Special Report

6 Ways to Drive B2B Demand Generation in a Downturn

by Drew Neisser | June 1, 2020

Generating new leads in the next 12 months will be the biggest challenge ever faced by today’s B2B marketers. Most B2B CMOs are already looking at 30-50% budget cuts and are being asked to make do with reduced staff. Physical events and conferences that account for 20-50% of pipeline for many B2B businesses are no longer an option. Generating all-important case studies is also a fresh challenge as current customers fight for survival, ask for discounts and won’t make themselves available for video shoots. Then, it gets worse.

Your potential customers are equally constrained. CFOs have suddenly requested to be involved in every potential purchase decision regardless of the size. New purchases are being limited to products and services that meet “must-have” criteria like enabling business continuity (think cloud-based anything), providing security for remote teams and/or promising near-term cost savings or efficiency gains. Marketers are now using the term “speed-to-value” as a catch-all for value propositions that provide a rapid ROI. If your “speed-to-value” is more than 3-6 months, then you can expect both a decline in leads and a delay in closings. So, yeah, this is the biggest test current marketers have ever faced.

The question then is how to meet this challenge. What can savvy B2B marketers do now to drive near-term demand while setting themselves up for greater growth in 2021? If 2019 was a wide-open straightaway, 2020 is filled with treacherous and unfamiliar curves. Skilled racecar drivers know you have to slow down into a curve, find the optimal part of the embankment through practice, and then accelerate out of it. Skilled marketers will use the economic slowdown to test their options, to retrain their teams, and prepare themselves for future growth. It won’t be easy. But for those who succeed, it will be exhilarating confirmation that with every crisis comes opportunity, especially for the courageous. If you’re curious how to speed up your B2B demand generation efforts in the COVID-19 Era, please read on. Or, if you’d like to download the whole report for reading later, click here.

1.

1. Streamline Your Brand Story

In early March 2020, Jakki Geiger knew she had a problem with her current messaging. As the CMO of Reltio, a data management company, she found their promise of “winning” had become tone-deaf as so many of their retail customers were more focused on survival than growth. As she noted in her Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast interview (to be released 7/17/20), “survive is the new thrive.” Gathering her team, they shifted their promise from using data for growth to using data for “serving, protecting, and retaining your customers.” Ensuring that your messaging is not “tone-deaf” is but one consideration in the move to streamline your brand story.

Recognizing that your budget and staffing resources may have been cut, this is a really good time to take a look at your overall brand story from a complexity perspective. The more products you offer, the more features you push and the more audiences you’re targeting, the more likely it is that your big idea is lost in the clutter like most logos on a NASCAR vehicle. To avoid this, B2B brands need to ruthlessly lighten their messaging chassis, stripping away all but what’s essential. This can be difficult work, but the value of having a clear value proposition is unstoppable.

David Friend, the CEO and founder of Wasabi, the “hot cloud storage” company that competes with Amazon AWS, is a fan of crystal-clear value propositions. This approach has served him well, having started and sold 5 companies prior to Wasabi including Carbonite. In fact, he won’t start a company until he can boil down the promise to 10 words or less. For Carbonite, it was as simple as “automatic computer backup.” For Wasabi, it’s about delivering “cloud storage that’s 80% cheaper and significantly faster than AWS,” a promise that is resonating even louder in the current economy. Friend shared this story in episode 185 of Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Recognizing that your budget and staffing resources may have been cut, this is a really good time to take a look at your overall brand story from a complexity perspective.

B2B brands with a single service or product are well-served by having a simplified value proposition, but this gets more challenging as companies add to their offerings. In these cases, enlightened CMOs are turning to purpose, going on a self-reflective journey that starts with the question, “Why do we exist?” Rebranding during a pandemic may seem like a fool’s errand but it’s actually proven to be more than a tune-up for at least two brands we’ve talked with.

CMO Amy Messano was only days away from launching a brand makeover for Altair when the pandemic forced employees to work from home in March 2020. Messano considered her options. She knew the 35-year old software engineering firm really needed a singular story to tell, especially given the recent acquisition of 29 different companies. This is why she had originally begun the rebranding work shortly after she started in January 2019.

