Canceled tradeshows. Virtual customer events. Postponed sales meetings. How can B2B companies continue to engage customers and prospects when the traditional ways of doing business are nearly impossible?

What lessons can be learned from the past few months that can help ensure a productive and profitable 2021?

If there's anything we've learned from the past year, it's how important digital tools have become. B2B companies say their digital interactions during COVID have become 2-3 times more important than traditional interactions, according to McKinsey.

B2B buyers seek digital experiences at the very beginning of the purchase process—when researching products. As they move through that process, from research to evaluation to purchase, they prefer self-service channels—or as much remote buying as possible.

One way companies can connect with business customers online during the purchase process—without a substantial investment in their own website—is through LinkedIn B2B marketing campaigns.

LinkedIn usage went up 26% between Q1 and Q2 of 2020, and the site is experiencing "record levels of engagement," according to Microsoft. LinkedIn now boasts 690 million members, compared with 675 million in January 2020.

Although your customers can't directly buy your services or products on LinkedIn (at least not yet), there are ways you can use the channel to engage with them during other stages of the buying process. Marketing, Sales, Management, and all others with a vested interest in how their company engages with customers should seek new ways to use the LinkedIn resource.

Here are three often overlooked ways B2B businesses can use LinkedIn for marketing in 2021.

1. Curate long-form content on LinkedIn

B2B marketers are reallocating their event marketing budgets, and 43% are instead investing in content creation. Your long-form content marketing pieces can be shared as LinkedIn Articles. There are no editorial guidelines, and so articles can be promotional or educational—which means you can use them not only to position your company as a thought leader but also to share news. Your LinkedIn can help show that you're a consultative business partner, which is tremendously important for buyers at the consideration stage.

One of my clients, global label and packaging materials manufacturer Avery Dennison, uses LinkedIn Articles to raise awareness of how the organization is addressing diversity and inclusion. Its North American general manager has been posting a series of articles that share not only the company's stance on those issues but also direct actions the company is taking.

2. Enlist your employees who are on LinkedIn

We often hear from clients, "Many of our LinkedIn followers are our own employees. How can we take advantage of that?"

The answer? Make it seamless for them to amplify content and drive engagement with prospects. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Craft and share LinkedIn content for your team. Use positive media coverage, a new product launch, a LinkedIn article, or anything else shareworthy to prepare a sample LinkedIn post for your sales team to copy and paste onto their own feeds, or encourage sharing the content directly from your company page. Doing so helps your sales team continue to engage with customers and nurture relationships beyond just the sale.
  • Explore LinkedIn Elevate. LinkedIn Elevate is a paid tool that curates content and shares it with employees through an online dashboard. It makes a game out of posting: Engagement stats are tallied on a leaderboard, and employees can compete against one another.
  • Enable virtual events. Your event budget may be cut in 2021, but you can look to new ways to amplify visibility for your employees through virtual events. Do you have an employee who was going to present at a now-not-happening tradeshow? Work with the employee to prepare a LinkedIn Event; or apply to broadcast live with LinkedIn Live.

3. Cut through the clutter with LinkedIn Ads

Why invest in content creation in 2021 if it's not seen by the right audience? LinkedIn allows you to create ads or put dollars behind organic posts to develop Sponsored Content. You can target by general demographic—age, gender, location—as well as by industry, organization name, job title, years of experience, groups and more. You can also upload a list of your current leads and include them in your targeting, which helps to ensure that your interactions and investment in the channel are precise and meaningful.

eMarketer estimates that LinkedIn will secure one-fifth of all US B2B digital ad dollars in 2020. Beyond Sponsored Content, LinkedIn offers a variety of paid opportunities, including Message Ads, Lead Gen Forms, and Conversation Ads:

  • Message Ads allow companies to send direct private messages to prospects when they are online. The ads feature a call-to-action button that can direct prospects to a URL or even a LinkedIn Lead Gen Form prepopulated with users' LinkedIn information that you set up in advance.
  • Conversation Ads are like Message Ads combined with Choose Your Own Adventure stories: You plan a conversation you may have with a prospect, providing prompts and scenarios depending on the path your customer takes. For example, if you're promoting a webinar, the customer may sign up after the first message, or may ask questions about the speaker or content. You're able to mimic a conversation through the series of messages you've prepared. As with Message Ads, you can end with a URL or Lead Gen Form.

* * *

A typical B2B purchase can take 12-24 months, so waiting too long to engage prospects may have long-term consequences, impacting your bottom line even after the pandemic is behind us.

Although you may not be seeing them physically, your customers aren't going anywhere, and you can continue to stay top of mind with them throughout the buyer journey by exploring LinkedIn's marketing capabilities.

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LinkedIn B2B Marketing: Three Underused Ways to Engage Prospects and Customers

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image of Melissa Koski Carney

Melissa Koski Carney is vice-president and Cleveland managing director at Fahlgren Mortine. She has 15 years of experience in integrated marketing communications program strategy and implementation.

LinkedIn: Melissa Carney

Twitter: @koskim