No matter what type of business—B2B or B2C—and no matter what kinds of products or services you sell, you always need an effective demand generation strategy.
Even if you have the perfect, technically most attractive product to sell, if you can’t generate sustainable and growing demands, you are simply doomed to fail.
On the other hand, planning and implementation of an effective demand generation strategy can be easier said than done, especially in B2B businesses where customer “demands” can be quite vague at times.
This guide will cover all you need to know about B2B demand generation, with the hope that by the end of this guide, you will be able to help your B2B company develop a data-driven demand generation strategy to generate more traffic to your website/platform, build qualified leads, and eventually, drive conversions.
This guide will cover:
- What is demand generation?
- Addressing the misconception: demand generation vs. lead generation
- B2B vs. B2C demand generation
- The importance of a demand generation strategy
- Three stages of a comprehensive demand generation campaign
- Demand generation best practices to follow
Without further ado, let us begin from the basics: what actually is demand generation?
What is demand generation?
Demand generation—demand gen in short—is an umbrella term that refers to all sorts of efforts across multiple channels to build awareness, interest, and demand in a company’s products or services.
Demand generation is not a singular strategy or marketing campaign but involves an omnichannel effort involving multiple tactics to communicate the brand’s unique value proposition (UVP) to the right audience in order to generate interest (or demand.)
We can think of demand generation as putting a piece of meat in the middle of a lion’s den, attracting all the hungry lions.
Demand generation vs. lead generation
One of the most common forms of confusion regarding demand generation is how demand generation differs from lead generation.
The confusion is well justified, not only because these two terms sound similar but also because there are indeed similarities between the two, and there are, in fact, those who use the two terms interchangeably.
We can think of lead generation as the continuation of demand generation. Lead generation deals with converting prospects who have shown interest (as the result of demand generation or otherwise) into leads and, later on, into purchasing customers.
Demand generation and lead generation targets prospective customers at the different stages of the buyer’s journey, or marketing funnel.
While there are various models of marketing funnels available, below we can see a basic example of a linear marketing funnel.
In this example, demand generation covers the two topmost stages of the funnel: awareness and interest:
- Awareness: demand generation ensures the discoverability of your product or service so that more people are aware of your brand and product/service.
- Interest: demand generation educates your target audience while at the same time establishing trust and credibility to spark interest
Lead generation, on the other hand, covers the bottom stages of the funnel up to the purchase stage (note: maintaining loyalty is typically outside the scope of lead generation and will be a subject of another discussion.)
Lead generation starts right at the end of demand generation when the company captures the audience’s contact information at the interest stage and moves on to the next stages:
- Consideration: lead generation demonstrates the brand’s value and UVP (Unique Value Proposition) to convince prospects that are currently comparing the product/service with other solutions
- Evaluation: the target audience performs a final evaluation between several shortlisted options. The lead generation’s role here is to nurture the lead and further convince them about the solution’s value.
- Purchase: finally, lead generation converts qualified leads into purchasing customers.
Thus, we can safely say that demand generation deals with the Top of Funnel (TOFU) stages of the marketing funnel, while lead generation deals with the Bottom of Funnel (BOFU) stages. In an optimal environment, both demand generation and lead generation work together to generate revenue and grow the business.
B2B vs. B2C demand generation
Now that you’ve understood how demand generation works, you should have a better idea that at the core of any good demand generation strategy, it’s about sending the right message to the right people at the right time.
It’s about how well you understand who your target audience is and send the right message to attract them and build awareness.
In B2B businesses, however, we are targeting businesses—not direct consumers—which creates two important considerations:
- In each target company, we may deal with multiple people involved in the purchase decision, with different roles. It’s possible we may need to tailor multiple demand-generation strategies for each of these roles
- B2B consumers are more technical and data-driven. They need proof of how the product or service you sell can help their business achieve its objectives and grow. This is opposed to B2C consumers, that are more likely to generate interest after receiving a message that piques their emotions.
With that being said, B2B demand generation must focus on communicating data-driven benefits that your company is offering through your product or service. This can be done via various channels: content marketing, PR campaigns, advertising, hosting online/offline events, and so on.
Careful creation and consistent delivery of content that communicates these technical benefits are critical, which would demand a close relationship and alignment between your sales and marketing teams.