As Messano explains in episode 192 of Renegade Thinkers Unite, engineers appreciate process and know that taking shortcuts doesn’t work. Instead, they hired an outside firm, conducted hundreds of interviews, evaluated archetypes, considered multiple options, and ultimately, landed on just two words: “Only Forward.” Just two words. Now that’s a streamlined story. A story that also had huge implications for the organization well beyond marketing.

Deciding to push ahead with the new brand work during the pandemic was an act of courage that paid surprising dividends. Employees were hugely receptive seeing “Only Forward” as a statement of optimism in a gloomy time. They quickly adopted the new design for their presentations and shared their enthusiasm on social media at record levels. Given the uncertainties and anxiety propelled by the pandemic, pushing out a positive, forward-thinking “rallying cry” was exactly the kind of turbocharge both the organization and the market needed.

As you learn how to streamline your brand story, consider Stanford economist Paul Romer’s phrase: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  Use this opportunity to revisit your organization’s purpose if you haven’t already done so. If your business has slowed down like so many others, focus the conversation with your executive team on the recovery and how your organization can ready itself to accelerate out of the downturn. Having a crystal-clear purpose-driven story that resonates with employees, customers, and prospects is a proven accelerant.

2.

2. Retool Your Growth Engine

With your streamlined story in hand, now the question is, How can you make this story sufficiently real to drive your business forward? How do you get new prospects to consider your solutions?  The answer may surprise you. It may also hurt a bit to hear it.  The answer is “abundant generosity.” Wait, what? That’s right, retooling your growth engine in the middle of this crisis begins with abundant generosity. Stay with us on this.

Recognizing that “business continuity” was going to be a huge issue for call centers in early March 2020, Talkdesk rushed out a free product in less than a week. Kathie Johnson, Talkdesk’s CMO, had only been on the job for a few months but she knew enough to see that call centers, which employed over 3 million people in the US, were going to have a massive problem shifting all of those individuals to work from home. To help these folks and to avoid appearing like ambulance chasers, Talkdesk made their new product free, a decision that ingratiated them with a wave of new customers.

If you’re thinking this is crazy talk, keep reading. As it turns out, many of the call centers that came to Talkdesk in the early days of the pandemic quickly converted to a paid solution. While they appreciated the free offer and that’s what drew their attention, they also wanted to take advantage of some of the additional features included in the paid offering. Johnson reports in episode 182 of Renegade Thinkers Unite that their deal cycle went from an average of several months to—in some cases—just a few days. Abundant generosity proved to be abundantly beneficial.

We (brands) give you (prospects) good content, you give us your time and hopefully someday your consideration and/or positive word of mouth.

DemandBase, the creator of the ABM category, has educated the marketing community with its certification courses for years. Given the quality of these training modules, DemandBase charged hundreds of dollars for them. But as the pandemic unfolded, the company elected to make their courses free. Abundant generosity strikes again. Rest assured, this is not pure altruism. It’s more like enlightened self-interest.

Free courses will mean a larger universe will understand how to use their product. This will have a lasting impact, increasing the likelihood that current customers will stay with DemandBase and that future customers will consider it given the large pool of trained users. It’s a calculated exchange of short-term revenue for long-term market share. And a lot of goodwill.

The same kind of generosity is sweeping the conference industry. For years, brands like IBM, Adobe and Skillsoft have orchestrated massive user conferences, charging for attendance while providing training, networking opportunities, and big-time entertainment. Recently, these three brands, among many others, elected to recreate these events virtually while charging nothing for attendance. Yup, they delivered hundreds of hours of keynotes, interviews, presentations, Q&A’s and even live entertainment for free. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The results were surprising.

