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Building a Strong Demand Generation Engine

In conversation with Deanna Shimota

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Deanna Shimota, CEO of Growth Mode Marketing. Deanna highlights the common mistake of organizations focusing solely on short-term lead generation and overlooking the need for long-term demand generation. She emphasizes the importance of focusing on the long game and building brand awareness.

Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

The three pillars of a demand generation engine are strategy, content, and distribution

Deanna Shimota
CEO of Growth Mode Marketing

Hey. Hi everyone. This is Ranmay here on your show E-Coffee with Experts. Today we have Deanna Shimota, CEO of Growth Mode Marketing with us. Welcome Deanna, to our show tonight.

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Great. Deanna, before we move any further and talk about lead generation, demand generation, B2B marketing and, I request you to introduce yourself, talk a bit about your journey in Growth Mode Marketing, and we’ll take it forward from there.

Yeah, so Growth Mode Marketing is a demand generation agency that helps B2B technology companies break through the clutter of crowded markets so that they can crush their revenue targets. And what that means is we work with a lot of organizations who are on a mission for high growth, and we help them build out those marketing foundations to build a long-term growth strategy through building a demand generation engine for them.

Growth mode marketing came to be, and we’re focused on B2B because that’s my background and my former business partner as well. We both came from the B2B space working on the corporate side, and we saw there was an opportunity to help other organizations figure out their growth path and focus on getting long-term results for their organizations.

Perfect. I just love the way you said, crush the targets, crush the revenue, targets, and stuff, great. And you mentioned, you have a demand gen agency, so, what are the most productive ways or best practices for demand gen in a B2B environment?

I think, when you think about demand gen, one of the things to understand is the difference between lead generation and demand generation. And a lot of marketers today and leaders of organizations look at them and think that those are interchangeable terms and that they mean the same thing.

And from my perspective, they’re very different strategies. So lead generation, when you take a look at that’s what companies for the past, 5, 10, 15, 20 years have historically been doing, creating marketing programs that are focused on capturing the interest that is currently in the market.

And the reality is, at any given time, only 5% of companies are likely in the market to buy. When there are economic issues and companies are tightening their budgets, that number likely goes down to only 1%. That means you’re not doing a lot of marketing to make an impact with the other 95 to 99% of the market that’s not currently in the market to buy. So with lead generation, think about the cold outreach programs that you’re doing, putting forms in front of content. When someone fills it out, you have a sales development rep reaching out, trying new engage with that prospect. You’re essentially asking a prospect for a meeting and you’re trying to pull them into your sales process.

Demand generation. On the flip side is about focusing your marketing programs, not just on the 5% that are currently in the market, but also 95% of the companies that are not looking to buy right now. And so your marketing programs are focused on building brand awareness and trust in the market to create that demand and ultimately, capture it.

And so it’s not an overnight silver bullet, we’re gonna build it and the leads are gonna just start pouring in. But over time, as you build trust with the way buyers buy today in the B2B space, they start to raise their hand when they are in the market to buy, and they reach out to you. And so on the flip side, instead of you asking them for a meeting and trying to pull them into your sales process, prospects are asking you for a meeting and they’re inviting you into their buying process.

Absolutely. It’s like a long game and you know the difference between let’s say a branding campaign versus a conversion campaign, it has its difference, a branding campaign goes, through and has to walk through the brand, the entire life cycle.

It never really stops and conversion campaigns can kick in as and when needed. So yeah, have a very well-detailed out and talking about demand gen and lead gen, like you differentiated them out. What do you feel are those common mistakes that are being committed by, let’s say, agencies or marketers or, even B2B businesses while, creating those campaigns for those B2B environments?

The biggest mistake that I see organizations make is focusing only on the short game, and that is like putting all your eggs in the basket of lead generation. I think it’s not uncommon for organizations when they have high growth initiatives to be like, okay, we need leads, we need them now, let’s focus on polling in as many as we can.

And the mistake there is when you overlook the long game, which is where demand generation comes in, is not focusing on the fact that the majority of the market isn’t in the market to buy, but those prospects are really important to your future growth. And if you look at the way B2B buyers are making purchase decisions today and engaging with companies, It points to lead generation just being much less impactful than it used to be.