The importance and benefits of B2B demand generation
Demand generation is critical to modern-day’s sales and marketing for many reasons. In B2B businesses, where generating awareness and interest can be much more challenging than their B2C counterparts, demand generation can offer the following benefits:
1. Effectively enhance brand awareness
In today’s highly competitive and saturated marketplace, it’s very difficult to get your brand/product/service noticed amidst all the noise.
An effective demand generation strategy helps your B2B business showcase who you are, what you offer, and what makes your brand unique and different than your competitors.
A key aspect of demand generation is to develop and publish high-quality content that generates awareness and interest, allowing your B2B business to have a stronger digital presence.
2. Providing a clear roadmap for sales and marketing success
A comprehensive B2B demand generation strategy provides companies with a clear and systematic roadmap to attracting, nurturing, and converting prospects into customers.
At the core of any B2B demand generation strategy should start with a clear identification of the business’s target audience and their needs, behaviors, and pain points. This will ultimately allow the business to implement a multi-channel approach to reach potential customers via various available marketing channels, including social media, email marketing, events (online and offline), content marketing, and so on.
A solid demand generation strategy would also allow companies to improve their targeting, eliminating ineffective marketing resources and reducing the chances of wasting resources.
3. Improved sales efficiency
B2B demand generation allows companies to streamline and even automate their sales pipeline, which will not only allow them to increase revenue but also increase the sales pipeline efficiency, freeing up your team’s valuable time so they can use it for other productive tasks and activities.
A holistic demand generation strategy would also facilitate the production of relevant and valuable content; as well as experiences to the target audience. This would allow them to establish trust and credibility, which will ultimately lead to a higher conversion rate, close more deals, and generate revenue.
4. Establishing a competitive advantage
By implementing and continuously improving demand generation strategies, B2B companies can gain a competitive advantage in attracting, acquiring, and retaining more customers.
One of the key aspects of demand generation is about understanding the business’s competitors and establishing Unique Value Proposition (UVP), providing the business with a clearer roadmap to beating the competition.
5. Better customer insights
Last but not least, by tracking and analyzing the results of demand generation campaigns, B2B companies can gain clearer, valuable insights into their target audience’s needs, pain points, and behaviors.
Ultimately, these insights would allow the company to continually adjust, refine, and improve its acquisition strategies to achieve even more growth.
Defining and understanding B2B target audience
Identifying and understanding the target audience is a critical step for any business, including for B2B businesses in establishing their demand generation strategy.
Demand generation and marketing efforts are only effective when they are targeted to the right people. By clearly understanding your target customer, you can tailor your multi-channel demand generation strategy by using the right tactic to meet their specific preferences and needs; increasing the chances of converting them into leads and ultimately into prospects.
Unique nature of B2B target audience
When attempting to identify and understand the B2B target audience, it’s critical to understand how the target audience for B2B companies is unique compared to B2B companies in several different ways:
1. You are targeting companies, not people
B2B businesses do not target individual consumers, but rather organizations.
The complexity lies in the fact that within each targeted company, there can be multiple decision-makers that can influence the buying process and/or have the authority to make purchasing decisions.
Each of these decision-makers can have different goals, interests, and priorities, which means you’ll need a different approach to effectively target them in your demand generation campaign.
In short, in B2B demand generation, it’s critical to understand the specific goals, priorities, and needs of the target businesses, as well as the different individuals who are involved in the buying process.
2. Longer sales cycle
Due to the complexity of the typical B2B purchase decision with multiple decision-makers, B2B sales cycles are also often longer than the comparable B2C sales process.
Meaning, in implementing B2B demand generation, we’ll also need a longer-term approach in each of our campaigns. Not only this will translate into a more time-consuming campaign execution, but also a potential waste of resources and increased challenges during execution.
3. Different purchasing motivations
Another critical consideration is the fact that B2B purchases are motivated by different factors than B2C purchases.
B2B customers are typically focused on their business’s goals: improving productivity, increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and so on, rather than emotionally-driven desires or goals—which are common in B2C purchases.
Understanding the target businesses’ goals is critical so you can develop appropriate demand-generation campaigns and communicate how your products or services can help them in achieving their business goals.
Furthermore, B2B businesses should be able to prove their product or service’s value with a data-driven approach. How can the solution you provide can help your potential client in a tangible way? If you can provide a clear answer to this question, you can increase your chance of demand generation success.
4. Higher engagement expectation
B2B customers typically expect a higher level of expectation and a more personalized/tailored experience than B2C customers.
They’d like to know how your solution can work specifically for their problem or pain point and whether it can suit their preferences.