All three brands reported record registration numbers. And while we haven’t spoken with the CMOs of Adobe or IBM yet, the trade press reports that attendance figures were good for both. We’ve heard from other CMOs that virtual event registrants are proving to be a good source of quality leads. Michelle BB, the CMO of Skillsoft, reported in her Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast interview (to be released 7/10/20) that the attendance figures blew her away.  While Skillsoft’s physical event usually drew about 1000 attendees, the virtual event engaged 14,000 from a registrant total of 42,000. To further ingratiate the brand with its audience, it elected to make its paid courses free to all registrants for 60 days. Now that’s abundant generosity to the max.

Giving away content is not a new idea. Among marketers, it is a well-known value exchange. We (brands) give you (prospects) good content, you give us your time and hopefully someday your consideration and/or positive word of mouth. What’s striking about this moment is that the better the content is, the more you give away and the higher the dividends.  As one CMO explained it, “the less we try to sell with our content, the more focused we are on creating and sharing useful information, the more we sell!” Karma, as they say, is a boomerang, especially in marketing.

So, how can you retool your company’s growth engine? Do you have a free product or service that you can pull together quickly that will ingratiate your brand with your prospects and customers? If not, now is a really good time to get that together.

3.

3. Retrain Your Pit Crews

When the shelter-in-place orders began rumbling across the world, CMOs suddenly found themselves with fully grounded event and field sales teams. These folks often spent half of their time on the road attending conferences, manning booths or hosting local events. They were really good at building face-to-face relationships but in an era where that is next to impossible, the role of these individuals was seriously questioned.

Some were furloughed almost immediately while others were given opportunities to learn new skills. It is the latter approach that we’re prescribing here. Retrain your pit crews. In the interest of coming out of this crisis stronger and fully prepared to accelerate when the economy opens up, some enlightened companies are indeed keeping this talent and investing in their future. As discussed in Uplead’s guide to mastering B2B sales, “B2B salespeople must have a results-driven approach to sales and communicate with their prospects in a confident, persuasive demeanor.” It’s a bet on the long-term with important short-term considerations.

We’ll speak to the shifting of talent into virtual events in the next section so we can focus this section on one major retraining opportunity: social selling. The idea here is that anyone that used to spend a lot of time visiting with prospects should now be learning how to cultivate relationships via social media. Again, this is not a new idea, but it is one that is gaining a lot of traction in organizations that ignored this approach in the past.

Rather than lose your formally productive sales and business development teams, training them on how to take advantage of all things digital including social media is just too good an opportunity to pass up. This is also the shortest road to Sales and Marketing alignment—suddenly your sales team will start to recognize and appreciate all of the great content you’ve been creating for the last several years. It’s about time but at least it’s starting to happen.

For those new to social selling, it’s very much like it sounds. It is simply the use of social media channels to identify and nurture prospects.

These individuals inevitably become brand champions, cheerleading regularly on behalf of your company.

Here are a few stats that support this approach:

  • 75% B2B buyers use social media to research vendors
  • 90% decision makers never respond to cold outreach
  • 74% buyers choose the sales rep that was first to add value and insight
  • 73% of salespeople who use social media as part of their sales process outperform their peers
  • Salespeople who use social exceed quota 23% more often than those who don’t

To understand social selling, you need to understand a bit about social media. Renegade offers our clients a Social Selling 101 seminar that focuses on LinkedIn Navigator, a paid service from LinkedIn that allows users to create prospect lists and then alerts the user to when those individuals are active. Navigator also provides a handy Social Selling Index (SSI) which serves as a scorecard for new users. Breaking progress into four areas, the maximum SSI is 100 and anything above 60 is considered a good score.

There are several other good things that come out of these training programs. Companies that do this are helping their employees build their personal brands, an asset that these employees can leverage their entire careers. Learning how to describe yourself in 120 characters or less is a great exercise for anyone, especially when you write these with customer benefits in mind.

Another benefit of creating a pack of educated social sellers is that these individuals inevitably become brand champions, cheerleading regularly on behalf of your company. They come to know the company better because they seek out content to share and, in the process, learn more about what makes your organization special. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more cost-effective way of growing your business in the COVID-19 era than via social selling.

4.

