What is Demand Generation, Really?

If you ask a group of B2B marketers what the Demand Generation role entails, you’ll get answers that are so different that you’ll start to go cross-eyed.

Create awareness. Acquire leads. Build pipeline. Grow customers.

It’s a confusing term even for those that are in the weeds every day (myself included).

But if we tackle it head on, what does it mean to generate demand?

And is demand even something that can be generated?

I can’t help but reflect on the first lesson in the greatest book on copywriting ever written, Breakthrough Advertising.

TL;DR: a marketer cannot turn on, shut off, diminish, or add to desire… but instead must channel it into the product in question.

(Well that bodes well for us B2B marketers, doesn’t it? /s)

Building The Marketing Machine

Now let’s take a quick glance at any JD for the job and try not to have a heart attack.

Digital advertising, email marketing, event management, search engine optimization, account-based orchestration, conversion rate optimization, webinar programming.

Not to mention the technical chops required to run marketing automation, sales engagement, CRM, web analytics, and the beautiful dashboards that display the results of all this activity.

Is there anything that Demand Generation can’t do?

If anything, DG are the doers.

The Seals of SaaS marketing. (I couldn’t help myself.)

But how do we thread the needle on all of this?

We can’t agree on what it is, exactly, that Demand Generation is responsible for… but it also appears that DG is responsible for creating all the marketing activity for the brand.

What a tangled web!

After reflecting on how to organize all of these tactics into fundamental strategies, I think I’m approaching a theory that works for me.

It revolves around both buyer readiness and how long each marketing tactic takes to bear fruit.

Demand Capture

The first are strategies that capture buyer intent.

This is where performance and growth marketing hang out.

If someone is actively pursuing something that you’re selling, DG would be keen to listen for that signal and convert it into pipeline for the sales team.

Which accounts are actively researching your website?

Which accounts are comparing you and your competitors on G2 and Trustradius?

Which accounts are surging on Bombora from content in your category?

Translating these signals into marketing plays requires agility and experimentation.

Retargeting social advertising with bottom-funnel CTAs, BDR outreach with high value offers, website personalization, and direct-mail automation are a few ideas that come to mind to capture active interest.

The feedback loops for these types of activities can be counted in weeks.

And anything other than a test-and-learn approach would be a missed opportunity.

This is what I call Demand Capture. Effectively capturing the result of already existing demand or simply good marketing.

Demand Cultivation

On the other side of the coin is something I like to call Demand Cultivation.

These are the long term marketing strategies that build brand affinity over time.

Here are strategies that take longer than six months in order to start producing real results, but when they do it’s the beginning of an exponential growth curve.

These are marketing assets that generate their own gravity.

Attracting search traffic requires a long-term commitment to writing high-quality pieces that answer your target audience’s needs, gives them a taste of your brand, and pleases the almighty Google.

Producing a high-quality podcast, that attracts an ever-increasing audience of listeners who want to hear your perspective on the market, often starts as broadcasting into the void for months at a time.

YouTube subscribers. LinkedIn followers. Twitter devotees.

These strategies all require stepping out into the unknown.

And to stay the course when it doesn’t look like anything’s going anywhere.

But once you create a truly valuable marketing asset, it grows its own legs.

For example, in a previous life I ran a YouTube channel teaching guitar.

In two years, between 2013 and 2015, I produced over 500 videos for my audience.

When I quit, I had about 50,000 subscribers to my channel. I started from scratch.

But during the following two years after I quit producing videos, my channel acquired 50,000 more subscribers!

That’s the kind of momentum a true marketing asset produces.

The objective of these marketing tactics is to build an audience, or a fanbase, of future prospects when they come inbound or when sales feels like it’s an appropriate opportunity for engagement.

Demand Activation

Which brings me to the third category of demand generation I call Demand Activation.

This is outbound marketing. ABM Campaigns. Targeted advertising.

I have an intuition that the atomic unit of B2B is the solo salesperson prospecting into an account.

If at any point in time this tactic doesn’t work, you don’t have product-market fit.

So if that’s the case, then marketers should aim to market to the audience that the salespeople are prospecting into in order to improve their conversion rate.

And the more a segment is exposed to quality, relevant, engaging marketing before a sales rep raches out, the higher the chance of conversion.

So the process of reaching the current account list that sales is targeting, and identifying and reaching the next-best audiences for when sales adjusts who they’re prospecting into, is the objective of the strategy.

These are tactics that can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to begin showing results, and are largely dependent on the nature of the marketing play.

This is where sales and marketing get to be creative together and identify solutions to break into accounts and generate pipeline.

Timeline Coverage

Putting these three overarching strategies together creates a “timeline” coverage.

Demand Capture for inbound interest with a two week feedback loop.

Demand Activation for outbound marketing with a two week to six-month feedback loop.

Demand Cultivation for brand marketing with a six month+ feedback loop.

Surprisingly, this spells CAC, a fundamental measure for Demand Generation marketers.

By executing on each CAC strategy in tandem, a marketing team reaches escape velocity.

If the job of Demand Generation is to acquire the best new customers for the company, then Capturing all available sales-ready signals, Activating the best prospects with the sales team, and Cultivating a growing audience of future customers is the best way I can conceptualize the responsibility of Demand Generation.

What do you think?