Three Demand Gen Predictions for 2017

Three Demand Gen Predictions for 2017

Originally published on Linkedin

  1. Demand gen hits a glass ceiling
  2. Rise of the PQL
  3. Sales automation > marketing automation

Eighteen months ago I worked with a MarTech CEO who was building out his staff. He lamented that the best marketers he interviewed had amazing knowledge of the demand gen mechanisms, but they lacked the knowledge of product to really manage the complete view of marketing.

The demand gen arms race resulted in a glut of marketing mechanics, smart people who know how to use Facebook’s filters and manage millions of keywords in AdWords, but have never had an honest conversation about positioning or core product.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself: when was the last time a demand gen professional asked to even demo your product in an interview?

This blindspot is especially painful because demand gen is actually fairly easy to learn: any marketer who isn’t afraid of numbers can pick up the basic concepts. But product marketing, real effective product marketing, requires a certain set of tribal knowledge that you won’t easily pick up in a “Lead gen for dummies” book.

My predictions are generally early by a year, so I sat on this one and watched. What I saw in 2016 was the beginning of a backlash: smart talented Demand Gen folks hit a glass ceiling of their own ignorance.

I expect this trend will continue to play out in 2017: companies who hire head of marketing from the Demand Gen side will suffer unless they quickly compensate for the lack of knowledge with complementary hires. And many savvy demand gen folks will take a horizontal job change to broaden their knowledge of marketing.

You may not find the first trend relevant until you understand the second trend.

2017 will be the year of PQL: product qualified leads.

I still remember my first AdWords campaign. In a matter of days I was able to double the leads from the same budget, simply by understanding the mechanisms.

And the last decade has rewarded marketers who focused on these mechanisms. Every new channel has offered a potential window to purchase attention at a steep discount: the early adopters of Twitter, the ads on Facebook, the one-click installs from ads.

Throughout this period, content marketing was a silver bullet: you could simply write 300 words about a keyword and presto! you had leads.

Really, it actually was that easy! sometimes.

Eventually you had too many green leads, of course, but you could nurture them with a drip campaign until they raised their hand, and then it was a quick call from a sales rep to get them into the active pipeline. An agreed definition of what makes a lead marketing qualified, and the sales reps were content.

This does not work today.

Today content marketing is a sophisticated arms race. Prospects who used to consume every free PDF now value their time and attention. Buyers have learned to filter out unwanted emails, so they invite salespeople in to deliver a live performance of the content marketing, and then ignore the next 50 follow up emails.

I’ve felt this firsthand. When I launched my first software product, I followed the demand gen playbook, creating whitepapers and encouraging downloads. Then I called the leads and heard dead silence.

You don’t know how it feels to have sales and marketing misaligned until you are both the sales and marketing team.

To win this race, you have to use a stronger weapon. That weapon is product.

Product thinking can mean making your core product sticky and viral: this works well for the B2C growth hack types.

Product thinking can also mean approaching your campaigns like products. It means developing your podcast as a real product on its own. It means publishing the definitive book on your paradigm (hint: if the word “definitive” is in the title its probably not definitive.) It means building your analog to the Hubspot Website Grader, which generates 30,000 leads per month.

Eighteen months ago I started a weekly newsletter as a product, and it generates more than one click per email sent. I tried cold calling recipients and found people actually recognized my name. Thats a good product.

Sales reps don’t want to call leads who have downloaded a garbage whitepaper. This isn’t laziness: its the result of an economy making it harder to sell and easier to buy.

Give your sales reps product-qualified leads, and they will magically align with marketing, because now they can step into a trusted advisor role on the first call.

The third trend is a focus on sales automation.

We’ve started to see this trend in 2016, with ABM effectively remixing a classic sales tactic.

2017 is the year we have an honest conversation about the purpose of marketing.

Peter Drucker said “the purpose of marketing is to make selling unnecessary.”

Drucker never took $50M in VC funding.

For funded startups, in 2017, the purpose of marketing is to make selling scalable.

An effective drip nurture campaign doesn’t generate leads: it captures the knowledge of your best sales and product people into an easily digestible email.

An effective lead scoring model doesn’t predict your best leads: it enhances the efficiency of your sales team by suggesting the most promising leads and the most promising approach to engage them.

An effective personalization program doesn’t make your prospects feel warm and fuzzy: it encodes the knowledge of your salespeople into your website so the right prospects engage.

Lets stop talking about demand gen as a marketing driven program: most of it is essentially enabling the sales team and their funnel.

Marketing can have demand gen back when the product is no longer a moving target.