Automating B2B Demand Generation: A Comprehensive Guide
In today's wildly competitive market, B2B companies need to rethink their marketing efforts and streamline their processes for generating demand.
Although 2021-2022 saw a dramatic rebound in digital demand gen, the forecast heading further into 2023 isn’t as bright. Up to a third of major advertisers are cutting marketing budgets in anticipation of another recession, despite an increasing demand for B2B software, goods, and services online, and a massive shift away from legacy B2B systems.
How do B2B companies plan to meet the increasing demand with tightened marketing budgets? Experts suggest that demand generation will focus rather on “buyer-driven” content experiences, replacing the traditional, advertising-led, campaign-based approach. As potential buyers spend more and more time online researching solutions, B2B companies can create tailored, buyer-led content pathways to solution discovery. But how to make the transition from marketing-driven to buyer-driven?
That’s a fairly big question and we won’t break down the full journey in this article. But arguably the first and most important pillar of achieving buyer-led demand generation is “automating” demand generation.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what exactly that means, why demand automation is essential, best practices for implementing demand gen automation, the top tools available, and strategies to measure your success.
What is Demand Generation?
Before we dive into the specifics of automating demand generation, it's important to understand what demand generation is in the first place. In simple terms, demand generation is the process of creating interest in and awareness of your product or service with the goal of turning that interest into a purchase.
Although many sources differentiate between demand generation and lead generation, for the purposes of automation, it’s useful to consider the two linked as inseparable parts of a greater objective: namely, creating “demand” for products and services. Whether demand is generated at the top of the funnel, the middle, or at the bottom, it’s all considered relevant from an automation point of view.
Taking it a step further, B2B demand generation involves a variety of marketing tactics like email marketing, social media, content marketing, and advertising. The content of those tactics will typically focus on longer-term objectives, results, and benefits, and will target a range of personas within a single business or department.
As implied earlier, the goal of demand generation is to create leads who will eventually become customers, and – ideally – to turn that into a repeatable, scaleable cycle. It’s precisely because of the market->lead->customer cycle and the systematic aims of demand generation that automation becomes critical in the process.
Why Automation is Essential for B2B Demand Generation
While demand generation is an essential part of any successful B2B marketing strategy, it can also be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. This is where automating demand generation comes in.
Automating demand generation involves using technology to streamline and automate various aspects of the demand generation process. This can include lead scoring, lead nurturing, email marketing, campaign automation, handovers, and more – the list of requirements and everyday “to-dos” in a comprehensive demand generation strategy are countless.
Which brings us to the core benefits of automation that make it essential for demand gen:
Increased Efficiency and Productivity
Automation enables marketers to manage complex tasks and multiple channels with ease. By automating routine tasks and steps within the demand gen process, teams can focus on strategic initiatives, performance analysis, content creation, and other higher-value activities than the actual implementation of demand generation. We’ll return to this in greater detail.
Personalized and Targeted Marketing
Automation tools allow for better segmentation and targeting of prospects. By leveraging the data provided by demand gen platforms, and the behavior of their website traffic and social media followers, marketers can create personalized content and campaigns that resonate with their target audiences, driving higher engagement and conversions.
Improved Lead Scoring and Nurturing
Automating lead scoring and nurturing processes enables businesses to identify high-quality leads and prioritize follow-up efforts. This ensures that sales teams are engaging with the most promising prospects, increasing the likelihood of conversion and boosting revenue.
Total Funnel Visibility
Typically, demand generation is spread across marketing and sales channels, with no centralized visibility to track performance, campaign results, or even just “status” of things on a day-to-day basis. Implementing automation into a demand gen funnel has the added benefit of giving high-level visibility to demand generation initiatives, without requiring teams to provide results and status updates manually.
Sounds good, right?
Steps to Successfully Implement Automated Demand Generation
Now that we've established the benefits of automating demand generation, let's dive into how you can successfully implement it in your B2B marketing and sales strategy.
Step 1: Start with a plan
Before you start automating your demand generation processes, it's important to have a clear plan in place. This should include your goals (make them measurable), target audience (be very specific), and the demand gen processes you plan to automate – for example, lead nurture, or cold outreach, or social media posting.
Make sure to be process- and outcome-specific when defining your demand generation goals. For example, if working on lead generation, an obvious focus metric would be increasing lead volume. But going back to the demand gen cycle (...to create leads who will eventually become customers) improving lead quality and boosting conversion rates are two additional goals worth measuring against.
Whatever you decide, be specific about it. With clear objectives, you can better measure the success of your automation efforts and make informed decisions about future strategies.
Step 2: Choose the right tools
There are a multitude of tools available for automating demand generation, among them marketing automation platforms, lead sourcing tools, CRM systems, page builders, on-page conversion tools, just to name a few.
