How to Use PPC Advertising to Get the Most Out of Slow Sales Periods

February 8, 2017

It’s the beginning of the year and your B2C colleagues just had their busiest sales period of the year. For those of you in the B2B sector, things were probably a bit different.

There is no Cyber Monday or Black Friday for B2B businesses. Instead, the last few months of the year are when you wind things down and take stock of your year’s performance. But is that all you can do in your slow sales periods (holidays, long weekends, and industry downturns)?

Or can you use a downturn to build new relationships and set the stage for future success?

In this article, I’m going to show you how you can use PPC advertising to make the most of any slow sales period.

1. Double down on PPC based on past performance

Conventional wisdom says that when sales are low across your industry, you should focus more on conserving your cash by cutting down on advertising.

In reality, you’ll find that slow periods are very rarely uniformly slow. In other words, while some industries see a reduced demand during particular months, others see growth spikes during that same time.

As an example, consider this graph of holiday-weekend sales by sector:

According to conventional wisdom, you might assume that only customer-facing businesses make any money during any given holiday period (from Christmas to Fourth of July weekend). However, as the graph above shows, business spikes for a lot of ancillary industries that serve customer-facing businesses: logistics, packing supplies, etc.

This is just one example of a traditional “slow” period that can actually be very lucrative for businesses that actively spot opportunities. So instead of cutting down on advertising, try to:

  • Analyze traffic and lead volume over your slow periods in the past. Was there a bump in queries, traffic or revenue from a particular channel or industry?
  • Analyze PPC performance over your slow sales periods. Was there any change in search volume, clicks and queries from a particular industry or keyword group?

Your objective here is to find new sources of queries and leads – often overlooked markets in your niche – that become active during your slow sales periods. If you find and engage these opportunities, you can tap into an entirely new market segment.

2. Clean up your PPC campaigns

Because conversion rates fall during slow sales periods, B2B PPC budgets tend to shrink.

This makes it the perfect time to clean house and spruce up your campaigns for when demand actually picks up. Dig through your campaign data to find the following:

  • Poorly performing keywords. Find keywords that are either too expensive or don’t meet your baseline conversion rates. Also consider removing non-core keywords that lead to non-performing landing pages/lead magnets.
  • Clean up ad-sets that aren’t performing or don’t have any active ads. Make your campaign dashboard cleaner for the upcoming busy quarter.
  • Poorly performing ad copy. Note ad copy that isn’t performing quite as well. Try to understand the reason for poor performance (poor value proposition, no urgency, etc.) and make note of these separately for next year’s campaigns.

3. Zero-down on your best performing campaigns

A hallmark of the B2B sales process is poor visibility into the performance of your marketing campaigns. Thanks to the length of the sales process, you can’t always tell which campaign gave you your best performing leads.

A slow sales period is the right time to zero-down on your best performing campaigns. In a separate spreadsheet, make a note of:

  • Each ad campaign, including target keywords and ad copy
  • The target buyer personas for each campaign
  • The landing page associated with the campaign
  • The lead magnet associated with the landing page (if any)
  • Numbers associated with the landing page (conversion, email confirmation rate and download rate)
  • Lead to MQL and MQL to SQL (sales qualified lead) conversion rate for each landing page

Ideally, you should be able to tell at a glance which one of your campaigns gives you the best chance of capturing a lead and taking it to sales. This will help you plan your campaigns better for the next busy quarter.

4. Take business away from competitors

A slow sales period – either one-time only (such as an economic downturn) or seasonal (such as the annual holiday period) – is the perfect time to steal business away from competitors.

Think of it this way: like you, your prospective clients are also probably going through a slow sales period. And like you, they are also busy analyzing their performance and cutting costs.

More likely than not, they will analyze the performance of you and your competitors. Make sure your proposals are irresistible.

Start by diverting PPC budgets to focus on:

  • Keywords your competitors are bidding on
  • Keywords that include your competitor’s brand name
  • Keywords that involve “renegotiating” deals or finding “new” deals (particularly useful for targeting dissatisfied competitor clients), such as “end marketing contract” or “new marketing contract for 2017

In your campaign, try to focus on the results you’ve got for your existing clients. Highlight case studies, new research and customer success stories in your marketing collateral.

You likely won’t be able to close a deal with this tactic during a slow sales period, but you will set the sales process in motion. It’s a great way to make the best of reduced PPC budgets.

5. Develop a remarketing list

The average sales cycle can be between one month (usually small businesses) to a year (enterprise-level clients).

This means that if you want to meet your sales targets for next year, you’ll have to keep the sales process running even when there is reduced demand.

Understand that like you, your clients are also looking to the future when demand will pick up. They might not have budgets right now, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t filing away all useful solutions in their “to buy” list.

One way to tap into this latent demand is by developing a remarketing list. Even if your leads are not willing to take a sales call during a slow month, they probably won’t mind being served a hyper-targeted whitepaper or e-book.

Follow the usual process for remarketing to drive people to your site and, if possible, get them to opt in to your email list.

Then plug this list into Facebook custom audiences. You can either use a segmented email list or target everyone who visited your opt-in confirmation page.

Direct this audience to content that moves them further down the sales funnel. Anything that helps make businesses future-ready would do particularly well, such as trends-focused, top of the funnel content.

If you do this right, you would have a ready list of hungry prospects waiting for you once demand picks up.

Over to You

As marketing budgets dwindle during slowdowns, focus on taking away business from your competitors and building out remarketing lists for the next year.

At the same time, make sure to examine your prior performance and re-commit to advertising when you find underserved industries and overlooked opportunities.

No business likes a slow sales period, but instead of shutting down operations, you can use this time to set the stage for future growth.


Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency <a href="">Single Grain</a>, which has helped venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies grow their revenues. He's also the founder of two marketing podcasts, Growth Everywhere and Marketing School.