Thus, B2B demand generation should focus on building a long-term relationship via tailored content, personalized messaging, and other means.
Again, understanding the unique characteristic of its target audience is critical so that the B2B company can develop a personalized demand generation strategy for each target company, increasing the chance of lead generation and conversion.
Creating B2B buyer personas
A buyer persona is a fictional model of a business’s ideal target market. Having a comprehensive buyer persona should be the basis of any marketing strategy, allowing the business in question to gain a deeper understanding of its target audience in order to develop a more effective demand generation strategy and increase the chances of success.
Due to the unique nature of the B2B target audience—as we have discussed above—developing B2B buyer personas is also more nuanced with multiple layers:
- Two different types of buyer personas should be considered: one representing the target companies or organizations as potential customers, and another representing individual decision-makers within those organizations.
- Since multiple decision-makers with different roles can be involved within a single target company, it may be necessary to develop multiple buyer personas for each of these roles.
Here is an example of a B2B buyer persona for target companies:
- Buyer persona name: SME (Small-to-Medium Enterprise)
- Industry: Technology
- Size: 50-200 employees
- Company demographics:
- Location: North America
- Type: small to medium sized businesses looking to improve upon their existing technology infrastructure
- Improve business productivity
- Gain a competitive edge
- Streamline workflows and processes to improve efficiency
- Leverage cost-effective technology solutions
- Limited technology infrastructure budget
- Inability to keep up with rapid technological evolution
- Lack of IT expertise within the organization
- Pain points:
- Difficulty in finding cost-effective and reliable IT solutions
- Inefficient internal processes, leading to a waste of time and resources
- Outdated technology infrastructure (slow, a lot of problems)
- Ideal marketing approach:
- Highlight the affordability and ease of use of the offered solution
- Elaborate on how your solution can help improve this SME’s efficiency and cost savings
- Demonstrate the ease of use and reliability of your solution
On the other hand, here is an example of a B2B buyer persona for decision-makers, assuming this is a decision-maker from the same SME in the above buyer persona:
- Name: Jane Doe
- Title: Chief Procurement Officer (CPO)
- Company: SME
- Industry: technology
- Age: 40-50
- Location: North America
- Education: bachelor’s degree or above in supply chain management
- Strategic thinker
- Focused on results, efficiency, and productivity
- Ensuring the company is using the best and most cost-effective technology solutions to support its growth
- Improve the company’s technology infrastructure
- Manage and use the company’s technology budget efficiently
- Finding ideal technology solutions that are easy to implement within the current technology infrastructure, and easy to use
- Finding the sweet spot between innovation and cost-effectiveness
- Keeping up with rapid changes in technological developments and requirements
- Pain points:
- Inefficient workflows, communications, and internal processes
- Difficulty in finding technology solutions that meet the company’s specific needs and budget
- Resistance to change within the company
- Ideal marketing approach:
- Provide detailed ROI projections and cost breakdowns to elaborate on your solution’s potential financial benefits
- Communicate the benefits of your products or services in terms of improved productivity and efficiency
- Offer cost-effective technology solutions that are personalized to this buyer persona’s specific needs
When developing these buyer personas, you can use the steps below:
- Data collection: start by gathering as much information as you can on your existing customers (or target customers), including demographic data, goals, and pain points. You can use various means like surveys, customer interviews, and analyzing existing customer data for this purpose.
- Data analysis: analyze the collected data and identify patterns and trends. Look for recurring industries, job titles, and challenges/pain points so you can create a more comprehensive definition of your buyer personas.
- Define personas: based on your research, develop the buyer persona. Your focus is to create one that closely represents your perfect target audience, as close as you can. Include information such as demographic data, goals, challenges, job titles, and pain points (look at the examples above.) Describe the persona as needed.
- Validate: once you’ve developed your buyer persona(s), try sharing them with your marketing and sales departments (as well as other relevant team members,) and ask for their feedback. Use this opportunity to validate whether your buyer personas accurately represent your target audience, and revise them if needed.
- Use and refine: by now, we can consider the buyer personas complete, and you can start using them. Use the information you’ve gathered when developing your buyer personas to inform your multi-channel demand generation strategy, especially to personalize your messaging to cater to the specific needs and preferences of each buyer persona. Test and refine your buyer personas as needed.
Content strategy as B2B demand generation’s foundation
Don’t underestimate the importance of content in B2B demand generation. Content marketing should be the foundation for attracting, engaging, and nurturing prospects throughout the often lengthy B2B buying journey.
