Moving From an Old-School Lead Gen Playbook to a Demand Gen Machine

Mark Huber

Out: gated content. In: demand-generation.

For many years, a focus on lead generation has led to seller-centric strategies and “a shitstorm of gated content.”

But now, to borrow from Kaylee Edmondson’s DEMAND fireside chat, Moving From An Old-School Lead Gen Playbook to a Demand Gen Machine—“Lead generation’s just not hitting like it used to hit.”

The time to shift from a seller-centric to buyer-centric mindset was yesterday. It’s time to un-gate your content, find new ways to measure content performance, and feed your B2B buyers the information they’re so hungry for when making purchasing decisions.

Kaylee is the VP of Revenue at Refine Labs, and former Director of Demand Generation at Chili Piper.

In her fireside chat, she shares why demand generation is the ticket to reaching B2B audiences today (and how to get leadership on board, too).

We’re breaking it all down in this article—but first, a quick refresher:

What is lead generation?

Collecting contact information from interested prospects so your sales team can follow up with them.

Usually, this means gating content downloads and requiring prospects to fill a form out so they can read your content. If Sales can’t get in touch with the prospect (they usually can’t), the prospect gets added to an automated nurturing sequence to stay top of mind.

Lead generation is expensive, ineffective, and rarely converts to revenue.

What is demand generation? 

Educating your prospects with helpful content and playing the long game.

Usually, this means giving away your best content without asking prospects right away for anything in return. It’s all about building credibility and getting your prospects to know, like, and trust your brand.

Demand generation is harder to measure, takes more time to get going, and generates more revenue in the long run.

Why are strategies shifting now? 

Open your LinkedIn and you’ll likely see plenty of posts talking lead generation vs demand generation—with demand gen talking the W every time.

We’re not here to just convince you that demand generation is better. But what’s interesting is to consider, why the shift?

Until recently, implementing a lead-scoring system—like ranking leads based on different attributes and data points, creating content, and putting a bunch of it behind a gate—was enough to convert buyers.

But buyer behaviors are changing. These lead gen strategies are too narrow and fail to meet the behaviors of modern B2B buyers.

Understanding the modern B2B buyer and how they’re different

While it’s nearly impossible to say exactly why B2B buyers are changing, we can pinpoint a huge driving force behind the shift: the rapid expansion of the B2B landscape.

This graphic, put together by Scott Brinker, shows the expansion of the martech landscape in just over ten years. (Note: Martech is just a fraction of the B2B landscape.)

That’s a 6,521% increase between 2011 and 2022. 

This abundance of choice is what makes B2B so powerful; marketers with any problem, use case, or budget can find a solution right for them.

That said, the volume and accessibility of this information via websites like G2 and Capterra have complicated the B2B path to purchase—77% of B2B buyers said their latest purchase was complex or difficult

So long are the days when an interested party will take a warp pipe, land on a page, and say, “Hey, let’s do business.”

It’s a process, and for better or worse, most of it doesn’t involve direct interactions with the vendor. 

How to use demand generation to reach the modern B2B buyer

According to Gartner research, when B2B buyers are considering a purchase, they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. Meanwhile, when comparing multiple suppliers, they spend just 5% or 6% of the time with them. 

Marketers have to account for this disconnect—and they’re doing that by building demand-gen machines that take prospects through the entire buyer journey: 

  • Unaware: Buyers don’t even know they have a problem right now.
  • Problem-aware: Buyers know they have a problem, but don’t know there are solutions to help solve it.  
  • Solution-aware: Buyers become aware of the solutions that exist in the market. In many cases, that brings thousands of options into their orbit. 
  • Product-aware: Buyers know about different solutions but don’t know which ones are top contenders. 
  • Most-aware: Buyers know the best options but need convincing to get them over the finish line.

Getting from point A (problem aware) to point D (product aware) takes time—and a lot happens along the way: 

  • They see an organic social post on LinkedIn or Facebook 
  • They listen to a podcast featuring your Head of Product
  • They download an RFP template you sent via an email
  • They click on a PPC ad that sends them to a product page
  • They see a social ad on LinkedIn
  • They read an article and case study on your website

These touch points snowball over time, eventually leading to that demo or meeting request (hopefully). 

Here’s the problem: The path to purchase is far from linear, meaning that you need to create buzz, build pipeline, generate sales, and retain customers across all of these touch points. 

On top of that, the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution often involves 6-10 decision-makers. At the end of the day, lead generation strategies can’t account for these complexities. The emergence of demand generation is the direct result of lead generation’s shortcomings. 

Demand generation best practices to implement in 2023

Now that you have a grasp on demand generation and why it’s the next big thing in B2B marketing, let’s dive into some best practices—best practices Kaylee used at Chili Piper to get their program firing on all cylinders. 

Make it easy to talk to your customers

Optimizing your demand-gen machine doesn’t have to be complicated.

Yes, you can take your strategy to the next level with demand-generation tools, dive deep into data, build intricate campaigns, and run experiments—but a few simple, low-touch tweaks can go a long way.

One of those tweaks is to make it easy for your customers to communicate with you. 

Your demo request and pricing pages are the perfect places to start. Go to any B2C website and buy something. Nine times out of 10, you’ll be greeted with a “how did you hear about us?” pop-up box after the purchase.