We’re moving towards the reality that B2B buyers are completing up to 80% of their purchase decision process through digital avenues before they choose to engage with a sales rep. 72% of B2B buyers would prefer to have zero interactions with the sales rep during the purchase process, and it takes a crazy amount of touchers for a buyer to even engage with the sales rep anymore. So if you take a step back and process that information off, “hey”, the majority of buyers would prefer to have zero interaction with that sales rep, and they’re making a lot of that decision, the vast majority of it before they raise their hand, that means you’ve had to have built brand awareness and trust with them.

Before they engage with you, or you are not gonna make the shortlist and you’re not gonna be part of that decision process. And that makes it really hard then when you’re doing lead generation programs and you haven’t done the work to build that awareness and trust with those individuals to capture those leads.

And so the leads for a lot of times from peer lead generation programs that are being pulled in, if the focus is quantity. The quality tends to not be there. So for example you have a research report that you’ve invested in, that you feel is a really good sales tool for you. You use it for digital advertising, for example, and you put forms in front of it hoping to capture people, and then you follow up with that.

There are a couple of flaws there. One is the assumption that just because they were interested in the content means, they’re in a buying stage. Most of them aren’t. So now your salespeople are on a wild goose chase and they’re having really slow sales cycles. The leads are not closing at a good rate.

It’s a lot of wasted time and effort and money on organizations when that happens. The other issue with doing something like gating that content is there are probably more people that get to that form and bounce than actually fill out the form because they’re so trained to think if I provide my information, I’m gonna get bombarded with emails, I’m gonna get a cold call.

It’s not worth it to me. And so now as marketers, we’ve just put an obstacle in front of accessing the content that we want that person to read, or watch, or listen to. That will help convince them, build trust with them, and you know that they wanna work with us.

It totally defeats the purpose.

Absolutely. And then, with B2B buying decisions in B2B environment, the entire buying journey is so long. So in that case, if you’re starting really down the line in terms of, at the bottom level, it is so much difficult for you to stay relevant during the entire process for getting, making the top three or top two, whatever.

So that case, if you are creating a brand presence, during the entire journey. It creates an image for your brand that, it exists sort of thing. And, talking about Deanna, talking about, strong brand presence and how crucial it is for B2B organizations to stay relevant and, make an image for themselves.

What are some of the key branding strategies that you would recommend for establishing credibility and differentiation in such a competitive market?

That’s a great question. So when I think about demand generation and how an organization really builds that brand awareness and trust, what I always recommend to our clients at Growth Mode Marketing is to build your digital footprint out to become your best sales rep.

And that doesn’t mean it replaces your sales rep, but if that buyer is making up to 80% of their decision process before they’re willing to engage with a sales rep. Then your marketing content and your digital footprint have to be robust and really good to help them build that brand awareness and trust and make that decision so your company gets shortlisted.

So when building out a Demand Generation engine, the way that we look at it is there are three pillars. There’s strategy, there’s content and there’s distribution. So under the strategy bucket, I highly recommend defining an ideal customer profile. And these should be the companies that are best-fit companies.

And I think a lot of organizations can be hesitant because they look at their total addressable market and they’re like we can sell to anybody that needs. HR technology in their organization, for example. And the problem with going with that approach is if you’re in a really crowded market, you start to blend in with the sea of sameness and you’re not standing out in the crowd, your message is getting lost.

And from a buyer perspective, if you think about it, if I have 20 different vendors reaching out to me offering the same service, it gets overwhelming. I start to price shop, who’s the lowest. It feels like they all offer basically the same features and functionality, but if you have an ideal customer profile, where you’re niching down within that market, and then you take the next step, which we recommend creating a unique point of view story framework, which really then hyper focuses that message on that ideal customer profile.

Imagine now if the 20 different vendors that were marketing to me, one of them was speaking specifically to my industry, my situation, like they really resonated with me and they sounded different. Let’s say I’m an HR manager or purchaser at a manufacturing company and one of the vendors is talking about how they understand managing employees with shift differentials and high turnover and just some of the things that are very specific to a manufacturing company.

