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Why B2B Businesses Should Adopt a Demand Creation Marketing Strategy to Get More Qualified Sales Opportunities

by Tanya K


The pursuit of qualified sales opportunities stands as the linchpin to sustained growth and competitive advantage. In an era where traditional lead generation methods are met with increasing challenges, B2B businesses are turning to a transformative strategy — Demand Creation. This article serves as a comprehensive exploration into the compelling reasons behind the growing trend of adopting Demand Creation methodologies, unveiling a strategic paradigm shift that goes beyond conventional practices.


The urgency for this shift arises from the intensified competition and changing dynamics within the B2B space. As businesses grapple with a myriad of challenges, from evolving buyer behaviors to the saturation of conventional marketing channels, the need for a more sophisticated and targeted approach becomes evident. Demand Creation emerges as the solution du jour, offering a nuanced and proactive strategy designed to not only secure a greater quantity of sales opportunities but, more crucially, to ensure their qualification at a higher standard.


At the heart of this paradigm shift is the recognition that B2B buyers are now more discerning and informed than ever before. The traditional linear sales funnel has given way to a more complex, dynamic, and non-linear customer journey. Demand Creation acknowledges this shift by focusing on creating an environment that stimulates interest, educates, and engages potential clients at every stage of their decision-making process.


This article aims to unravel the layers of Demand Creation, providing insights into its core principles and demonstrating how its implementation can become a catalyst for transformative results. In 2012, marketing teams were primarily focused on collecting contact information for outbound sales, a practice that has persisted for over a decade. However, the landscape has evolved, and it's time for B2B businesses to adopt a demand-creation approach for more qualified sales opportunities.


The Changing Landscape of Buyer Behavior

Buyers today are more empowered than ever, thanks to the abundance of information at their fingertips. In 2012, the buying process was more guided by Sales reps, but in 2023, buyers navigate the process independently. For instance, a decade ago, a potential customer might have relied on a Sales representative for information about a product or service. Today, they are likely to conduct thorough research online, tapping into reviews, forums, and social media discussions to form their own opinions.


This was the case for a software company we worked with earlier this year. Faced a significant shift in its buyer behavior. In 2018, their sales strategy was heavily reliant on outbound calls, and the Sales team played a central role in guiding potential customers.


Fast forward to 2023, They noticed a drastic decline in the effectiveness of this approach. Buyers were more informed and preferred conducting extensive online research before engaging with a sales representative. This prompted them to reevaluate its strategy and shift towards a demand creation model, which is where we came in.


The Dark Social Era

With the rise of the internet, B2B buyers have shifted towards discovering and evaluating products through dark social channels—online communities, word of mouth, and content platforms.


This shift is substantial, considering that a Sales rep's influence has decreased significantly. A case study on a company that strategically leveraged dark social channels, resulting in increased brand awareness and qualified leads, showcases the potency of adapting to this new era.


Taking the example of a B2B company operating in the software industry we worked with will best illustrate the impact of dark social. In response to the changing landscape, when we came in, we diversified their marketing efforts.

We started engaging on their behalf in relevant online communities, actively participated in industry forums, and strategically used word of mouth through satisfied customers. This not only increased their visibility within the market but also established them as a trustworthy source within their niche.


Evolution from Lead Generation to Demand Creation

Lead generation in 2012 was primarily about collecting contact information. However, in 2023, demand creation has taken the forefront. This evolution is not just semantic; it represents a fundamental shift in mindset. A company that successfully transitioned from a lead generation model to demand creation is a healthcare revenue cycle company we worked with based in New York. By aligning its marketing efforts with creating demand and brand affinity, it not only increased sales opportunities but also built a stronger relationship with its audience.


They provide a compelling example of the evolution from lead generation to demand creation. In the late 2010s, their marketing strategy heavily relied on acquiring leads for their sales team. Recognizing the changing dynamics, they invested in creating engaging content that not only attracted potential customers but also fostered a sense of brand loyalty. When we started working with them, they were adamant that their ideal clients were on LinkedIn, whereas when we completed the initial market research phase, we found out that their ideal clients actually hung out on Instagram and TikTok. As a result of incorporating these data into their marketing, their conversion rates increased, and the company witnessed a notable uptick in qualified sales opportunities.


People-First Go-to-Market (GTM) Strategy

The new approach emphasizes creating demand first above everything else.

This means moving away from the traditional focus on outbound sales and instead building a strategy that prioritizes organic branded search and direct sources.


This is what an EdTech company we worked with did, which transformed its market presence by adopting a people-first GTM strategy. This shift resulted in a more authentic connection with the audience and a significant boost in brand loyalty.

They specialize in educating 9 to 5ers to create a digital course that can replace their salary, and they recognize the need for a people-first GTM strategy.