4. Shift into Virtual Events

Moving event staffers to help with the growing need for virtual events is an obvious talent shift. The important caveat here is that virtual events don’t work the same way as physical events and approaching them as such will inevitably lead to disappointment for both the brand and the attendees. At regular events, you typically have captive audiences who willingly exchange a day or two of their time for an immersive experience that often includes travel to nice places, entertainment, networking and tchotchkes. This is not the case for virtual events.

So, the retraining here is critical. Your new virtual event team is best advised to start from scratch, considering objectives, content types and visitor experience. They need to understand the technology platforms that support the desired outcomes and recognize that the audience may only give you an hour or two and will want to do so in their own time zone. And the folks that sold or purchased sponsorships need to understand that virtual sponsorships, for the most part, deliver diminished returns.

This isn’t to say that virtual events won’t work. They do. As Michelle BB, the CMO of Skillsoft shared in her Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast episode (to be released 7/10/20), “we learned a lot from the early efforts of Adobe and created a virtual event that really surprised our audience as well as our new business team—the results blew us away.”  “The key,” she added, “was not thinking about this like our usual conference—we rethought every aspect of the experience from registration to sponsor booths, speakers to chat, entertainment to the show timing.”

Skillsoft proved that virtual events can rival if not outperform their physical counterparts. As noted earlier, Skillsoft accumulated 42,000 registrants in the two months they had to market the event and approximately 14,000 attended some portion of the live event. Michelle BB reports that the ultimate success metric will be the quality of the leads generated and they are now in the process of using various tools to help sort through the massive influx of potential leads (over 70% of attendees were not currently Skillsoft customers). Keep in mind that not just attendees are potential leads, so are registrants. Skillsoft has a big job ahead of them, a problem I suspect most businesses would gladly have.

Virtual events don’t work the same way as physical events and approaching them as such will inevitably lead to disappointment for both the brand and the attendees.

Michelle BB shared many tips for setting up virtual events, including:

  1. Assemble the right team. Skillsoft had 7 teams focused on 138 different aspects of the production. BB and her team are well versed in “agile” processes and include “scrum masters” who ensure timely outcomes.
  2. Talk to your peers. BB made a point of speaking with a number of marketers, including folks she knew at Adobe, who’d just wrapped up their own virtual event.
  3. Match the tech platform with your goals. BB wanted to be able to brand all aspects of the experience, have unique content tracks, and have chat within these tracks. That’s why they used Intrado. BB admits that they pushed that software to its limit.
  4. Make it fun. Skillsoft’s virtual summit included live entertainment, high-quality guest speakers with broad appeal, yoga breaks, and a trivia contest. BB was particularly surprised at how popular the trivia contest proved to be. Skillsoft also had a game-like points system for attendees to earn swag that may not have been worth the trouble. About 800 of the 14,000 attendees participated in the points program.
  5. Prepare for the unexpected. This advice was given to BB before the event by one of her MC’s and it proved invaluable during one technical delay. BB had prepared for just this eventuality and remained calm while smoothing over the interruption. Skillsoft also recorded all of the live sessions in advance just in case the tech failed during the real thing. Having all of the content recorded was an insurance policy that BB was delighted she never had to redeem.
  6. Limit the presenters to the skilled. Rank or expertise should not be the qualification for presenting. Only skilled communicators should be allowed on the stage.  If you have a genius subject matter expert that mumbles, first send them to presentation classes, and even after that you may need to limit their exposure.
  7. Ditch the text-heavy PowerPoint. There is almost no good reason to have dense slides at virtual events. Save that for the downloads. Use visuals to help tell the overall story but keep the emphasis on the speakers. This, of course, means your speakers really need to be prepared. See the next point.
  8. Rehearse. No one should be allowed to go on stage without having practiced at least once with the technology and multiple times with the material.  You may want to hire an outside director who can provide honest critique and speaking tips for your more sensitive executives.
  9. Allocate more time for Q&As. Nothing shows audience interest like a healthy question and answer session. All too often, Q&As are left to the end without enough time to get through them all. Flip your thinking and leave the bulk of the time for questions. A good moderator can fill in if the audience is shy for some reason. Keep in mind, live Q&As are what distinguish events from prerecorded, non-interactive content.
  10. Have and support chat. Skillsoft’s event followed the sun, opening first during daytime hours in Asia. As the event began, the Skillsoft team noticed higher than expected chat volume and as such quickly drafted new team members to be moderators when the event moved into the US time zones. The amount of chat blew BB and her team away as attendees shared their enthusiasm for the event in real time.
  11. Give yourself an 8-12 week production runway. The Skillsoft team pulled off their event in about 9 weeks, which was a minor miracle, but BB would not have wanted much more time. “If we had had more time, we might have spent a lot of it second-guessing ourselves,” explained BB. More time does not necessarily mean a better event.
  12. Be ready to follow up. Virtual events done right have an urgency that will attract a wide range of potential customers. The challenge is to quickly sort through the registrants and the attendees to figure out which ones are genuine leads and what is the optimal approach for nurturing these leads. Some event organizers create a scoring system based on attendee behavior. Others use polls within sessions to help identify hot prospects from warm leads. The point here is to be ready to keep the conversation going with your attendees.
  13. Generate trial with an offer. One of the more powerful ways of converting attendees into brand advocates is to give them something that can keep them engaged after the event. For Skillsoft, this meant making their courses available for free to all attendees for 60 days after the event. In doing so, Skillsoft will expose its product to a whole new group of users, many of whom will remember the brand when they are in position to choose an education platform for their companies.