That’s gonna resonate with me more than the 19 others, that offer the same services, quite frankly, but are talking about it in broader senses because they’re trying to appeal to everybody they could possibly sell to. So you’ve got the ideal customer profile, the unique point of view, and then that third piece of the strategy is building out a content marketing and demand generation plan.

And that’s really the blueprint of how we’re going to build demand in the market and capture it. That second pillar content is the fuel of any demand generation engine. People when they are going out digitally and looking up information, whether they’re at the top of the funnel, looking for just educational materials on problems that they’re having and how to solve it or their bottom of the funnel like you want really good, really rich content out there that is very targeted to that ideal customer profile.

That positions your unique point of view and tells that story over and over, and comes in all kinds of different formats so that whether I am someone who likes to go deep and read a 30-page research report, or somebody that needs to look at it in small bite size and prefers to see video snippets on social media, you’ve got that covered.

That third pillar then becomes the distribution, and we call it distribution, but really if you think about it, it’s how you get that content out in front of your ideal customer profile in all of the places where they go to seek information. And so it’s the execution of your programs and your campaigns, and I think there are three avenues to look at from a distribution standpoint.

The first, and the obvious one is yours. Your company website, you’ve gotta have enough content on there that if someone is coming in there, it answers the questions that they have. It builds credibility. You have content loops built into there, so it’s like an infinite loop of content that they can continue to go deeper and dig into on the topics that they’re interested in. It’s your digital storefront.

That second avenue to look at is what I call managed channels. And these are marketing channels where you can control what is put out and when sometimes people call them owned channels, sometimes they’re rented channels. But think about the things like social media platforms, doing podcasts and webinar series, doing blog articles, even you know, your email campaigns, your digital advertising, all of those things you get to decide, this is what we’re putting out there, this is when we’re putting it out there. And the whole point of the managed channels is to build an audience that follows your company.

That is interested in continually consuming the content that you’re putting out there. And then that third avenue is third-party channels. And if you don’t have any brand awareness, you might actually wanna start with the third-party channels after your website, because what you’re doing with that is tapping into other existing relevant audiences to expand that message.

So think about it, if you’re, in a specific industry that you’re targeting, what are the media outlets? Who are the industry influencers? Where are the advertising opportunities? A lot of it is. Pay-to-play type of situations, but there are also PR opportunities and content trades and things that you can do in that realm as well.

And collectively, if you take, your website, your managed channels, and your third-party channels, you can see how you start to build out a really big digital footprint.

Absolutely. I love the point about personalization. While everyone is talking about the same functionality, features the same kind of product, their use cases, if you can actually pinpoint and resonate the exact pain points that the client or the prospect is going through, then probably have higher chances of further having a seat at the table let’s say, final stages of the buying process. And then talking about marketing and sales which plays a crucial role if they play, and if they’re not operating in silos and, hand in hand and for a successful B2B growth organization. So how do you facilitate collaboration and alignment between marketing and sales teams? What are the key strategies that you would generally want to focus upon to have that handshake between both these teams?

I think it is so important for marketing and sales to be aligned on what the strategies are and whose role is what.

Because if marketing decides we’re doing a demand generation strategy, which is a long-term play, and sales are behind on their numbers inevitably. What happens as sales panics is they come to marketing and they’re like, help, we need leads. We need them now. And if you tell them “I’m sorry, we’re focused on demand generation and we’re building out the engine and in six to 12 months, we feel like it’s gonna start to deliver.” They’re not gonna be okay with that answer, right? They need help now. And I feel like a lot of times their stress level and their requirements to help move the business forward really influence marketing.

And that’s where a lot of marketing organizations end up doing what I would call random acts of marketing. Meaning they’re being very reactive. With the best of intentions, of course, but they drop everything. They don’t worry about the long-term strategy and they start to do programs to try to generate leads.

The problem is, it becomes a volume game. Quantity starts to matter more than quality, and they may be bringing more leads to sales, but their leads that have long sales cycles, poor close rates, and just. Aren’t people that are interested in buying 90 to 99% of the time? And so I think, when you’re looking at the sales and marketing alignment, it is important to like to define the roles of okay sales, you are working on the in-market opportunities and marketing is working on building the brand awareness and trust for the opportunities that are not in the market yet.

