SY 003: AJ Wilcox of B2Linked
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Our guest on today's show is AJ Wilcox. AJ is a long-time digital marketer who fell in love with the LinkedIn ads platform back in 2011. Since then he has scaled and managed among the world’s most sophisticated accounts worldwide.
AJ has always been fascinated by the lead quality from intent-based targeting and he loves the concept of being present when customers are at the bottom of the funnel, ready to make a purchase.
In 2014 AJ founded B2Linked.com, which specializes in LinkedIn ads training, consulting, and account management. B2Linked’s mission and vision is to share the value of LinkedIn advertising with other B2B marketers and help individuals and companies realize the value of LinkedIn as a lead generation channel, and extract more value from that channel.
On today’s show we discuss how LinkedIn can serve as a hot lead generator for your business, understanding the differences between paid and organic traffic, and using social media platforms to grow your interior design business.
Key Points From This Episode:
- AJ’s journey and how he got started in the LinkedIn ad platform space.
- What LinkedIn is and how it can help interior designers.
- The two different kinds of “hot” leads and how they play into your marketing mix.
- Why LinkedIn gets overlooked as a platform to benefit your business.
- The aspect of LinkedIn that interior designers should focus in on most for business.
- The role that humor and personality play in attracting new clients.
- Understanding specific and targeted paid advertising.
- Which social media platforms are best suited for interior designers.
- The benefits and differences between paid and organic social media traffic.
- And much more!
“LinkedIn is really good at getting the people who are hot leads because of who they are.” — @wilcoxaj [0:04:49.1]
“If you have real personality and you’re showing authenticity, I think it’s a real differentiator that will help you stand out.” — @wilcoxaj [0:12:46.1]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
AJ Wilcox —
AJ on Twitter —
LinkedIn Ads —
Google AdWords —
Bing Ads —
Pinterest Ads —
Facebook Ads —
Read The Transcript
[0:00:05.7] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Spinning Yarns, the interior design podcast brought to you by rugknots.com, luxurious hand knotted area rugs for your home and clients. Want to offer top quality hand crafted oriental rugs to your customers? Setup your trade account now at rugknots.com/trade and get special discounts on all products.
Now, let’s talk interior design.
[0:00:28.0] GO: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Spinning Yarns Podcast. I'm George Owen, and with me is the owner of Ohorona24.net.ua, Naheed Mir. Our guest on today's show is a long time digital marketer who fell in love with the LinkedIn ads platform back in 2011. Since then he’s scaled and managed among the world’s most sophisticated accounts worldwide.
In 2014 he founded b2linked.com, which specializes in LinkedIn ads training, consulting and account management. He’s a ginger triathlete and his company car is a go-kart. He lives in Utah with his wife and four kids. Please welcome to the show AJ Wilcox of B2Linked.
[0:01:05.1] GO: All right everybody, thank you for joining us in the Spinning Yarns podcast. With us today is our guest, AJ Wilcox of b2linked.com. Thanks for joining us today, AJ.
[0:01:17.4] AW: Hey George, thanks so much for the invite. This is a huge pleasure.
[0:01:20.1] GO: We’ll get right into it. Just want to maybe tell the listeners a little bit yourself and a little about your company today.
[0:01:28.2] AW: Sure thing. Well I’ve been doing online marketing for about the last 10 years. I started out really heavily in SEO, or search engine optimization. I did a little bit of Google AdWords advertising, and then here a little over five years ago I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I was a veteran in digital marketing and I got recruited into a local technology company that was highly funded and on my very first day I walked in to talk to my new boss, the CMO, and I laid out my marketing plan and I remember her saying, “Okay, all that sounds great. Go ahead and execute. But just so you know, we started a pilot using LinkedIn ads, see what you can do with it,” and I saluted and said, “Yes, ma’am. Absolutely,” and I walked out of her office and started laughing, because I felt like I was pretty hot stuff and I had never even heard of LinkedIn. I literally didn’t know the platform existed.
Of course, you don’t want to look stupid to your brand new boss, so I went and jumped in to the platform, spent some time in it and about two weeks later one of our sales reps came up to me and said, “AJ, we don’t know what you’re doing, but we love your leads. Keep it up.” I go and log into our CRM system at the time to see, “Okay, where is he getting these leads?” All of them were sourced from my brand new efforts on LinkedIn. So I went, “Okay, there’s something here.”