Undoubtedly, virtual events will continue to improve in the coming months and years as the technology improves and marketers think of new ways to enhance the experience.

5.

5. Draft on Your Customer Success

In a car race, the only time you really need to be in the lead position is when crossing the checkered flag. Savvy drivers know that drafting on the cars ahead of them can actually set them up for victory as they use less energy to maintain their speed. In a somewhat similar manner, marketers can “win” by drafting on their customer success. Put more plainly: if you really want new customers, focus on your current ones. This may seem counterintuitive in a document dedicated to demand generation techniques for B2B brands, so stay with us on this point.

The logic behind our assertion starts with a basic truth. In this downturn, like every downturn before it, 99.9% of companies are carefully scrutinizing their expenditures from personnel to hardware to software to services. This means that your product or service will be reevaluated whether you like it or not. Even if your product/service is essential and your performance is unquestionably valuable, there will be a reevaluation. And rather than waiting for that to happen, savvy marketers are reaching out to their customers and blanketing them with goodwill.

Put more plainly: if you really want new customers, focus on your current ones.

Working their way through their largest customers, these marketers start with a relationship health check and some form of proof of performance. To make these calls, it really helps if your company has executive sponsors already in place. Denise Broady, COO & CMO of Workforce Software, shared that every one of their customers has an executive sponsor who is assigned this role during the sales process. As such, it was easy for Broady to reach out to her specific customers at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and make sure each of them was okay both personally and professionally. These calls also create an opportunity to talk about their business and any new issues.

Some marketers use these calls to provide proof of performance. The idea here is to make it easy for the customer to defend your product or service to their CFO. For example, if you’re a software provider, then proof of performance might be demonstrable improvements in productivity and efficiency, and ideally a clear return on investment. Given that proving absolute ROI is not always easy, then the proof of performance requires surrogate benchmarks like usage hours across the organization.  Regardless of the metrics, the conversation needs to be initiated as it often reveals other potential cracks in the relationship, cracks that you can address to keep the business.

Given the economic challenges many companies are currently facing, it is more common than not that your customers will want to negotiate new terms if they haven’t already. And while these concessions may hurt your short-term margins, they can do wonders for generating long-term loyalty and goodwill. It is this goodwill that you can draft upon, turning an otherwise negative situation into something quite beneficial for both your customers and your business.