While also putting some programs in place to help capture the in-market demand now. And so there’s an understanding that, hey, as marketing, we’re here to support you. We care about the long-term growth of the company. We’re just as invested in the revenue numbers as your sales organization is, and here’s how we’re gonna do it.

By the way, the leads that we do pass to you, we’re gonna put a much higher standard on it. They’ve got to demonstrate in-market intent, like actual buying intent for us to pass them. We’re not just gonna pass a high quantity over. So I think there are ways to balance it, and the reality is like when you decide to move from a, primarily lead generation strategy to a demand generation strategy, you probably can’t just turn off lead generation and start the generation and wait the six to nine months for it to kick in and start to deliver.

So you’ve gotta be willing to balance out and have a period where you may be running. Both efforts are simultaneously, but as the demand generation strategy, you give it time, you have the patience to let it work, the lead generation will become less necessary and the tactics will start to switch from pure lead generation to more demand capture, which is okay, we’re finding the high intent buyers now, and those are who we’re focusing on versus the quantity of leads that we’re bringing in.

Absolutely. And then the problem arises where actually the marketing team is also running after numbers. How many SQL and all those numbers, MQL, and all those leads coming through?

Once they start running, after numbers like salespeople do, that is where the problem arises and that is where the quality of leads takes a backseat is just numbers flowing in, out of flowing, out of marketing and getting into sales, and then sales coming back in a circle saying these are not qualified leads and whatever.

Yeah. And very nicely mentioned you have to give those six, nine months, or one-year time span, or 18 months time span, depending on your industry, on your niche, so that the industry gets aware of your brand and slowly, the overall brand positioning sort of kicks in.

Yep. Absolutely. And once, once it starts to work, you’re gonna have no problem convincing the sales team to go along with it because you’re sending better quality leads. And quite frankly, five high-quality leads are worth so much more than 500 low-quality leads because now your sales team is spending time on the right activities, the right leads.

It’s no longer a volume game, it’s a quality game, and they’re finding opportunities that are ready to buy. And so over time, you have shorter sales cycles. Higher close rates overall, and lower customer acquisition costs. And that’s how it creates a catalyst for growth. Because the longer you’re doing this program, it’s like a snowball effect.

You get the momentum, more people know about you, and more people are coming into the market as they know about you. It starts to skyrocket your growth.

Yeah. And it also keeps the sales team motivated because they’re speaking to, the right people in the organization who are interested in talking about your product, your service.

And that is what true enter enterprise B2B sales is all about. Versus, picking up the phone, trying to get a meeting, the other person’s not giving you a meeting, you’re chasing them, and all that game, it kind of demotivates you and at the end of the day as well.

Yeah. But as business owners like you mentioned, they should have the vision to spend that amount of time, and give that time to both sales and marketing folks, while the daily run rate is being maintained, they’re not pressurizing them for those, big-ticket sales till the time this brand positioning is not there.

Right?

Yep. Totally. Because I think it’s so common, like to create your dream wishlist of the accounts you want, right? And historically it was like, okay, we’re gonna market the heck out of them. We’re going to convince this company to move. If you’re going after, let’s say Apple, everybody puts Apple on their list if they’re selling enterprise software, right?

Okay, but if they’re not in the market to buy, you’re not gonna convince them to go make this, multi-million dollar purchase of your technology if they’re not already in the market. So there’s a flaw to the way that we’ve done sales in the past if that is only who we’re chasing. And I’m not saying don’t make those wishlists and don’t, go after the big fish and try to get them, but there’s gotta be a balance of, okay.

Who’s actually in the market? And when you’re looking at your ideal customer profile, it is who are the companies that you’re most likely to close. And if you’re looking at an ABM campaign, instead of making a list of companies that are just like my wishlist, it’s gotta be a list of companies that have a higher likelihood of actually closing.

Because, they may not have the Apple name, but if they close, that’s revenue versus chasing after that pipe dream.

Completely agree. This is what I say to my team, for us, the big fishes are the ones, who close in a stipulated time period in our sales cycle, and on top of that give us that kind of revenue for which we were always striving for to get from X, Y, Z company.

And they’re not in the market to purchase, they’re just evaluating. That evaluation might take 18 to 24 months because these are like, big, huge corporates and they start, and they start showing interest in the market when they’re still the contract with their existing vendor, which is going to expand in another, let’s say, 18 months time.