A well-crafted content strategy can help B2B companies establish credibility, trust, and thought leadership, while at the same time educating target customers on the value of the products or services offered by the company.
Creating a B2B content strategy: step-by-step guide
Step 1: Review data from your buyer personas
Re-assess your buyer personas’ goals, priorities, and pain points.
Use this information to determine:
- The keyword(s) you should target. What search phrases do they frequently use during their buyer’s journey and the potential search intent for each phrase?
- The type of content that will be most relevant for each buyer persona
- What topic will be most valuable and relevant for the buyer persona according to their search intent
- How, where, and when to publish and promote your content in order to maximize its demand generation performance
It’s also helpful to identify the stage of the buyer’s journey the target audience is currently in, which can help you in developing content that caters to their specific needs and goals.
Step 2: Keyword research
Use the buyer persona information you’ve gathered above to perform in-depth keyword research.
We’ll use SEO as the primary means to generate traffic to each content, so don’t underestimate the importance of proper keyword research that follows these principles:
- The keyword must be relevant to your target audience, with a high enough monthly search volume.
- The target keyword must also be relevant to your business’s overall objectives. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience would be valuable for your business
- Depending on your available timeline and budget, assess whether the competition for the said keyword is manageable. Even if the keyword is very popular, it might not be worth it to pursue if it’s too competitive.
Develop a list of potential target keywords and prioritize them. Then, you can do a basic competitive analysis by performing a Google search on each keyword and checking the top-ranking pages (or ideally all pages on the first page of SERP.) This should give you a good idea of how these competitors approach their content strategy and how you should do your own.
Step 3: Develop a content calendar
Once you’ve performed your keyword research, it’s time to develop a content calendar for your content marketing campaign.
Ideally, you should develop a year’s worth of content calendar, but you can start small with a 6-month or even 3-month calendar and expand on it later.
The content calendar should include:
- Content type: the different types of content you plan to create. For example:
- Blog post
- White papers, eBooks, research reports, and other types of in-depth text content
- Keywords and topics: the primary and secondary keywords the content is targeting, and the specific topics or themes you will focus on for this specific piece of content
- Channels: where and how you will distribute and promote the content, such as your own blog/website, email newsletter, social media platform, and other platforms
- Schedule: when (date and time) each piece f content will be published or distributed
- KPIs: metrics you will use to measure the success of each piece of content, such as traffic generated, downloads, engagement rates, click-through rates, etc.
You should also plan to regularly review your content calendar, and make the necessary adjustments based on the performance you are seeing from each piece of content.
Develop a multi-channel demand-generation strategy
B2B buyers often engage with a potential vendor in multiple different ways in various channels before making a purchase decision. Also, again there are typically multiple decision-makers in a single target company, and each may explore different channels during their buyer’s journey.
This is why a multi-channel approach is critical in a B2B demand generation campaign, so you can reach your potential buyers at different stages in the buying process and at different paces.
Consider at least the following channels:
- Email: don’t underestimate the effectiveness of email marketing (drip campaign, email newsletter, etc.), especially in its ability to generate demands via targeted, personalized messages
- Social media: pretty obvious, virtually everyone is on social media nowadays, so it would only make sense to promote your B2B business on the relevant social media platform. A powerful and versatile channel for building awareness, generating demands, capturing leads, and engaging with prospects in various ways.
- Events: both online and offline events (i.e., virtual conferences, trade shows, etc.) can provide valuable opportunities to interact not only with potential customers but also with other businesses that may provide partnership opportunities.
- Webinars: an effective way in today’s virtual-conscious environment to educate potential customers about your product or service’s benefits, and to establish your position as the thought leader in your niche.
- Advertising: when done right, paid advertising can still be effective in generating traffic and leads. Advertising on popular platforms like Facebook (and Instagram), Google, or LinkedIn can help you reach a wider audience quickly and drive valuable traffic to your website. While paid advertising can be expensive, the key is to implement data-driven targeting to ensure your advertising campaigns are directed only to the most qualified prospects.
Three pillars to successful multi-channel strategy
The key to a successful multi-channel strategy is integration between these different channels, which can be achieved by implementing these three pillars:
- Consistent messaging. It’s crucial to align your messaging so that it’s consistent across all the channels you are utilizing. Only through consistency can you establish your reputation, credibility, and trust with your potential customers. Consistency is also crucial in ensuring a strong brand identity.
