If you’ve had your finger on the pulse of sales and marketing for the last few years, and this year in particular, you’ll have noticed that talk of lead generation has gone quiet.
And rightly so.
Elsewhere, demand generation and content marketing are crossing over like never before. So is lead generation dead and buried? And what does the new world order look like?
A word of warning though: we’re going to get real about lead generation for a second. Let's do it.
Let’s get real
Okay, time to put cards on the table now. Can you honestly predict leads? And, when one does come whistling through the door, when was the last time they were bang-on ready to buy?
The truthful answer is no, and almost never.
Meaningful ‘leads’ are hard to come by. They’re almost never ready to buy, and you can’t just turn the tap on and have a flow of them. You have to create the demand in order for that to happen. Sure, if a lead comes through your website, then they’re arguably further down your sales funnel and maybe ready for a conversation.
But the problem is that leads that arrive in that manner are infinitely harder to scale and predict. Further, when you conduct outbound lead generation they’re often not ready to buy.
Traditional lead generation methods such as gating content serve only to provide you with contact details, not necessarily a qualified lead ready to buy. Even by conducting mass outreach you’re unlikely to find deal-ready leads purely due to the lack of relationship building.
In selling sophisticated services, we need to be building long-lasting relationships that serve both parties well. Lead generation lacks that, so will never be as effective.
2023 was hard to predict. From economic to social factors, no one ever really knew which way the market was going. Which meant that leads were even harder to come by, and without qualifying them through relationship building, were even harder to close.
But I guess this is all a moot point if we don’t first outline the traditional definition of a lead:
“Leads are potential customers who share their contact information to learn more about your products of services”
By that definition, how can a lead ever be ready to buy?
When was the last time someone saw an email land in their inbox offering a sale, and had literally just finished writing a brief for their required project? It’s such a remote possibility.
Now, if you’ve read this far, you’ll have guessed we favour a different approach. Let’s get into it.
Demand over leads
Before a genuine prospect arrives, they have to have had their interest piqued. That’s where demand generation comes in.
You have to solve demand first before leads even exist.
We’ll get onto the how of demand generation in a moment, but first it’s critical to understand why demand generation props up your sales engine and pipeline in the first place.
You can’t just turn on a tap of leads for your pipeline. They have to come from somewhere. Even if your outreach is perfect, how many of the respondents had heard of you before? Were they problem aware? Solution aware? I doubt it.
By building a relationship in advance of even thinking about the sale, you can validate concerns and add genuine value.
For your sales engine to function properly, your prospects need to be aware of who you are and what you do. This means that they’re already problem aware ahead of time, so half the battle is already won.
You can’t do this without generating demand first. But how?
A demanding task
Demand generation is actually relatively straightforward…in theory. It’s all about authority and awareness, tied together by successful outreach and underpinned by consistency.
It involves making your audience aware of a particular problem, establishing authority on the subject, using content and resources to add value, and then creating scalability and sustainability.
The last two parts come naturally once you’ve you nailed the fundamentals, but they’re still vital cogs in the machine.
Make prospects aware of the problem
First thing’s first. You can’t create demand if no one knows what problem you’re solving – or what problem they’re having. Some members of your audience won’t even recognise that they need your solution until they’ve been shown.
No one bought something that they didn’t want, or didn’t know that they needed (okay, maybe some of us have – but not in this context).
By highlighting the problem in great detail creates the interest in your product or service, and solves demand before focusing on leads. If a lead comes through the door but isn’t probem aware, then you’ve still got a lot of work to do.
If they come to you and they know what they’re problem is, you can educate them on the various solutions you offer.
You can do this through varying forms of content, which ties in nicely with increasing brand authority. The two go hand in hand in education your audience, and arguably are the most important facets of demand generation.
Increase brand authority
Demand generation rests on you owning your space and asserting your authority in your industry.
If your audience are problem aware now, your next challenge is to convince them that you’re the go-to resource on your chosen speciality. Whether that’s building websites, selling consultancy services, or creating prompts for AI platforms, it’s your job to convince your audience that you know your stuff.
Ultimately, you’re trying to achieve buy-ability and sell the thinking. Your content is your golden opportunity to do both of those things.
From case studies to whitepapers, and podcasts to carousels, wherever you post your content – you’d better make it count because it’s your chance to educate, offer value, and guide your audience further down the funnel.
The key here is in the consistency and cadence. No one is saying you have to be posting content five times a day every day, but you should be publishing content on your chosen channel or platform at a cadence that suits you and creates consistency.
For example, that might be twice a week, every week. What you should avoid is publishing content sporadically. So, don’t publish five times in one week and then once the following week.
Your audience will come to expect your content, so publish at a rate that suits you and is easy to maintain.
Once you’ve started to pump content out at scale, or at whichever form of cadence works for you, you can start to layer in conversations.
Whether you choose email or LinkedIn, you should be starting to strike up conversations with your prospects. LinkedIn is a good place to start, as you can organically start conversations there or conduct outreach at scale without losing the personal touch.
It’s when your content and conversations work together that the magic happens. Often, you’ll start talking to someone in your network who may have seen your content – which makes them either problem aware, solution aware, or both.
That then gives you the perfect platform to get a foot in the door and explore opportunities – but remember, don’t sell.
Ah, our trademark. We come back to it time after time and it never seems to get old to us. And for good reason. It’s a foundation that has served so many so well, and it’s no different here.
In your content – don’t sell. In your outreach – don’t sell. In your case studies – don’t sell. It applies at all stages, until the very last moment when the deal is about to close.
If the prospect is still there at the close, take that as a sign – don’t sell works. If they’re not, then, well, it’s not a fair fight but at least you know you did all you could without being the pushy car salesman.
Demand some demand
So, let’s get real one more time. Your competitors are already owning your space. They’re already out to market with content, authority, awareness, and demand generation in general. So what are you going to do about it?
It’s time to generate some demand as part of your sales strategy. Grab it by the scruff of the neck and get your sales engine pumping properly with demand generation propping it up.
Kick things off by offering genuine value – be that through LinkedIn, email newsletters, conversations, or your chosen platform. Create content that actually educates, solves problems, and keeps prospects aware of you.
Then, layer in your outreach. LinkedIn is a great place to start conversations at scale whilst still maintaining that personal touch. When you’re ready, scale to email and start even more conversations.
And remember – don’t sell. Ever. All you need is a conversation in order for you to show value.
Find scalability and sustainability. Find authority. Find awareness. Find the demand – and hold on to it. We will be, will you?