This approach plays out as follows: A customer requests a concession. You comply but with a request of your own. You’d like the client to provide you with a video testimonial. Nothing fancy. Just a brief response to a few questions recorded on Zoom, MS Teams, or even a mobile phone. Ideally, you’ve thought through a series of these customer videos overlaying a thematic. One CMO we spoke with focused on the heroics of their customer’s response to the pandemic. These videos are designed to make your customers look good and not just sell your product. In this way, other customers will want to participate in the series.

If your customers won’t do videos, you can always ask for written testimonials. It costs them nothing, and it will set your company up for future success because there’s nothing more powerful than a customer’s recommendation to secure new business. Here we can cite Yana Nigen, CMO of JobDiva: “Marketing became simple in the past 12-24 months as our highest source of lead traffic comes from client referrals.”

If you don’t have a customer success team in place, then now’s the time.

One unique approach to generating goodwill with customers is currently being deployed by Microsoft. Knowing how difficult it is to get high-quality video testimonials produced during the lockdown, Microsoft extended its access to post-production editing facilities to key partners. In this way, Microsoft partners could take the testimonial footage they captured via Teams and then have editing professionals enhance the footage with graphics and sound.  This is a win-win-win for Microsoft, its partners, and its partner’s customers.

We spoke at length with Chip Rodgers, CMO at Workspan, about the business value of strong customer references. “It’s everything,” explains Rodgers. “It’s so much more valuable and credible when those kinds of stories and messages and comments—and the positive reinforcing dynamic—comes from customers rather than just us blasting out the next message.” You can hear more tips from Rodgers about cultivating customer champions in our illuminating interview

Getting high-quality testimonials has always been important. We’re just saying that it is more important than ever as it is a clear indication of loyalty—customers that provide endorsements are far more likely to keep you on their contract than those that don’t. To get these endorsements, it really helps to have a dedicated group focused on customer success. If you don’t have a customer success team in place, then now’s the time. These people make sure your customers are taking advantage of all that your product or service has to offer.

To wrap up this section, let’s return to the drafting analogy. By focusing on your customers, by making sure they are truly delighted, you can count on them to pull your business forward. You can count on them to provide the testimonials that will persuade fence-sitters over to your side. You can count on them to contribute the referrals that will close faster because the usual objections have already been smoothed over. If you have any doubts about the power of this approach, be sure to see our B2B Brand Strategy Guide and the chapter dedicated to cultivating customer champions.

6.

6. Find Your Own Track

Thus far, we’ve focused on aspects of the marketing race that you’ve no doubt considered in the past. Now we’d like you to put on a different kind of helmet, one that takes you in your own unique direction. It’s about finding your own track, one that sets you apart from your competitors and helps your brand cut through. It’s about executing in a way that the medium and the message combine for maximum impact.

In the first chapter of this report, we suggested that you “Streamline Your Story.” Let’s assume for the moment that you’ve done just that. Now the challenge is to bring that story to life in a way that is unique. For Case Paper, the answer is through the use of humor.  Building upon their purpose-driven story statement, “On the Case,” every aspect of Case Paper marketing is infused with a light touch, showcasing not just that Case delivers on its promises but also that it does so with a smile.

One bold example of Case’s approach is a unique direct mail piece they created for customers to commemorate their 75th year in business. The piece is a showcase of printing and paper expertise, starting with a box that is in the form of a record player, complete with an album and a die-cut tonearm. The album is actually a photo album that tells the history of the company in a highly entertaining fashion while showcasing various papers and printing techniques. Under the album is a set of premiums, each with a printing pun emblazoned on the little boxes inside. As the medium and the message unite, the net effect is pure “wow.”

With the pandemic removing live events from marketer’s playbooks, several are finding unique ways to gather small groups of prospects online.  For example, one B2B marketer we spoke with has orchestrated “pizza-casts.” Using their field salespeople to create local lists of prospects and gather information like home addresses and the number of people in each household, they then have pizzas delivered to 10-12 confirmed attendees (with enough pizza for the whole house). These prospects then join the “pizza-cast” which includes a brief keynote speaker and lively discussion on an important topic. This marketer is rolling out pizza-casts across the country.

