Leads are the oxygen for a successful B2B Sales team. Every good VP of Sales knows that to hit their number they must have a predictable flow of leads. And it goes without saying that a “lead” is not some cold name but is actually qualified prospective buyer who raised a hand – these types of leads are typically generated by your Demand Generation team within Marketing (and sometimes by Outbound SDRs who are typically part of the sales team).
The process of acquiring or generating these *qualified* leads for the sales team is Demand Generation (aka Lead Generation or Demand Creation). More specifically, the strategy, process, systems, programs, techniques and effort to acquire leads (get them to a point of expressing some form of interest even something high-level / raise hands) is Demand Generation. The Demand Gen process starts first with creating awareness and with the aim of attracting interest that causes prospective buyers to express their high-level interest by registering their contact information on your website (and this is what your sales team needs to follow up on these qualified leads).
Jason Lemkin and Aaron Ross wrote in their best-selling book “From Impossible to Inevitable”:
“Lead generation is the #1 lever that drives revenue growth, and can create hypergrowth. You’ve been trying to grow your leads, and thus sales, but it’s been harder than you expected … maybe a lot harder.”
In other words, every *good* VP of Sales or a CRO knows that they must first and foremost focus on getting into place a really good Demand Generation team and process.
But there are a few confusions about Demand / Lead Generation which cause major problems for sales. Many executives think that Demand or Lead Generation is the same as Content Marketing or Inbound Marketing. I’ve seen this misunderstanding derail a lot of sales teams from hitting their number – for example, unfortunately I’ve seen this lead many companies to create wrong roles and hire wrong people (i.e. like hiring a writer to create more content rather than hiring a solid Demand Gen expert).
Jason Lemkin and Aaron Ross also wrote:
“If you can’t predictably generate leads and opportunities where you’re needed, win them, and do it profitably, you’re gonna struggle.”
In other words, if you don’t have an effective Demand Generation team and program in place then the VP of Sales and the sales team will struggle in hitting the number.
That misunderstanding of what Demand Gen really is and how it works has real ripple effects on the sales team and the company. I don’t know why many CEOs or VPs of Sales think that Content Marketing (or Inbound Marketing) is the same Demand / Lead Generation. One of the first unfortunate missteps caused by this misconception is that companies design their Marketing Strategy incorrectly starting with the People Plan and they go out to recruit for the wrong roles and therefore don’t hire the right demand generation professional. And having a wrong marketing org will create those ripple effects and create problems for the sales team. This is why I wanted to write this blog article hoping that it will create awareness and, most importantly, will help companies plan correctly by understanding Demand Gen.
Also, one of the reasons causing this misunderstanding is the popularity of both Content Marketing as well as Inbound Marketing. Let’s first define Content Marketing – according to the definition from the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.” Content Marketing is just a spoke in the bigger Demand Generation wheel. It’s an important piece but it’s still just a piece of the overall strategy.
Now let’s define Inbound Marketing according to Hubspot (the original inventors who coined Inbound Marketing) – “Inbound marketing is about creating valuable experiences that have a positive impact on people and your business… You attract prospects and customers to your website and blog through relevant and helpful content. Once they arrive, you engage with them using conversational tools like email and chat and by promising continued value. And finally, you delight them by continuing to act as an empathetic advisor and expert.” They also summarize the Inbound process as “Attract > Convert > Close…” (and they add Delight at the end too). Simply put, Inbound marketing is one of the spokes in a big Marketing wheel’s strategy and is all about driving leads to your website rather than doing a traditional Outbound or interrupt-based marketing. Many of the common tactics of Inbound include content pieces such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, eBooks, and whitepapers that help establish you as a thought leader but they also help drive organic traffic to your website (because your content is indexed by Google).
In a nutshell, Content Marketing is a central piece of Inbound Marketing (which is very content-driven itself). So Inbound Marketing happens to be just one type of Demand Generation.
So to think of Demand Generation as Content or Inbound Marketing can create a lot of risk for your organization because Demand Gen is far bigger and a lot more comprehensive (and therefore complex) and simply hiring a few writers to craft content is not going to the solution to generating demand and leads.
To add to the point on Inbound, it’s very important to note that Inbound is not nearly enough to hit the very aggressive B2B SaaS Revenue goals nowadays – you should always consider “Allbound” which includes Outbound Marketing as part of your complete Demand Generation strategy.
To visualize how content or inbound fit into the overarching and larger Demand Gen strategy, let’s look at this sample mind map which I created to help visualize the many complex, integrated components that in part or in whole will make up a professional and sophisticated B2B Demand Generation Strategy.
As shown in the visualization, Content and Inbound makes up a small part of Demand Generation. They are important pieces but they are just factors in a considerably larger equation.
Soft content on your website (like a blog) helps with your SEO and also helps position your company (branding) and can talk about your product (product marketing). Content in the form of eBooks or whitepapers can be an “asset” that your marketing can “offer” in some of the marketing campaigns (email campaigns, syndicated campaigns, etc.). But these are just pieces that fit into a much larger puzzle.
I’ll talk more about some of the most effective programs that drive Demand/Lead Generation in another blog article but I just wanted to make sure to clarify here that doing content or writing a lot more content is not a silver bullet and will not magically solve your lead flow overnight and content or inbound shouldn’t be treated as a simple assumption in your Excel sales operating model that drives your revenue projections.