In the past, their focus was primarily on outbound sales campaigns and only social media content. However, by shifting their emphasis to creating demand through organic channels, such as evergreen content marketing, they witnessed a notable increase in customer engagement and inbound high-intent leads that want to meet with sales.


The people-first approach not only aligned with their brand values but also resonated well with their target audience, leading to a surge in qualified leads, a different story than traditional lead generation that focuses on MQLs


Challenges with Traditional Metrics (MQLs)

Metrics like MQLs, often considered a benchmark for success, are arbitrary and result in a mere fraction turning into qualified opportunities and actual deals.

I am often bombarded on social media with posts like " Let me show you how to get 1000 leads per week", and I often cringe, here is why


Let's delve into the numbers.

According to industry research, less than 2% of MQLs turn into qualified opportunities, and less than 1% ever materialize into an actual won deal.

Contrasting this with the metrics of a demand creation strategy provides a stark contrast. For instance, a recent case study of a company in the tech sector showcased a significant increase in qualified opportunities after shifting their focus from MQLs to a demand-centric approach.


To illustrate the challenges with traditional metrics, let's consider the experience of TechInnovate, a software development company we worked with. Historically, they relied heavily on MQLs to gauge the success of their marketing campaigns. However, a closer analysis revealed that a substantial portion of these leads didn't align with their target audience. In response, they transitioned towards a demand creation model, focusing on creating content that directly resonated with their ideal customers. This shift not only increased the relevance of their leads but also improved the conversion rates, leading to more qualified opportunities.


Demand Creation vs. Demand Generation

In marketing and sales, "Demand Generation" and "Demand Creation" are integral concepts that delineate different phases in the process of cultivating interest and demand for a product or service.


"Demand Generation" encompasses the broader spectrum of activities aimed at building awareness and attracting potential customers through channels such as content marketing, social media, SEO, and advertising.


The central focus is on creating a sizable audience and familiarizing them with the product or service. On the other hand, "Demand Creation" represents a more specific subset within this process, concentrating on activities that go beyond mere awareness to actively persuade potential customers that there is a tangible need for the product or service.


It involves highlighting unique value propositions, addressing specific needs, and instilling a sense of urgency or desire for the offering. Together, these two components form a cohesive strategy: demand generation casts a wide net to draw in potential customers, while demand creation refines and personalizes the message to convince them not only of the product's existence but of its necessity, ultimately driving them through the sales funnel.


Companies that embrace demand creation go beyond mere demand generation.

The difference lies in investing in a comprehensive brand strategy that permeates every interaction with the business.


An example that stands out would be ourselves as we now get a number of branded search terms. By activating a robust brand strategy across various touchpoints, we generate far more demand than what traditional demand-generation strategies could achieve. This emphasizes the importance of not just generating leads but creating a lasting brand presence in the market.


In the early stages, they solely focused on demand generation, using traditional methods to generate leads. However, recognizing the changing dynamics of buyer behavior, we strategically invested in a comprehensive brand strategy.


This involved consistent messaging, cohesive visuals, and a personalized customer experience across all touchpoints. The result was not just an increase in demand but also a shift in how our brand was perceived—moving from a provider of solutions to a trusted partner in our industry.


The Organic Nature of Modern Marketing

Channels like organic branded search and direct sources require marketing efforts without clean UTMs and conversions.


A counterintuitive realization for many businesses is that these channels, often considered difficult to scale, are the result of referrals, word of mouth, and research-driven efforts.


Consider the success story of DEF Company, which achieved sustained growth by adopting an organic approach, fostering a strong connection with its audience without relying solely on traditional tracking methods.


DEF Company, which operates in the retail sector, faced a challenge with tracking the success of its organic channels. Unlike paid campaigns, organic search and direct sources lacked clean UTMs and direct conversion metrics. Instead of abandoning these channels,


We took a different approach. We made them invest in customer relationship management (CRM) systems to understand the customer journey better. By analyzing customer touchpoints and interactions, they gained insights into the organic nature of their modern marketing efforts. This not only helped in tracking success but also provided valuable data for refining their organic strategies.


The Buyer's Autonomy and Relationship Building

Respecting the autonomy of buyers and focusing on building relationships with the market is key. This approach aligns with the modern buyer's expectations shaped by their B2C experiences.


Something LMN Enterprises learned when we started working together, redefining its approach by placing a stronger emphasis on building relationships rather than just closing deals. This shift not only led to increased customer loyalty but also positively impacted their bottom line.


LMN Enterprises, a consultancy firm specializing in B2B solutions, recognized a need for a shift in its marketing approach. Traditionally, their focus was on closing deals through direct sales efforts. However, in an industry where trust and relationships play a crucial role, they realized the importance of buyer autonomy.


LMN Enterprises started engaging with its audience through educational content, webinars, and personalized interactions. This shift not only built stronger relationships with their clients but also positioned them as thought leaders in their industry, resulting in a steady increase in qualified sales opportunities.


