What do 65% of businesses describe as their biggest marketing challenge?
Generating traffic and leads (HubSpot). It’s no different in the channel, where we’re often asked to help vendors, distis and partners to build their pipeline and net new business.
With Covid-19, we’ve seen shifts across the channel as buyer needs and preferences have changed. The marketing strategies of 3 years ago aren’t right for today’s world. And although face-to-face events are making a welcome return in 2022, it’s interesting to note that 93% of B2B companies say their content marketing generates more leads than traditional marketing strategies (Marketo).
Channel businesses have increasingly turned to digital solutions to generate pipeline, reflecting customers’ shifting buying habits. With 93% of B2B buying processes starting with an online search (Pinpoint Market Research and Anderson Jones PR), not to mention the often-cited 70% of the buyer’s journey happening online before any attempt to reach out, it is easy to understand why 77% of marketers expect their demand generation budget to increase in 2022 (Activate).
However, there’s inevitable confusion accompanying this shift. Applying old ways of working and a lack of understanding can cause serious problems with setting realistic objectives and measuring outcomes.
I’m just looking for leads
We hear this all too often at Purechannels, but in my experience, what’s called a ‘lead’ differs between businesses – I’ve heard it used to refer to everything from first touch to an MQL and even an SQL.
Not only that, but most so-called lead generation campaigns run for a quarter at most and are aimed at net new customers. Just to be clear, that means buyers who have had no meaningful exposure to your solutions or services before and whose buying cycle might be 6, 12 or more than 24 months long.
Would you purchase a high-ticket item having only just heard of the brand or their solution? The reality – as some 48% of businesses realised in an Ascend2 survey – is that most ‘leads’ require long-term nurturing before they can truly be called a lead.
What are you asking from your marketing people?
For me there are two linked but distinct phases to generating and growing your pipeline: demand generation and lead generation.
Demand generation focuses on the top of the buying funnel – the start of the buyer journey. It increases brand awareness, plays a vital role in educating your target audience, builds trust and sparks interest.
If net new are your target, this will mean that you probably don’t have any data. If you do, it was likely purchased, meaning that the audience is unaware of your offering. Applying a lead generation model will yield little to no success. You should be considering demand generation.
Lead generation focuses on the bottom of the funnel. It captures audience contact information, nurtures those enquiries into qualified leads, demonstrates your value and point of difference, and ultimately converts leads into customers.
If you have reliable data and an audience – be that on your website, email marketing list or even social channels – then asking for lead generation makes sense. It will allow you to nurture those businesses that are already aware of you and your offering to a point where they are ready to be handed to sales for following up.
How do you generate demand?
There are lots of different ways to break down a buyer’s journey, but no matter how complicated the process gets – what websites they check, how many options they compare, or who they ask for advice – all prospects will reach the same three milestones:
Awareness is the foundation of any demand generation plan. In the awareness stage, the prospect is experiencing and expressing symptoms of a problem or opportunity. This is typically when someone searches online for the symptoms of their problem.
Demand generation is about understanding your prospective customer and providing content of value that helps them, answers their needs, and solves their individual pain points. They are not ready to be sold to yet, but they will be highly receptive to any source that helps them name and frame their problem. What’s more, targeting users with content relevant to their position along the buying process yields 72% higher conversion rates (Aberdeen).
When we talk about awareness in the context of demand generation within the channel, I believe it should be broken down even further:
These people have identified – or you have helped them realise – there’s a problem (or opportunity) within their business. At this stage you want to highlight their pain point and show that you understand the issue.
This group have already felt the pain; they know they have a problem, but they also know that solutions exist to fix it. Now is when you can start to guide and introduce them to your solution.
Now they are aware of their problem and the potential solutions, this group is learning about their different vendor options. The majority of your content should still be free (i.e. not gated) to build brand awareness, educate and earn valuable trust with your audience, and nurture them until they reach out to you.
What does it all mean?
Patience is essential in demand generation. It’s about creating a steady and sustainable stream of demand for your services or products that will continue to drive business for you over the long term. It isn’t a quick win and, it doesn’t fit nicely into quarterly budgets.
90% of buyers don’t progress through the sales funnel in a linear way – they redo tasks in loops (Gartner). That’s why we recommend an always-on approach that reflects the reality of the new buyer journey. The benefit is that you know those leads that do come through will be qualified and interested.
Your inbound sales strategy for 2022 should use a combination of both demand generation and lead generation to grow your business and drive sales. Use demand gen tactics to make audiences aware of your business and get them interested in what you have to offer, and then move into lead gen to nurture and convert them into loyal customers.
Daren Bach (FCIM)
Chief Creative & Digital Officer
The Channel Agency: Purechannels
Helping Channel Marketing teams unleash indirect revenue through creativity, digital and storySelling.