SAP has attracted attention for hosting virtual cocktail parties. Attendees are sent complete mixer kits with all the ingredients they will need, including the booze. At the appointed hour, a celebrated mixologist then walks attendees through the drink-making process. Once the drinks are made, a guided conversation ensues. This approach is good for both customer and prospect events but ideally should tie back to your brand story. As a side note, to help facilitate this type of program, many brands are turning to Sendoso, a company that has figured out how to cost-effectively gather all the ingredients and overcome alcohol shipping restrictions. You can learn more about Sendoso in our interview with their CMO.

There are several variations to this approach currently being deployed by B2B marketers. One is sending ingredient kits like Blue Apron and then featuring a celebrity chef in the virtual cooking class. Another is doing high-end wine tastings guided by an engaging sommelier. The formula is to give away something of value in exchange for some amount of messaging time. The higher the perceived value of the event, the more likely you can attract the harder to reach parts of your target audience.

Either way, the goal here is not just to get attention, the goal is to craft a program that brings the potential customer into your world and all the way to the finish line.

Now, let’s get beyond this formula into your own unique track. Doing so means thinking about these types of programs while adding layers so that they are not just nice moments in time but fully integrated marketing efforts. If you choose a celebrity chef, then our question is, Why that chef? What does he or she have to do with your unique brand story? Is there a place for them on your website?  Should you send all attendees a gift certificate for that chef’s book on Amazon or does that become the offer that extends the conversation? Either way, the goal here is not just to get attention, the goal is to craft a program that brings the potential customer into your world and all the way to the finish line.

If you’re wondering how to develop these kinds of ideas for your B2B enterprise, then you’re certainly more than welcome to contact me about how we’d approach your challenge. But before you do that, we actually encourage you to tap into your own talent pool and organize “innovation days.” That’s right, we’re recommending you start in-house. Why the heck would a B2B agency recommend an action against its own self-interest? Before we explain ourselves, let’s get back to the idea at hand.

Orchestrating “innovation days” serves many good purposes for you the marketer and your organization, especially right now. The idea is fairly simple. (See the pattern here? We’re big on keeping things simple.) You assemble cross-disciplined teams virtually and give them one specific challenge, like developing a new product or marketing initiative for a new vertical industry, and then you give them a few hours or a full-day to develop it. These ideas are presented to an executive team who promise to pursue any of the ideas deemed viable.

At the end of this innovative day, many good things will have happened. Employees that hadn’t worked together before suddenly gain insights into the other’s specific disciplines and challenges. New contacts are made. New friendships are started. Future collaborations will be that much easier. And in our increasingly remote virtual world, you helped bring people together.  This alone would be enough to justify the in-house first approach. There’s also the fabulous possibility that these teams will come up with extraordinary ideas.

ParkMobile has been doing this for years, but instead of just an “innovation day,” they give their employees an entire week. In his interview, CMO Jeff Perkins shares how their Innovation Weeks have successfully engaged employees and unlocked optimism.

As for Renegade’s seeming generosity of spirit, here’s the method behind our madness. First, we believe in what we preach. The more we give, the more we get. If your team nails it, then we’ve earned some goodwill points and you’ll think of us the next time you have a B2B demand generation challenge. Second, coming up with ideas is relatively easy, but sorting the good from the great and then making those come to life in just the right way is hard. Really hard. Yet, that’s where the magic happens. And that’s where Renegade truly excels.

We hope you’ve found this report on how to drive B2B demand generation in 2021 helpful. If so, feel free to share it with your peers. If not, you probably stopped reading this a long time ago.

7. Frequently Asked Questions about B2B Demand Generation

What is B2B demand generation?

B2B demand generation is a comprehensive, inbound marketing strategy that drives demand for your product or service. Think of it as Lead Gen 2.0; you’re not just throwing any leads into the pipeline, you’re filling it with highly qualified ones so that salespeople can close business more effectively. Demand gen starts with a number of coordinated actions and then moves them through a clearly defined communications funnel that helps determine the best messaging tactics for every stage of buying cycle—whether your building awareness to the problem you uniquely solve, or reaching out to provide a product demo or sales presentation.