The Role of Dark Social in B2B Decision-Making

Dark social, including networks, word of mouth, and community-based insights, play a crucial role in B2B buying decisions. A comprehensive content strategy and a strong presence in relevant online communities are vital for success in this space. This was the case for PQR Solutions, a B2B service provider that strategically utilized dark social channels to understand the pain points of its audience. This resulted in tailored solutions and a notable increase in client satisfaction and retention.

PQR Solutions, which operates in the business consultancy sector, recognized the significance of dark social channels in understanding their client's needs. By actively participating in industry-specific online communities and leveraging word of mouth, they gained insights into the pain points and challenges faced by their audience.


This information guided the development of targeted content and solutions, resulting in not only increased client satisfaction but also a higher retention rate. The role of Dark Social in their strategy became a cornerstone for understanding and addressing the unique needs of their B2B clients.


Key Skills and Tools for Transition

Marketing teams must focus on acquiring the skills and tools necessary for the shift to demand creation. The process involves upskilling in content creation, community engagement, and data analytics.


A practical example is STU Marketing, a mid-sized agency that successfully transitioned by investing in employee training programs with our coaching arm. By enhancing their team's skills in content creation and community management, they experienced a noticeable uptick in qualified leads.


STU Marketing recognized the need for a comprehensive skill upgrade to align with the demand creation model. Understanding that content creation was at the core of this shift, we organized regular workshops and training sessions for their marketing team. These sessions covered not only the technical aspects of content creation but also emphasized community engagement and data analytics. As a result, STU Marketing has witnessed a positive impact on their campaigns, with a significant increase in engagement metrics and, ultimately, qualified leads.


Common Misconceptions in Inbound Strategies

Misdefining inbound leads and relying on outdated strategies can lead to inefficiencies and spamming. A prime example is the case of OPQ Solutions, where misconceptions around inbound strategies resulted in a high volume of irrelevant leads. By revisiting their approach and implementing a more nuanced inbound strategy, they were able to improve lead quality and conversion rates significantly.

OPQ Solutions, operating in the software development sector, initially faced challenges with their inbound strategies before we came in.


The misconception that any contact acquisition could be classified as an inbound lead led to a high volume of irrelevant leads entering their nurturing program. Realizing the inefficiencies in this approach, we revisited its lead qualification criteria and implemented a more nuanced strategy. By focusing on the quality rather than the quantity of leads, they experienced a significant improvement in conversion rates and a more streamlined nurturing process.


Counterargument: Fundamentals of Marketing

Despite technological changes, the fundamentals of marketing haven't changed. It has always been about helping buyers learn and decide, with only the channels evolving. A prime example is UVW Corporation, which has maintained its success by adhering to the fundamental principles of marketing. By understanding their audience and delivering relevant content through evolving channels, UVW Corp has consistently engaged and retained its customer base.


Example Elaboration: UVW Corporation, a longstanding player in the consumer goods industry, exemplifies the enduring nature of marketing fundamentals. While they have adapted to technological changes, the core principles of understanding their audience and delivering relevant content have remained constant. By leveraging new channels such as social media and influencer marketing, UVW Corp continues to engage with their customers effectively. This adaptability within the framework of established marketing principles has contributed to their sustained success over the years.


The Dynamics of Human Interaction in Sales

While digital messages have their place, human interaction through sales calls remains unparalleled, and we want to ensure that this doesn't get lost in translation.

The ability to dynamically respond to customer questions and thoughts is a unique strength that digital methods may lack. a tech startup we worked with attributes a significant portion of its success to personalized sales interactions. By combining digital outreach with strategic phone calls, they were able to provide tailored solutions and close deals more effectively.


They recognized the importance of human interaction in their sales process. In an industry where the complexity of the product often requires detailed discussions, they found that digital messages fell short. When we implemented a strategy that combined digital outreach for initial engagement with personalized follow-up sales calls. This approach allowed them to address specific customer questions, provide nuanced information, and ultimately close deals more effectively.


The dynamics of human interaction, especially in complex decision-making scenarios, proved to be a crucial element in their sales success.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the evolution from lead generation to demand creation signifies a profound shift in B2B marketing. Understanding and adapting to this change is essential for businesses to stay relevant and effectively engage with the modern buyer.


The journey from traditional lead generation to demand creation is not just a trend; it's a fundamental shift in how businesses approach their audience. As illustrated by the diverse examples, companies that embraced this change not only increased their sales opportunities but also built stronger relationships with their customers.


The key takeaway is the need for businesses to evolve with the changing landscape, adopting strategies that resonate with the modern buyer's preferences and behaviors.


Work with Tanya K Read more articles by Tanya K www.dna.co.za “Solving niche challenges founders face”.

Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)


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