and automation- the above toolkit sheet also has sheets for that.

Now that we have the email addresses of prospects (just remove all the prospects for which we didn't get verified emails using the toolkit sheet), let's move onto the next step, which is the email template.

b. Create a stellar template that stands out from other emails.

What's the #1 goal of using an email template?

It's to have a scalable format that you can use for personalization that stands out from other emails.

Both the personalization and the uniqueness of the template are equally important.

If you choose to copy a template off the internet and use it for your cold emailing campaign, I can promise you one thing: the same prospect will have received at least two more emails using the exact same template prior to yours. Let that sink in.

You have to craft your own template. Copying your template from the web is a sure-shot recipe for your email being spam-listed or ignored and your sender score being affected.

So how do you craft a good template?

This depends heavily on the service or product that you're trying to offer, but there are two elements that I like to sprinkle into all my templates- personalization fields and humor.

Here's a typical template I'd use for a store that sells content marketing softwares, the example we considered at the start:

Subject: Would love to hear more about {company_name}

Hi {first_name},

I noticed you’re the {job_title} at {company_name} and I figured you of all people know just how important branding and a consistent stream of leads is for your business.

Here at {our_company_name}, we often hear things like:
· Is content marketing effective?
· How can we automate multi-channel content marketing and track results?
· How can I start seeing ROI on my content marketing efforts?

At {our_company_name}, we started out with these problems and have now a line of software solutions that can help you generate ROI from content marketing through automation, strategizing and tracking. Would you have 15 minutes some time this week to chat about some real use cases of how our softwares help?

You can schedule a call here: {meeting_booking_link}

Talk soon,
{Your_Signature}

 

Note: Do not copy the above template word-for-word. Won't work. Make changes according to your business and service/product model and offerings.

Now that we're done with the template, let's take a look at how to set up the campaign:

c. Setup and automate the campaign:

There are tons of email outreach tools out there. I've experimented will all of them- Buzzstream, Pitchbox, Mailshake, NinjaOutreach, and even HubSpot Sales Sequences.

But here's the thing:

You need to be sending emails from your Gsuite account, and not using softwares that send it using Gmail's API.

The reason is simple:

Gmail servers track which emails are getting sent out via the actual email and via third-party automation tools with APIs. And deliverability rates will always be better for emails sent out directly via Gmail/Gsuite.

For this reason, we're going to use GMass to create drafts in Gsuite/Gmail and then send those emails.

I like to use paid, warmed-up (email that's used for a few months prior to the outreach), multiple Gsuite accounts set up on a sister TLD (say, if ecommerce-platforms.com is your main website, ecommerce-platforms.net will be a sister TLD) that has a valid SPF/DKIM record for outreach campaigns.

Step 1: Create columns for all the personalization fields you've used in the outreach campaign spreadsheet that lists all the prospects:

For the above template, it'll look like this.

cold email outreach list example

Since company_name, first_name, and job_title fields are already there in the list, I've just renamed those columns to the personalization fields in the template.

Step 2: Next, install the Gmass  chrome extension and open your Gsuite account:

add gmass for outreach

You'll have to give access permissions too:

give gmass access

Step 3: Create a draft with your email template and signature.

gmass compose screen

Step 4: Connect it to the Google sheet that lists all the prospects. Just click on the spreadsheet icon at the top:

connect to gsheet step 1

And then select the Google spreadsheet (and the sheet within that spreadsheet) where we've listed all the prospects and the personalization fields.

connect to gsheet step 2

The next step is to set up the campaign via GMass:

gmass setup

First, click on the arrow icon on the red GMass button near the Send bar of your compose screen. GMass will now open up a setting screen.

Second, enter some test email addresses (those that you own) just to test how the emails will look like.

Third, uncheck Opens and Clicks in ‘Track'. Most email outreach software use domains that may have been blacklisted by Google as all their users use the same tracking domain. Either set up your own custom tracking domain or uncheck tracking opens and clicks.

Fourth, in action, select ‘Just create Drafts'. This will make sure that no emails are being sent out, and that drafts are created with the email template filled out with personalization fields- i.e. one email draft for each recipient. I like to then review each email for grammatical issues/awkward wording and then send them, one by one. This is the true power of GMass.

Fifth, for auto-followup, you can choose to use a follow template like this one:

Hi {{first_name}},

Did you see my previous email?

Let me know if you have some time to chat about how {our_company_name} is changing the content marketing automation game.

Looking forward to hearing back.

Best,
{{Signature}}

You can also setup up to 8 follow-ups that can be scheduled to be sent out automatically every week or every few days.

Sixth, for scheduling, just set time as ‘Now' as we're only creating drafts.

That's it, you're ready to go!

Now just click on the red GMass send button and the drafts will be auto-created, and you can go ahead and review and send each of them manually.

This is the way I prefer, but you can choose to let GMass handle all the automation- I just like to review the emails and send them out one by one.

 

Here are 12 best practices that I always like to follow for cold emailing campaigns:

1. The 10% / month validity rule– Every single month, approximately 10% of emails go invalid because of job changes, businesses shutting down, and email provider changes.

So the time between the prospecting process (where you find and verify the email addresses) and the outreach process (where you send the emails) should always be kept low and never over a month.