Anyway, that was kind of the beginning of the company was about 2-1/2 years into that company, I went, “Wow! No one is out there talking about LinkedIn ads. No one is writing about. No one is speaking about it. Maybe that could be me. That could be my niche.” I jumped off and started B2Linked and three years down the road here we are, we’re an ad agency that LinkedIn ads is all we do.
[0:03:05.5] GO: So I guess for the listeners also, maybe talk a little bit to what LinkedIn is and maybe how that can help them as interior designers.
[0:03:16.3] AW: Sure. Hopefully I’m not offending anyone who’s like, “Yeah, we we’ve been on LinkedIn forever. We get this,” but it’s essentially a professional networking site where you put up a profile and then it allows you to connect to other likeminded professionals.
When you very first join on, it’s going to ask you things like, “What company do you work at, and what’s your job title, and what other jobs have you had?” That kind of stuff, and what that means is for the advertising side, the beauty of it is there’s no other platform on earth that you can go in and say, “Hey, I only want people who match this professional criteria to see these ads.”
So if you can imagine like a software company who they sell to HR executives. Well, there’s no other platform where they can say, “All right, I only want HR executives to see these ads and no one else. I don’t want to waste my money anywhere else.” LinkedIn is perfect for that.
[0:04:09.1] GO: Right. I think I did read on your website about how, basically, you’re catching people kind of at the bottom of the funnel. You’re getting people that are the most qualified to be customers of yours or, say, you’re an interior designer and you’re looking for clients. Those people were already geared towards being your client just based on what you advertised on LinkedIn.
[0:04:32.7] AW: Yeah, and I think there are two different kinds of qualified. When we talk about leads coming in that are qualified, you have some that are qualified because they’re hot leads, they’re ready to go, they have a project on the table right now. Then you have some that are hot because of who the person is.
LinkedIn is really good at getting the people who are hot leads because of who they are. This is the exact kind of company that you want to work with. They’re that big fish that you want to work with. They’re the logo you want to have on your website, the case study you want to create. It works really well for that.
They are a little bit higher up in the funnel than search marketing, for instance. Like Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and search engine optimization, if you’re doing those marketing activities you’re literally picking up the people who are actively looking for what you do right now. Two different kinds of hot and I think both have a really significant part in your marketing mix.
[0:05:26.1] GO: A lot of interior designers, I don’t know — Some of them know the importance of social media such as Facebook, and Twitter, etc., to promote their business. Do you feel most people fully understand just how beneficial LinkedIn is for business?
[0:05:42.0] AW: No. I think it gets overlooked. Myself included for the longest time, I hear a lot of people talking about how LinkedIn, it’s a site you go to when you’re looking for a new job or it’s where you post your resume. I would say before about 2013, that was probably true. But LinkedIn started making some real strides towards becoming a platform where you’d come and actually spend time to read content. This is where professional content is shared and this is where professionals gather to network with each other.
Especially for interior designers, you might not be interested in doing LinkedIn advertising just because — It’s not every day. You can’t really pin down your targeting and say, “Oh, VP’s of HR in this industry are the ones who want their homes remodeled or redecorated.” You can’t really do that. So Facebook and Twitter are probably going to be better there, but I think where LinkedIn is really valuable is these are all of your connections that you’ve known overtime and your job as an interior designer is to — Well, you have several jobs, but I think one of the biggest ones to market yourself is stay top of mind for people so that when they’re considering a project, they consider you.
If you’re on LinkedIn, if you’re sharing things actively, those things are staying in front of all of your connections in a really low friction kind of way, and then as soon as they start saying, “You know what? Things need to change here at home. We don’t want to move. We want to grow where we’re at.” They’re immediately going to consider you. You’ll be top of mind. I think there’s a big, big value there.
Add to that the fact that LinkedIn, the average user on there is well into the six figures in terms of income. If you’re sharing on Facebook, you’ll probably get in front of a whole lot of people who are not able to afford what you do but may think it’s really cool, versus LinkedIn. That’s probably where your customer actually is.
[0:07:36.4] GO: The fact that, I guess, people can give you endorsements. That seems like that’s kind of a strong part of LinkedIn is to get endorsements.
[0:07:44.2] AW: Oh exactly. Yeah, so nice to have other people who are — Like you can look at their profile and see, “Yeah, this person’s legit. They run a major company and oh, wow! They’re the ones giving recommendations to your work.” It’s great.