What is the first step when devising a demand generation plan?

The first step in creating a demand generation plan is to conduct a brand health audit. You want to ensure that your brand story and subsequent messaging are A) simple, B) not tone-deaf, and C) purpose-driven. They should resonate with and inspire employees, customers, and prospects alike, so if your brand story is too complicated or doesn’t deliver on its promise, you’ll forever be your own worst enemy. If you find that you already have a clear value proposition, then, by all means, fire away! Let that guide your demand gen planning. If you don’t, however, it’s probably time to propose a deep-dive into purpose—otherwise known as a rebrand.

Are there different strategic approaches to B2B demand generation?

Yes, that’s the whole point of demand gen—it’s a surround-sound approach that incorporates content, offers, and, ideally, product development. This isn’t necessarily groundbreaking stuff when it comes to nurturing business. A good dog owner doesn’t just feed their pup and call it a day; they provide water, vet check-ups, and regular exercise, too. Engaging content should establish you as a trusted (and fun) thought leader and your special offers should showcase your general goodwill and unique touch. To fully deliver, employees will use acquired data to improve your current product or develop an entirely new revenue stream that addresses a more pressing challenge for your customers. Get that together, and voila! You’ve got a killer demand generation engine.

What are the key components of a demand generation campaign?

The three key components of a successful demand gen campaign are people, process, and technology, and they’re enhanced with a twist of creativity. Your campaign is nothing without Sales and Marketing alignment (see next Q&A) and a deep understanding of the target’s mindset, because it’s hard to attract quality leads if you aren’t even sure who they are or what they’re listening for. You also need to define the rules of engagement, namely, who’s creating what and when it’s being used in the funnel. Finally, the tech you use should allow you to track online behavior, with a scoring system to identify extreme interest or buying signals so that Marketing knows when to pass quality leads over to Sales. For a creative approach, figure out how to do what your competitors are doing, but do it better, using your streamlined brand story.

How important is aligning Sales and Marketing when executing a demand gen campaign?

In a word: essential. A demand generation campaign depends on alignment across Sales and Marketing functions in order to be successful because, no matter how highly-qualified a marketing-generated lead is, it’s meaningless if salespeople don’t pursue it. You wouldn’t buy an A/C unit in the summer and never use it; there’s no point in acquiring leads if there won’t be any substantial follow-up. Imagine Sales and Marketing worked together, trading insights with one another in order to evolve their strategy as the consumer world continues to evolve, growing business revenue as conversion rates swell. A well-oiled demand generation engine does exactly that, and to get started, both departments need to sit down and agree on target accounts, what qualifies as a lead, each stage of the nurture stream, and which action steps should be taken when.

What role does marketing automation play in demand generation?

Marketing automation in B2B demand generation is a useful tool that can save hours of lead qualification and help site visitors get to the right person or information more efficiently. It is, however, important to remember that it’s just one of the instruments in your toolbelt. There is such a thing as too much technology capturing too much data. As a rule of thumb, only take on as much tech as the people managing inputs and outputs can handle. If you insist on adding more to the stack, look to bots and other AI-based services that have been designed to run relatively self-sufficiently.

How can you measure a B2B demand generation campaign?

Measuring a demand gen campaign is all about lead quality over lead quantity. Ultimately, a worthy lead results in a sales presentation or inclusion in an RFP (request for proposal) process. The tricky part in B2B is that many sales can take 6-12 months to close, and they typically involve a large buying committee with a lengthy approval process. As such, it’s difficult when assessing “leads” to sort out their value immediately, but that’s where tech comes in—identifying whether the visitor in question is from a new company or already had a visit. MQLs (marketing-qualified leads) are another important measure—if SQLs (sales-qualified leads) are a tiny percentage of MQLs, then there is a problem with how Marketing is scoring its leads, or how Sales is. That is exactly why alignment between the two is so important.