Our recommendation: choose only the tools that are best suited to your specific needs and goals.
Many platforms offer all-in-one capabilities to cover the entire spectrum of demand generation use cases. Although this may be the right choice for some B2B businesses, it may be completely overkill and distracting for others. Bottom line: do your research, be specific about the problems you are trying to solve, and only then start to evaluate software vendors who meet your criteria.
One final, key consideration with regard to automation tools: you’ll need integrations to work seamlessly between your marketing automation platform, CRM, and other essential business tools. Integrations are the key to automating the inter-system and inter-team workflows that will govern demand generation. They will enable you to collect and analyze data from various sources, improve your targeting, personalization, gain greater visibility and overall marketing effectiveness.
Step 3: Create valuable content
Automated demand generation is only as effective as the content it promotes. Make sure you're creating valuable, engaging content that resonates with your target audience(s).
Create a well-defined content strategy that aligns with your target audience's needs and interests. Utilize various formats such as blog posts, whitepapers, webinars, and social media to engage and educate your prospects throughout the buyer's journey.
Step 4: Nurture your leads
Once you've generated leads, it's important to nurture them through the sales funnel. This involves providing them with valuable content and personalized messaging that speaks to their specific needs and pain points.
This step represents the true centerpiece of your demand generation system. In order for lead nurturing to work well, you’ll need your content creation, sales, and automation efforts to fully align. Be sure that every team member involved understands their role in this constellation, and that the automation tool you choose to run this workflow makes it easy.
Step 5: Continuously monitor and optimize
Automated demand generation is not a set-it-and-forget-it process. You’ll need to continuously monitor and optimize your processes to ensure they're as effective as possible.
Regularly test and optimize your campaigns to identify areas for improvement. Analyze performance data and make data-driven decisions to refine your strategies and maximize ROI. Your choice of automation tooling will offer you different kinds of insights to achieve this.
Tip: Don’t operate demand generation in isolation! In addition to regular reviews with demand generation stakeholders, be sure to report back your results and learnings to your broader team. Sharing learnings is a great way to build further momentum and unearth relevant “outside” insights that may not have emerged from within the demand gen team itself.
Key Technologies for Demand Gen Automation
Marketing Automation Platforms
“All-in-one” marketing automation platforms, such as HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot, offer the widest range of tools to automate various aspects of demand generation, including email marketing, social media, and lead nurturing. Most marketing automation platforms either include a proprietary CRM system, or are directly affiliated with a CRM system, and most include content creation tools for blog and landing page generation too.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems
CRM systems are an absolute must for B2B demand generation, and there are CRMs for all different types and sizes of companies. Integrating marketing automation tools with a CRM system, like Salesforce, Pipedrive, or Microsoft Dynamics, enables you to manage and track leads throughout the sales funnel, ensuring a seamless handoff between marketing and sales teams.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning
AI-powered tools, like chatbots and predictive analytics, can enhance your demand generation efforts by providing personalized experiences, identifying high-potential leads, and delivering insights to improve your strategy. We’ll touch on AI in greater depth at the end of this guide.
Workflow Automation Tools
Workflow are the final requirement for demand generation automation. Because demand generation efforts are spread across multiple teams, systems, and stakeholders, they’re difficult to track, and equally difficult to carry out without excess manual coordination work. That’s where automated workflows come in to provide the “rails” for demand generation systems to run on.
Without workflow automation, lead nurture (for example) requires team members to manually receive new leads, qualify those leads, enroll them in an automated email sequence, and check back in manually to see what actions the lead is taking. Workflow automation removes all of the manual steps, and provides a clear step-by-step oversight of the process, allowing teams to track lead nurture consistently, and customize the nurture pathway based on performance.
Top B2B Demand Generation Platforms
- HubSpot CRM:
HubSpot is the first and still most user-friendly “all-in-one” marketing automation platform. Its demand generation capabilities include all things marketing automation, lead nurturing, email marketing, and landing page creation. HubSpot's approach allows you to manage your entire demand generation strategy under one umbrella, with the one drawback that integrations with Hubspot are sometimes less-than ideal, as Hubspot prefers (for obvious reasons) that customers use their own proprietary tools.
- Salesforce CRM:
Salesforce is a powerful CRM solution that offers a wide range of tools for demand generation, including lead scoring, campaign management, email marketing, and marketing automation. Salesforce's robust integration capabilities allow you to connect with numerous third-party tools, further enhancing its demand generation potential. With Salesforce, you can build a customized and scalable demand generation strategy that grows with your business – though, you may require some assistance with setting it up, configuration, and optimization down the line.