[0:08:00.1] GO: Maybe interior designers may not use the ads so much, but what aspect of LinkedIn do you feel people should capitalize on to make it a beneficial tool?
[0:08:09.9] AW: I think you should be sharing things on LinkedIn. If you log in right now to your LinkedIn platform, the very first page you see is going to be essentially a newsfeed. You’ll see everything that — You’ll see one of your past colleague’s got a new job and someone else is celebrating a work anniversary. Things like that. If you’re sharing and saying, “Hey, look. Here is a job we just completed. Look at the before and after pictures. Look how much better this looks,” or, “We just redesigned a break room for this technology company. Look at how much happier the employees are going to be.”
Those kinds of things that you’re sharing, they’re just going to implant ideas of beauty in the people that you are connected to’s minds and there’s always an opportunity to connect with people. That maybe you’ve acquired a new client from some other source, connect to them on LinkedIn so that they’re seeing your other successes in the future and they consider you in the future.
[0:09:05.5] GO: A little bit more about you. I see you’re based out of Utah. In the digital age, you find it’s becoming easier to be just as influential in middle America or as it’s working out, or a big market like New York or L.A?
[0:09:19.3] AW: You know what’s really funny is at any given time about two-thirds of my clientele is in San Francisco. I do spend a good amount of time in San Francisco just to kind of help that, but in this digital age where you can reach out to anyone you can do business anywhere, I think it works quite well. Is it possible I’ve lost deals because I’m not in Silicon Valley? Totally possible. I think just in digital, we are so distributed now that it shouldn’t matter where you’re at.
[0:09:53.8] ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to Spinning Yarns, the interior design podcast brought to you buy rugknots.com. If you’re an interior designer and looking to grow your business by offering discounted hand knotted rugs to your clients, setup your trade account today at rugknots.com/trade and get exclusive discounts on all our high-quality rugs.
[0:10:13.8] GO: I was reading that you’re listed as a ginger and a triathlete and your company car is a go-kart. I find that quite interesting.
[0:10:23.5] AW: Yeah. Ever since there was a South Park episode a while back where they talked about kick-a-ginger-day. Every April 20th you got to go find a ginger to kick and ever since then I’ve been, “Yeah, that’s hilarious. I’m going to be a proud soulless ginger.”
But yeah, I’m just a giant kid by the way. That’s the reason why I have a go-kart is as a kid I really wanted one, and then when I became an adult and could afford it I was like, “Well, I have a car, but there’s no reason to do this.”
[0:10:55.1] GO: You don’t need to have a go-kart.
[0:10:56.6] AW: That’s right. If you ever come to Utah, you might see a chubby ginger flying around the streets in a go-kart.
[0:11:02.6] GO: Especially if you have some logos on the side of it.
[0:11:05.7] AW: That’s right.
[0:11:08.2] GO: You jokingly described yourself online as a soulless ginger. Do you think humor and personality go a long way when attracting new clients? Is that helpful?
[0:11:17.6] AW: I think so. What I have noticed quite frankly is the larger the company that I’m talking to the less they care about personality, and I don’t know what that process is when you start to go work at larger companies. Authenticity means less, but I have noticed. especially with the smaller companies that I tend to work with, they appreciate transparency and they appreciate personality. If you know me in person I am full of personality. So I’m happy to exhibit that.
[0:11:49.0] GO: Speaking of personality, do you have any information on someone that wants to build personality with their brand?
[0:11:56.4] AW: Yeah. I think when you’re reviewing search results, let’s say someone, one of your potential clients is looking for an interior designer in your city. If they type that in in a search result and they’re going to get 10 results of people who are all just like you, it’s really going to come down to price and maybe a little bit of like, “Do I respect this person’s style?” But if you can inject personality into your marketing where they see, “Wow! I’m dealing with someone that I like, that is having fun what they’re doing,” I think they’re much more likely to let that be a differentiator and sway them towards you.
Don’t be afraid to show personality. I think so many of us on our websites are trying to make our firms feel big by talking about, “We this,” and “this is how big we are,” and it’s just how corporate speak. That doesn’t mean anything and people don’t care about it. If you have real personality and you’re showing authenticity, I think it’s a real differentiator that will help you stand out.
[0:12:53.6] GO: As an entrepreneur, what would you say your first big accomplishment of project of milestone that has made it all worth it for you?
