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Getting real about demand generation: Expectation vs. reality

getting real about demand generation

Demand generation. These two words often cause anxiety for B2B marketers because they frequently come attached to unrealistic expectations. Business leaders tend to think that creating demand is solved by executing a few digital marketing tactics or implementing a marketing automation tool. In reality, demand generation is much more complex.

It’s important to define demand generation before breaking it down further. Demand generation is the process of creating brand awareness with relevant stakeholder groups (i.e., prospects) and then building on this awareness by nurturing prospects to create new opportunities for revenue. 

Professionals often equate demand generation to new lead creation, but demand generation starts long before the creation of a lead — and continues after it. Demand generation requires companies to build awareness and engage their prospects to gain their trust and prove to them that the company’s product or service can solve one of their needs. 

Expectation: Demand generation will solve our revenue challenge

Building an effective demand generation strategy begins with identifying, clarifying, and agreeing on the company’s growth vision. This vision includes clarity on the kind of business the company wants to become, what healthy growth looks like, and how it will get there. 

Companies with successful demand generation strategies are also realistic about the time and investment required to build awareness, establish trust, and create demand. Unfortunately, many organizations set themselves up for failure by underestimating how long each of these steps takes and the effort it takes to reap the rewards of demand generation. 

Let’s consider one common scenario:

ABC Company makes $8 million in revenue. The business has grown primarily through customer retention, word of mouth recommendations, and existing clients hiring ABC Company again when they go to a new organization. The leadership team determines that they want to reach $10 million in revenue this year. $1.5 million needs to come from net new business. 

Customer referrals alone won’t get the company to its revenue goal. The business needs to cast a wider net and establish brand awareness and engage prospects who are unfamiliar with ABC Company. Leadership tasks marketing with generating demand that will earn new customers and close the revenue gap. It gives the team less than 12 months to accomplish this. 

Setting a challenging revenue goal in itself is not the problem in this scenario. The problem is that ABC Company’s leadership team chose the revenue goal without considering the amount of time — and effort — it will take them to reach it. They’re inadvertently setting their team up for failure.

Reality: Demand generation takes time

Organizations like ABC Company are accustomed to a pipeline of new leads fed by existing clients and word of mouth referrals. These leads typically turn into new revenue much faster than cold prospects because they already know the company or trust them because of the referral.

Converting a prospect to a qualified lead and then nurturing them through to the sale can be a long process. Prospects often need to encounter a brand 7-15 times before they become aware of it. And this is only the beginning of the process. 

After awareness, marketing needs to engage them by building trust and proving the company’s value to the prospect. Once they’re engaged, only then can marketing convert the prospect to a qualified lead if that prospect has a need right now and fits the organization’s criteria.

Even after a lead is qualified as a viable opportunity, the B2B sales process can be lengthy and complex. The Harvard Business Review recently reported that, on average, 6.8 people are involved in B2B solution purchases — up from 5.4 people in 2015. The B2B marketing and sales process is slow and complex, often taking 18-24 months to turn leads into net new revenue.

Effective demand generation requires a smart strategy, consistent efforts — and time.

How to approach demand generation

Companies that delay implementing a demand generation strategy are hindering their growth. For companies looking to grow, now is the time to assess what it will take to reach your revenue goals. Ask yourself if you are heading down the right growth path for your business, what kind of demand you need to generate, and whether you can be successful with your current approach. 

There are unlimited ways to create demand. How one business generates demand will differ from the next. Be leery of marketing technology vendors or agencies that sell you on false claims that a tool or tactic alone can create healthy, sustained demand. Technology and tactics are essential elements of demand generation but are not substitutes for a strategy tied to the company’s growth vision.

Once you align your business to your growth vision, create a plan for how you’ll execute it. Creating an effective demand generation plan requires you to:

  • Consider how to allocate resources, both human resources and financial capital
  • Have a clear definition of your ideal buyer so you know what matters to them and how to get their attention and build trust
  • Choose channels and tactics that effectively target your ideal buyer
  • Test, measure, and iterate to ensure money isn’t wasted on ineffective tactics

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of building and implementing a demand generation strategy, let’s talk. Authentic Brand matches experienced senior marketers with businesses to help them achieve next-level growth. Our unique approach enables companies to establish marketing alignment, accountability, and focus. Our marketing leaders are highly skilled at architecting demand generation strategies and driving these through to execution. We’re ready to help you drive strategic, realistic, sustainable growth.

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Jennifer Zick

Founder and CEO at Authentic Brand
Jennifer Zick is the Founder and CEO of Authentic Brand, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy that helps great businesses attain next-level growth through Marketing Traction™.
Jennifer Zick
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