- Marketo Engage (an Adobe Company):
Marketo Engage is a 3rd, mainstream marketing automation platform that excels in demand generation. It offers the usual features like lead nurturing, email marketing, landing page creation, and campaign analysis. The platform excels in its reporting and analytics suite, enabling you to optimize your demand generation efforts, and hone in on lead quality and conversions. Integration with the Adobe Experience Cloud further enhances Marketo Engage's capabilities.
- Pardot (a Salesforce Company):
Pardot is a B2B marketing automation platform specifically designed for businesses looking to boost their demand generation efforts. Its seamless integration with the Salesforce CRM platform ensures a unified approach to managing leads and nurturing them throughout the sales funnel. Pardot is part of Salesforce due to acquisition, but the look and feel is more targeted toward marketers, and it is a much more intuitive tool with a minimal learning curve when compared to its much bigger, older parent.
Measuring the Success of Your Automation Efforts
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Referring back to the discussion on goals, you’ll want to track only the relevant KPIs that correlate to the designated goals of your demand generation efforts. Some possibly important KPIs to monitor include:
- Lead volume: The number of leads generated through your campaigns
- Conversion rates: The percentage of leads that convert into customers.
- Cost per lead (CPL): The average amount spent to acquire each lead.
- Return on investment (ROI): The overall financial return from your demand generation automation efforts.
There are many, many ways to track success in demand generation. What matters most is not how many metrics you track, but 1) if you are tracking the right few metrics and 2) if you are doing so consistently.
Also Read: How to Set (and Crush) OKRs
Conduct regular A/B or split testing on your campaigns to identify the most effective strategies and optimize your efforts. This may include testing subject lines, email content, landing page designs, or call-to-action buttons. It can also mean sending the same content to different audiences, or vice-versa.
Whatever you decide to test, track your KPIs diligently, “fail fast”, and incorporate your learnings into the overarching strategy on a monthly basis.
On a rolling basis, gather feedback from your customers to assess the impact of your demand generation automation efforts on their overall experience. Use surveys, interviews, and customer focus groups to gain valuable insights and make necessary improvements. There are numerous frameworks available online to help you structure and get the most out of your customer interviews.
Compare your performance against industry benchmarks or your competitors to understand where you stand and identify areas for improvement. This will help you set realistic goals and make informed decisions about your demand generation automation strategies.
A simple search online will usually return benchmark metrics for things like CPC and CPL for B2B demand generation, often with industry-specific figures. Compare your findings across a few sources before you make any firm conclusions.
For more in-depth benchmarking, have a look at your competition and assess their market-facing demand generation assets. You can also get in touch with a market insights or management consultancy, should you wish to offload this effort and possibly get the information you need faster.
Automating your B2B demand generation process is a significant undertaking, but one that in the long run will improve efficiency, scalability, visibility, and decision-making, ultimately leading to greater success in generating leads who become customers.
By identifying your target audience, setting clear goals, integrating automation with existing processes, leveraging workflow technologies, and consistently measuring and optimizing your efforts, you can unlock the full potential of demand generation automation and reach your goals in a reasonable timeframe.
Future Trends in Demand Generation Automation
As technology evolves, so do the opportunities for automating and optimizing your B2B demand generation strategies. Keep an eye on these emerging trends:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is becoming more integral to demand generation automation everyday. AI and machine learning tools enable marketers to analyze large volumes of data in seconds, and make informed decisions about targeting, personalization, and campaign optimization. As AI becomes even more advanced, expect even greater levels of automation, accuracy, and efficiency in demand generation processes, including content creation, outreach, personalization, and more.
Chatbots and Conversational Marketing
Chatbots and conversational marketing platforms offer new ways to engage with prospects and automate lead generation, and – thanks to AI – they’re getting even smarter. By providing instant, personalized responses to user inquiries, chatbots can qualify leads, schedule meetings, and even close deals. As chatbot technology improves, expect to see a greater adoption of this approach in demand generation automation strategies.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Automation
As ABM gains popularity in the B2B marketing landscape, automation will play a crucial role in scaling and optimizing these efforts. Tools that enable automated targeting, content personalization, and campaign execution for specific accounts will become increasingly important for businesses looking to drive growth through ABM strategies.
Video Marketing Automation
Video is a highly engaging content format that continues to grow in importance for B2B demand generation. Automation tools that streamline the creation, distribution, and analysis of video content will become more prevalent, allowing marketers to leverage this powerful medium for generating leads and driving conversions.
Data Privacy and Compliance
With increasing concerns over data privacy and the introduction of new regulations, demand generation automation tools will need to prioritize compliance and security. Expect to see a greater focus on features that help marketers manage data privacy, consent, and compliance, ensuring their automation efforts remain within legal boundaries.
Get exclusive content and automation hacks straight in your inbox
Get the latest operations thinking and Next Matter updates once a week.
Next Matter blog.