Either you have that kind of, time period or bandwidth for your entire sales cycle to run through, or you, like you mentioned, case the fishes which might not be big for the other ones, but big for you if they close soon with low acquisition cost, that kind of value, the stickiness is there, the stick around, and then after three months, six months, let’s just stick around for two years, three years, five years, whatever. They become legacy clients, then you get the. recurring revenue, right? So you have to look at the right job business model and then decide the big fishes out there that you want to target versus just going by what the market is saying.

All the big brands you all know, we all use the products. So you know, we have to tap map apple, but that’s not gonna happen overnight. While we have to pay the salaries. We have to run the machine, yeah? Great. Deanna before I let you go I would like to hear from you in terms of what is your take on, AI, and chat GPT, it has kicked us really hard, especially as marketers, so just wanted to understand while exciting times are ahead but what is your take on it?

Where are we headed?

I’m still forming my opinion on it. My knee-jerk reaction was AI isn’t going to replace some of the marketing work. You can’t have a machine write good content. I think as more AI comes out and gets. Better. The reality is it is going to if it’s not already become a part of the marketing mix, whether it’s chat G P T or some other tool that’s out there, it’s amazing what can be done.

And, I’m not of the mindset. That, oh, I don’t need a copywriter on my team anymore because we’ve got Chat GPT. But looking at ways as an organization to more efficiently deliver services to clients. So that we can keep costs.

And what I mean there is you can take AI technology, for example, for graphic design purposes, and if the graphic designer or the art director has a vision of what the imagery could be, for example, you can go into AI and give all the details of the imagery and it will come up with all kinds of different ways to represent that in different.

Graphical styles to apply to it, which I think is helpful. If you’re that art director, to be able to look at the options and create mood boards for clients and go and say, look, here are the different types of styles we could use with this. Here’s why I’m thinking about it. Here’s how we do it.

And finding, Okay. That was a task that we could streamline and present things and then go back and create their original artwork for it once we narrow it down and know what it is, so I think it can save a lot of time and create efficiencies when you’re doing those types of things.

But I don’t think by any means it’s to a point where it replaces anybody’s job,

Yeah, even I’ve felt this, like cannot be the final product. We made machines, right? So we made robots. It never replaced us because the emotional question is not there. Even in the content, if you want to write emails for that matter, if you want to put across something, across the table, let’s say even to your employees, to your bosses, it just does not portray exactly the emotions.

Yeah, it’s English comps and, grammatically correct stuff out there, but exactly what you want to portray it is just not there yet. While they’re claiming, I read a, read an article yesterday, they’re claiming that they are there, but still way off as of now. For sure.

I mean if you take chat GPT as an example, it’s a machine. The data out is only as good as the data in, and so what it’s doing is regurgitating all these thoughts and I think there’s a lot of implications to think through as marketers around copyright, around accuracy.

It’s taking all the language in the database. And it’s mixing it up and it’s not always coming back with accurate stuff and it’s not coming back with unique and creative ideas. It’s coming back with everything that already exists. Because it’s using the world wide web as this database.

So somebody’s already said it and it’s if that’s what we rely on, there’s not gonna be an original thought left in the bunch.

I mean the internet put across the message the way someone would have at some point in time earlier. So that’s where it is. Let’s see. But yeah, exciting times. I can’t avoid it. Need to put it in our armory to fight the battle ahead for sure. Great. Deanna, I loved having this show with you.

Thank you so much for taking out time for the podcast and appreciate it. And before we wrap this up, I would like to let our audiences know, how do they reach out to you if there is a need.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to create a catalyst for growth through demand generation, I would say check out Growth Mode Marketing’s podcast.

It’s called the Demand Gen Fix, and you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube, basically wherever you get your podcasts, you can also follow me, Deanna Shimota on LinkedIn. I regularly post insights and best practices on demand generation. And then of course, if you’re interested in talking to Growth Mode marketing or even learning more about Demand Generation, you can check out our website, which is growthmodemarketing.com.

Perfect. Then thank you so much, Deanna, really appreciate you taking out time for this.

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Thank you.

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