Startup companies and early-stage companies always find themselves in precarious situations when it comes to marketing. They want to grow fast – hockey stick fast – but don’t have the contact database or lead flow to support this dramatic up-and-to-the-right growth.
This usually triggers the question, “what can we do to accelerate growth?”
This in turn engages the marketing experts to start talking about demand generation tactics and the expected results. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult for any marketing tactics to create “sales-ready leads” without a natural ramp-up of marketing qualified leads.
If you’re expecting marketing to go from zero to 60 in less than 30 days and swamp the sales team with legitimate sales opportunities, you might have to realign your thinking. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t solid ways to attack this common business situation.
Here’s how start-ups should be thinking about their demand generation activities and the corresponding expectations.
Assess Your Position In Your Market
I get it. You have the best solution since sliced bread and you want to tell everyone about it. Plus, you’re sure that when people find out about your solution, they’re going to stop everything they’re doing and buy it.
You might actually be right. But even if you’re right, I’ve rarely seen any start-up experience the situation described above. Even the best, most significant solutions take time to get traction.
This is why a legitimate assessment of your position in your marketing makes sense. By "assessment", I mean a look into your efforts as they stand today.
Think about your target personas, both the individual people and the companies they work for, in the following instances. Answer the questions below to get an honest idea of where you are right now.
Consider the following scale when answering the questions: "acutely aware" is worth 10 points, "somewhat aware" is worth 5 points, and not "aware" is worth 0 points.
- How aware is your target persona of the condition your solution solves?
- How aware is the target persona of your specific solution?
- How aware is the target persona of your company and its details?
If you don’t score 30, meaning your prospects are acutely aware of their challenge, your specific solution and your company and all the details, it's going to be very hard to use demand generation to drive hockey stick growth.
If you scored 10 or less, it's going to be nearly impossible to drive that growth.
If you’re in between 10 and 30, growth is possible but will be challenging. It might take longer and cost more than you originally expected. This is because you’ll have to educate your market over time to grow awareness of the issue, your solution, and your company.
Knowing where you are in this process is going to help you make better more informed decisions about how you execute demand generation tactics and what to expect from that investment.
Understand Your Prospect's Buyer Journey
Next, you must understand in an intimate way exactly how your prospects make purchase decisions regarding your solutions.
This is going to help you uncover how long a typical purchase cycle should take and exactly how your prospects feel as they move through the different stages.
How they feel is important because you need to design an experience that moves them from feeling anxious (naturally, many prospects start by feeling nervous) to feeling safe (which is a requirement for them to buy from you).
You’ll also want to start collecting the questions they have at each stage of the process. These questions are important because you’ll have to answer them if you ever want them to feel safe and buy from you.
The company that does this best will win the prospect's business. The company that wins will grow the fastest and lock up the most market.
I’d consider using the Cyclonic Buyer Journey framework to map out your prospect’s buyer journey. This gives you more detailed stages and will help you better architect the marketing and sales touches needed to move prospects along their buyer journey efficiently and effectively.
You might now be asking, "What does this have to do with demand generation?" The answer is everything.
When you start designing your demand generation campaigns you should take the stages of the buyer journey into consideration.
The campaign creative, the offer, the landing pages, and even the copy should all be different based on the stages of the buyer journey. The better you align your campaigns to the stages of the buyer journey, the faster your demand generation marketing will work and the better it will perform.
As you start to design the campaigns, you’ll realize you might be missing some needed assets to drive conversion.
For example, you might have an appropriate eBook for the awareness stage but do you have an offer for people who are in the evaluation, consideration or even rationalization stages? Most people don’t have the right offers for these stages, so they drive very few sales-ready leads.
I have a more specific example. If you’re a software company, the demo is often confused with an offer that spans the buyer's journey. That is incorrect. A demo is only valid for later stages in the buyer's journey.
But if you served up a pre-recorded video vignette that people could watch in an on-demand format, that type of offer might appeal to more people. If you served up a group demo at various times during the week, that might appeal to another group of people.
Both of these demo alternatives would likely appeal to people who want to see the software in action, but don’t want to or are not ready to engage with sales.
Another example of a middle-stage buyer journey offer is webinars. Do you have a couple of relevant webinars ready to go? Most companies don’t. To run a comprehensive demand generation strategy, having webinars would be important.
You’d be better off delaying your demand generation marketing launch until you have the right content assets for the right stage of your prospect’s buyer journey. This way, you’ll get better results, you’ll optimize your investment and you’ll get better data on what works and what doesn’t work.
Execute And Continuously Improve Execution
That data is going to be invaluable in helping you optimize the campaigns over time. This is something you should definitely plan on doing.
It’s very rare that anyone launches a demand generation campaign and it kills. It’s more likely that you’ll launch your demand generation campaign and it needs a number of iterations before it starts producing the results you expected.
If you’re planning on doing paid search and or paid social, this is even more important.
First, it takes a few weeks to a month for the algorithms that support both Google Ads and Facebook and Instagram ads to kick in and learn. You should plan on at least a month to let the data feed the machine. These algorithms are designed to help your ads perform. If they perform, you spend money and both companies make money. You have a shared set of goals here.
Shutting these down after just a few days or weeks because they are underperforming is a mistake.
Instead of a set-it-and-forget-it plan, install a regular rhythm of continuous improvement.
After the campaigns are up and running, then start testing out a variety of copy iterations, changing or swapping out competing offers and A/B testing campaign creative.
If you’re getting clicks but less-than-expected conversions, start iterating on the landing pages. Test headlines, shorten your forms, add testimonials, consider different page copy, and even test page design, flow or graphics.
There are a lot of variables to consider during this optimization stage. Try not to change too many elements at the same time. This means you’ll have to be patient as you work through all the potential tests and experiments.
Set Attainable Goals And Define Other KPIs
This might be one of the most important tips in this article. Setting goals and getting an agreement on performance expectations is critical. Make sure you’re realistic in setting your expectations and getting buy-in and agreement from other company leaders.
Proactively report on the performance of your campaigns and don’t be afraid to report less-than-expected results. Sometimes what doesn’t work dramatically informs what might work going forward.
The performance of these campaigns can shed interesting light on how people think about your industry, solutions and company.
If you circle back to the market assessment part of this article, you might have a market that is going to need much more education before it is ready to make a purchase. Demand generation campaigns can provide much-needed market insights.
Now you’re ready to plan, execute and iterate on-demand generation campaigns that will provide positive results for your start-up.
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