[0:13:03.8] AW: Ooh! When I very first started the company, I didn’t have any clients, and so it was really scary for about the first five months of, “Okay, can I recoup, income-wise, what I was making at my previous job?” I’m married and have four kids, so there’s a lot on the line for me if I’m not able to support them.
About month five is when I pulled on a large client and they’re still with me today and they were one of LinkedIn’s top five spenders on the platform, and so that was incredibly helpful for me. It’s like after the previous company I had worked at and this, I had managed two of the top LinkedIn accounts in the world. I think that added a whole lot of credibility for me that helped me land other deals.
[0:13:53.0] GO: As interior designers, do you have any recommendations for where they focus their time in social marketing or further their careers online? Do you have any tips that they should be looking into doing?
[0:14:07.1] AW: Absolutely, I do. Okay, so here’s what I would recommend: There are two different types of activities that you can do in marketing. There are things related to search engines, so we’ll just call this “search”, and then there are things related to social media. Inside of each of those you have the activities that you can do for free, that we’ll organic, or the activities that you have to pay for which are advertising.
The free version of search is called search engine optimization. This is essentially tuning your website, getting it to the point where Google and Bing see it as being authoritative for the keywords that you want to show up for. Maybe it’s like “interior decorator Denver”, or something along those lines. You want your website to show up so you’re getting leads.
Then you have the paid version of search, which is Google AdWords of Bing Ads where you’re essentially saying, “Anytime someone types the word interior decorator, my city name, I want my ad to show up.” These are fantastic because you’re going to get the leads from people who are actively looking for you right now.
[0:15:16.1] GO: Right.
[0:15:17.5] AW: The downside then to the paid side of search, so Google AdWords, Bing Ads, is that you’re going to pay per click and it’s probably going to be — Bing is going to be quite a bit cheaper than Google, but Google’s been around forever and so competition is high. That’s the way that these advertising platforms work is the more people who use them, the higher it drives the cost.
Be aware that that’s going to cost a little bit of money. If you have the ability to do some search engine optimization around your side, if you can get good performance in search engines, you’re not going to have to pay for that traffic. That’s just free traffic. It doesn’t mean that it’s free to pay someone to get your there, but definitely worth considering. So if you have keywords around your business, like “interior decorator”, “interior designer”, those type of things, that can totally be valuable.
Then we can go over to the social media side. Social media platforms liker Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I think Pinterest is really big for your audience just because Pinterest is where people go to dream. You can do the free activities, which is essentially have a profile, post and share things that you think are beautiful, that you think your potential clients would appreciate, and then every six, seven posts, sure, post something promotional about, “We’d love to do this for you,” or, “We’re offering this right now.” That tends to work really well. Instagram and Pinterest, because they are so visual, probably work really well for your audience.
Then you have the paid side of all those, which are — Like Facebook ads is probably where you want to start, because that will allow you to do a high degree of targeting around personal information around people as well as Facebook is connected to Instagram, so you can show up on Instagram as well. Pinterest ads might be interesting as well. They are still pretty new, which means the prices are pretty low.
Anyway, listening to me here, be considering your business and think, “Okay, where should I start focusing my efforts?” My first recommendations would be if you have limited time and limited expertise, I would probably start on the organic side of Instagram and Pinterest just because they’re so visual. They lend themselves to your businesses so well, and then once you’re having success there I would probably start paying for some ads and see if you can get that at scale. If you want to move into search, Bing Ads is probably a really good place to start because the traffic is so much cheaper than Google.
[0:17:51.6] GO: So I do appreciate your time, AJ, and if you can let our listeners know, where people could find you online.
[0:17:57.7] AW: Yeah, so if you go to B2Linked.com, if you fill up that form, you’re not going to put in to a sales funnel, you’re not going to be ed or bugged by a sales rep. You will have access to me, and I don’t sell. If you have questions, feel free to reach out at any time. I’m also really active on Twitter, if you look for @wilcoxAJ on Twitter, then ask any question. I’m super happy to help out.
[0:18:25.0] GO: Excellent. I certainly appreciate your time today. It’s been a pleasure having you on Spinning Yarns, AJ. Thank you.
[0:18:31.3] AW: Thanks, George. Appreciate being here.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:18:33.7] ANNOUNCER: You’ve been listening to Spinning Yarns, the interior design podcast brought to you by Ohorona24.net.ua.com, suppliers of the finest quality oriental rugs. To open your trade account today, simply visit Ohorona24.net.ua.com/trade.
Until next time, thanks for listening.