For whatever reason, this small but oh-so-valuable tactic got lost on B2B companies. It’s time to find it.

Implementing something as simple as this can strengthen relationships with customers, open the floodgates to meaningful conversations, and, most importantly, give you insights into which tactics are giving you the most return for your demand-gen bucks.

Involve sales from the start

Remember that list we mentioned at the top—the one that said leadership buy-in was the toughest challenge?

Sales-marketing alignment is right behind it (if not above it). 

In fact, 90% of Sales and Marketing pros point to disconnects across strategy, process, content, and culture. That’s unfortunate considering the impact sales-marketing alignment can have—87% of Sales and Marketing leaders say collaboration between the teams drives business growth. 

Take that as a sign to involve sellers, especially the CRO and VPs, in your demand-gen strategy from the start.

The conversations you’re having with customers and prospects will help them provide more value during interactions with prospects. 

Not only that, but getting other teams excited about what you’re doing—one with as much internal pull as the Sales team—will go a long way in gaining and maintaining leadership buy-in.

Pro tip: Create a Google Drive folder for your Sales team that includes your content. Organize it by episode/content type and, if possible, by objections and product functionality.  

Getting leadership buy-in for your demand gen machine

Of course, even the most robust demand generation machine is useless if you can’t get leadership to turn the key. Convincing CEOs, founders, and other stakeholders to deviate from the tried-and-true is a struggle that will persist for as long as marketers are trying to move from old-school lead-gen playbooks to full-blown demand-gen machines. 

Still, there are steps you can take to convince key players that demand generation is the way of the future: 

  1. Close the gap

Reporting structures and hierarchies will vary based on company size, growth stage, and other factors. What won’t vary, however, is the need to align with the top of the company. 

To get leadership buy-in for a demand-gen strategy, you need to understand how the leadership team thinks (and how they’ll think for quarters to come). More specifically, you need a glimpse into their vision for the company and, more importantly, how they see the Marketing team fitting into it. 

It’s your job to convince them that a demand-gen strategy is the way of the future and that your tactics will help them achieve their growth goals.  

Pro tip: Create a Center of Excellence document that outlines how buying behavior is shifting and how those changes tie into current business challenges. Not only will this help you run an efficient meeting—something all leaders will appreciate—but it’ll help you prepare for objections that may arise.  

  1. Get permission to crawl

Your leadership team isn’t going to give you a blank check. Honestly, they probably won’t give you anything at the beginning of your journey—and that’s ok.

Instead of approaching your leadership team with the expectation they’ll throw resources at you from day one, take a lighter-touch approach and ask for permission to crawl.

For Kaylee, the “crawl” stage for Chili Piper involved podcasts. 

She said, “Crawling for us meant that I was going to produce three podcast episodes with three influential players who represent specific buying personas in our market.” 

As exciting as that was, it lacked a necessity for any initiative, let alone a brand-new one: resources.

“I had no internal support and no copywriters,” Kaylee said. “I had no help in crafting how we were going to book people, secure them, what we were going to talk about—or producing it. It meant basically going rogue.”

This was the reality for Kaylee and her solo endeavor into demand generation.

Your journey may start the same way. Again, that’s fine. Use the “crawl” stage as an opportunity to create something that opens Pandora’s box. 

Here’s what those three initial podcast episodes turned into for Chili Piper:  

  • Audiograms they used for distribution across social and other owned channels 
  • Valuable conversations and insights for the Product team
  • Meaningful relationship-building with buyers 

These are all cogs in a well-oiled demand-generation machine, and all helped Kaylee build awareness, create a community, gain authority, and start building the trust of her leadership team. 

  1. Set clear expectations

At the end of the day, convincing leadership that demand generation is the smart move requires you to broach the subject with conviction. While you believe in the powers behind demand generation, your leadership team may not—at least not yet. 

If you fall into this camp, spend time helping them understand what demand generation is all about—remember that Center of Excellence doc? Help them understand that embracing demand gen will require a fundamental change in how they look at success; lead gen’s main indicators won’t cut it anymore. 

Demand generation metrics your leadership team will love

The best demand-generation machines contribute to a company’s bottom line. That said, if you’re seeking leadership buy-in, focus on how demand generation strategy can positively impact these metrics:

  • Qualification rate: The percentage of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) that become sales-qualified leads (SQLs) 
  • Average deal size: The average value of each new customer 
  • Cost per acquisition (CAC): How much it costs to gain a paying customer
  • Cost per lead (CPL): What you’re paying for each lead 
  • Customer lifetime value (CLTV): How much profit you can expect to make, on average, per customer from subscription services, potential upgrades or downgrades, and so on 

Notice these aren’t the traditional key performance indicators (KPIs) you’re accustomed to with lead-gen strategies. You’re not tracking leads, clicks or impressions. Instead, you’re tracking metrics that actually have a tangible impact on the business.

So, when sitting down with your leadership team, highlight how a demand-gen strategy will positively impact them. 

In today’s down economy, showing them how you’ll maximize your media budget and help the business grow will make their eyes light up. 

Check out Kaylee Edmondson’s conversation with Metadata’s Mark Huber from DEMAND 2022.

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