2. Craft email templates (without images, and not more than one external link in the entire email); using humor in the emails helps a lot to elicit responses; and craft multiple templates and split test to find out what works best.

3. Schedule emails for mornings from Tuesday- Thursday

4. Have a simple signature without a lot of formatted text, images, and links- it affects deliverability rates.

5. Follow up at least twice, but do not go more than four, and always double check that people who reply and ask to opt out are removed from the list.

The reason we do this is that outreach softwares automatically remove prospects who reply from the scheduled follow up sequences only if they use the same email address to reply.

Let me explain:

If you send an email to, say, example@gmail.com which is set to forward all emails to example1@gmail.com, and they reply and ask to unsubscribe from the new email, then the outreach software will not detect the email as from the same prospect.

So it’s imperative that you manually check all prospects who ask to unsubscribe or stop sending them emails. Or the next email will get you reported for spam.

6. Use YAMM/ GMass for outreach and use it to create drafts in Gmail, manually review and then send out.

This may be more time-consuming, but in the end, this method will ensure that all emails being sent out appear like normal emails being sent out from Gmail/Gsuite and not mass outreach emails.

7. Keep daily sending limits to below 50 per day (10 per day for new email addresses; and step up by 10 every week until 50).

NEVER go above 150 per email address per day.

Although the official sending limits for Gsuite is 2000 per day, and that for Gmail is 500 per day, most users do not hit this limit. If you go overboard (above 50 or 100) it’s going to look like you’re mass emailing, and then you’re going to trip Gmail’s spam filters.

8. Use warmed up aliases for email outreach.

It’s going to appear very unnatural to Gmail when you start mass emailing from a new Gmail address from day one. It’s always better to first warm up a Gmail/Gsuite address by normal usage for a month or so, and then start outreach using it.

9. Ideally, have a sister domain/TLD and Gsuite setup for bulk emailing- just to keep the parent domain safe (think example.net if example.com is the main domain)

10. Tracking should ideally be done using UTM tags and not tracking links from outreach tools. Most outreach tracking softwares use common tracking domains for all their customers.

Imagine that domain gets spam listed because one user messed up their campaign.

If you use the same domain link for tracking, it’s going to trip Gmail’s spam filters for sure.

11. Sometimes, you’ll be unable to find email addresses of some prospects. In such cases, you can use Auto Text Expander (chrome extension) for filling out website contact forms quickly.

12. If Gmail sends you a spam warning/limits your sending, it’s a sign that you’re doing stuff wrong.

Stop the campaign, change your email address and your templates, and then restart.

That sums up cold emailing. If done right, it's a great growth channel that you can use to rake in leads.

Step 5: How to Implement an Experimentation/Rapid Tempo Testing Process for Growth Hacking

This is perhaps the most important section of this article.

As I mentioned many times earlier- one strategy or method will not work for all types of businesses and industries at all periods of time, across geographies and locations.

The only way to understand and find out what works for your business is to experiment with as many strategies as you can and find out what works and what doesn't.

You may feel that it's better to just outsource all your marketing work to a B2B ecommerce agency, but as someone who runs such an agency, trust me when I tell you that it's better to implement a growth framework in-house right from the start- it'll work wonders for your business.

This is the essence of growth hacking- rapid tempo testing to understand what's working. And with every single successful experiment that yields a positive result, you gain validated learning.

As you learn more, you get to understand what to do and what not do, and also gain insights into how to run better, deeper and more successful experiments.

Would you believe me if I told you that Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, etc, all use rapid experimentation to grow fast?

Jeff Bezos even publicly quoted that the growth of Amazon was directly proportional to the number of experiments they ran.

This s why growth hacking is very important in this day and age.

Now let's talk about setting up a basic tempo testing/experimentation framework for your business.

Step 1: Make a copy of this sheet.

Step 2: Fill out the details:

Experiment Name/Hypothesis: This is the hypothesis that you suggest for your experiment. A typical hypothesis will look like

“A drip campaign to retarget users who abandon shopping carts should increase orders”

Priority: I prefer to set the priority as High, Medium or Low. Usually, anything that could increase bottom-line revenue of the business should be set to high priority and will be executed first.

Probability: This is the probability of the experiment returning a successful outcome.

Stage of the funnel: This usually stands for the stage of the marketing funnel that this experiment corresponds to, say Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention or Referral.

Once you've listed out all the details for multiple experiments, you can run the experiments and log results and metrics in the same sheet.

The sheet will give you a clear idea of what you need to be doing to get in more customers, generate more revenue from them, and keep them coming back for more.

 

Phew- that was a lot, wasn't it?

We discussed how to select niches for your B2B ecommerce business, how to run gap analysis by interviewing potential customers in the market, how to choose a platform to set up your store and then delved into growth channels you could use to grow your business, and then ended it off with a basic guide on how to establish a rapid tempo testing framework.

What are your thoughts on launching B2B ecommerce stores and growing them?

Share them in the comments below- we do take the pain to read and reply to all of them!

Featured image credits:

Adi Suja

Adi is the Founder and Chief Growth Officer at Growthetics, a growth-focused content marketing agency. He helps with the growth of the Ecommerce Platforms blog.