Setting up a Demand Generation Function

Setting up a Demand Generation Function
Anna Furmanov is the founder of Fumanov Marketing Consulting, through which brings strategy, content, and demand gen expertise to B2B startups. In this guide, she explains what demand gen means in early-stage startups, and how to set a marketing strategy foundation.

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Questions covered in this guide

What is the role of demand gen in a SaaS company?

To educate and persuade would-be customers – the ultimate goal is the purchase, and growth marketing’s role is to build trust and create a relationship while increasing a target’s knowledge about your brand, and positioning yourself as the go-to in the industry.  

What’s the difference between demand gen and lead gen?

Lead generation is running campaigns to collect information – lead gen entails running marketing campaigns where you’re trying to collect information about potential customers.

Lead gen can be part of demand gen (but isn’t all of it) – demand gen encompasses creating and capturing demand. It covers the entire buyer journey. Lead gen can be a part of your demand gen strategy, but it doesn’t have to be.

How is demand gen shifting away from lead-based metrics?

The old game: marketing is lead gen for sales – historically, you might define a lead as someone who responded to some kind of ad or outreach. Let’s say you sent them a cold email and they opened it to read something or downloaded it; that could be the definition of a lead for your company. So it’s purely a lead gen game. 

The new game: demand gen covers the full buyer journey – so you’re focused not on the number of leads that you’re passing over to sales; you’re focused on the things that you can do that generate revenue for the company. You’re just as tied to the revenue as the sales team.

What funnel metrics should you track?

Focus on the revenue, and look for earlier indicators – you have to focus on the revenue, but there are metrics to monitor along the way.

Track qualitative metrics to make sure you’re engaging the right prospects:
  • Engagement – monitoring prospect activities such as likes and comments on social media, email openings, click-throughs, or followers lets you see if what you’re doing is getting through.
  • High-quality interactions – look at who are the folks who are interested or following you. Are these the right people? You’ll want targeted visitors, subscribers, sales conversations, even if the volume goes down.
Track quantitative metrics to assess whether you’re generating better leads:
  • Conversion rates – if you’re thinking about quality vs. quantity of leads, you’ll see them convert to the next stage at a higher rate with more high-quality sales conversations.
  • CAC – with the right customers, average customer acquisition cost is lower.
  • Sales cycle – the sales cycle should get shorter if you’re attracting high-converting, ready-to-buy leads.

What channels should software companies evaluate? 

Across channels, create solid content
  • Video content is an easy place to start – spend an hour talking to an expert with video and audio recording asking questions, then create clips for social media. Once you have the clips, combine clips from different conversations to create longer videos.
  • See where people are engaging (and create more content there) – write more content about the higher engaging stuff. Make blogs, playbooks, or workshops about them.

Word of mouth – the more you focus on providing value and bringing people together, the more you’ll create a group of people who love you and are willing to recommend your product. As you create value for them through social media, podcasts, and other channels, you’ll start to receive even more new customers through word of mouth. 

Social media (organic and paid) – to be effective on social media, you need to understand your marketing foundation: who your target is, which platforms are they on, what do they care about, and what are their goals.  

SEO – SEO is one where companies either go hard on it and their whole marketing strategy is around keyword research, or they think it’s complicated and they aren’t ready to start it. They know it’ll be good in the long term but it’s hard in the short term. To get started with SEO, a really smart idea is to do an SEO sprint. You do your keyword research and then you decide you’re going to create some blog posts around the top few words. Then you put that aside for a few months and work on something else before you get back to it. 

Community & events – I think it’s a mistake to not create a community. Weekly events or any community events create value for folks. There’s something to be said for creating a tribe of people and learning what their needs are.

Paid search – my stand on this, for early-stage startups, is that you don’t have to do paid search if you don’t already have the expertise in-house. There are plenty of low-hanging fruits in digital marketing and you don’t have to pay if you have a good understanding of your target audience and where they hang out. That being said, I’ve met some startups who’ve used paid search really successfully to get started. It’s beneficial if you already have experience, or have good partners who understand how it works. 

What are the core tools you need to execute an effective demand gen strategy? 

In the early stages, you don’t need 10 tools – a lot of marketers think they need ten tools to do marketing well. I disagree. Part of it is that I come from the early-stage startup mindset where you work with what you have. When manual processes get annoying, that’s when you look for the tool. 

The basics you probably do need:
  • Web traffic tool – for looking at your website. What are people clicking on and what are the conversion points. You need Google Analytics or some type of software to check that out.
  • Marketing automation and CRM – you need to have a platform where you track your prospects and customers (e.g. Hubspot, Salesforce)

What activities should you use during different parts of the customer lifecycle? 

At the prospect stage, content is key – before they become a lead, you’re trying to create demand. Focus on understanding your target market, honing what your message is, and creating content to put out there.  

While they’re in the funnel, nurture with multiple channels – nurture is more than email because you nurture people on LinkedIn with videos, or you create events. If your offering and expertise is really good, people will likely want to get value from a few places, not just one.

You will have folks who are following you on social media, and it’s really important to engage them to see who is ready to talk to sales and get them into the system.  

At the conversion stage, support sales – you need to have a sales conversion strategy. Enable sales by providing them with content and materials they need for those people that are more ready to buy (capture demand).

How does the demand gen function scale?

Start with a strong generalist hire or contractor – a lot of founders in B2B and SaaS are more technical, product-minded, and not demand generation oriented. In that case, start with someone who can build your marketing foundation. That could be a full-time hire or a contractor. That person should have a good general understanding of demand gen, marketing, messaging and customer research.

Add specialists based on your needs – if you already know that you’re a video-first company and you’re going to be creating valuable content, you’re going to need to hire someone that does video. The same goes for writing if you’re producing a lot of written content, or digital campaign experience if you’re running a lot of paid ads.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Have a strong grasp on who you’re for and what they care about – have a really good grasp of your marketing foundation, who you’re for, what are their challenges, what are their goals, what do they care about, how can you help them, how can you build that relationship with the messaging. Make it consistent. How do you shorten things up so it’s really easy to understand?

What are the common pitfalls?

Don’t hire a junior person just to run some campaigns – I don’t recommend hiring a junior person to be a marketer to run campaigns and execute without having a solid foundation. They shouldn’t be doing this without having an understanding of your marketing strategy. Especially when the founder is not well versed in demand generation or marketing.

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