- Personalize your approach. Use the information you’ve gathered about each buyer persona so you can personalize your marketing campaign and outreach to each individual.
- Continuously monitor and refine. Treat your demand generation efforts as a long-term game, and regularly measure the performance of each campaign. Make adjustments as needed to ensure effectiveness and maximize ROI.
By establishing these three pillars, you can implement a comprehensive and effective multi-channel B2B demand generation strategy that reaches potential customers through their preferred channels at different stages in the buyer’s journey.
Identifying the best channels for each buyer persona
The main purpose of the multi-channel strategy is to use the most effective channel for each buyer persona (each type of audience.) Thus, it’s critical to find the best possible match between the needs and preferences of each buyer persona, the utilized channel, and the demand generation/marketing goals.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how:
- Step 1: Research the channel used by your target audience. Identify the channels frequently used by each type of target audience. You can do this in various ways, including but not limited to:
- Surveying and interviewing existing customers
- Analyzing industry trends (i.e., by reading market reports)
- Conducting competitive research to assess which channel is used by your competitors
- Step 2: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each channel. You should assess:
- The reach and audience size of each channel used
- The level of engagement of each channel (interactions, likes, shares, etc.)
- The cost of each channel
- How easy it is to use the channel and integrate it with your existing campaign and tools
- Step 3: Evaluate alignment with your goals.
- Reconsider your demand generation goals and overall marketing goals
- Evaluate the reach, engagement level, and cost of each channel and assess how these align with your goals
- Step 4: Analyze the ROI of each channel
- Calculate the cost per lead for each of these channels, and also the customer acquisition cost (CAC)
- Calculate the potential customer lifetime value (CLV) for the customers acquired from each channel
- Compare the ROI of each channel so you can determine the most cost-effective channels to utilize
- Step 5: Decisions. In this step, you should be able to make informed decisions on which channels to keep, adjust, or eliminate based on performance and cost. In general:
- Prioritize channels with the highest cost-effectiveness first
- Identify potential areas for improvement on underperforming channels
- Continue to monitor the performance of each channel, and eliminate channels that consistently underperform
Measuring and optimizing B2B demand generation campaign performance
Measuring the performance of your multi-channel demand generation campaign is crucial to its success, so you can identify areas for improvement and make continuous optimizations.
It’s critical to track and analyze data from key metrics in order to evaluate the performance of each channel so we can make necessary improvements and optimize the whole campaign.
Here is how:
Step 1: Identify and track channel performance metrics
The metrics to track would vary for each channel, but the most common ones to track within a demand generation campaign is:
- Website traffic: both organic and referral traffic
- Lead generation metrics: the total number of generated leads for each channel, as well as lead conversion rate (the percentage of leads that convert into paying customers)
- Conversion rate: the percentage of website visitors that convert into paying customers, can be measured per channel or for the overall campaign
- ROI: return on investment for each channel
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC): the total cost of generating a single customer for each channel
Once you’ve identified the right metrics to track, set up the right systems or tools (i.e., CRM systems, Google Analytics, marketing software, etc.) to track these metrics.
Step 2: Analyze data
Analyze the collected data so you can evaluate the success of the demand generation campaign.
- Compare your demand generation goals (and overall marketing goals) with the actual results generated by each channel
- Identify areas for improvement, and also areas where the campaign exceeded expectations
- Determine the most successful channels and the most underperforming ones
Step 3: Refining the multi-channel campaign
Find areas where you can improve underperforming channels, while on the other hand, increase investments in performing channels.
If a channel is continuously underperforming and can’t be optimized any further, consider eliminating it.
Refine content on all channels to improve their performances and egularly review campaign performance data so you can continuously make improvements based on results. To do so, make sure to stay up-to-date with industry trends, and make adjustments to your strategy as needed.
Planning and implementing a multi-channel B2B demand generation strategy can be a great way for B2B businesses to achieve long-term success in today’s highly competitive market.
A multi-channel demand generation strategy allows the B2B business to leverage the most effective channels for different types of audiences every time, which will ultimately produce numerous benefits, including:
- Improved brand awareness and reach
- A higher number of qualified leads generated
- Higher conversion rates
- Improved engagement and customer experience, leading to better retention
- Higher marketing ROI, and ultimately
- Increased revenue and profits
In conclusion, with the right approach and the right tools, the B2B business can reap the long-term and sustainable benefits of a multi-channel demand generation strategy.