Previously, scaled Lattice from seed to 2,000+ customers like Slack and Postmates.
Growth is the foundation of every startup. But many founders struggle to build an engine that drives predictable and scalable growth.
Over the past four years, I’ve built a SaaS demand generation engine from the ground up that today generates millions of dollars a year in revenue. The following post details a framework for how to think about your demand generation strategy.
While every business is different, I believe this framework represents a demand generation strategy that works for most SaaS businesses in the world. The only difference is that the emphasis on each channel and loop will vary from business to business. Some businesses will be more inbound driven while others will be sales outbound led. Importantly, this framework is based on a transactional sales model (request a demo), and not a product-led-growth model. I believe that certain elements are the same in both models, but there’s some nuances that change between demo and free trials.
Lastly, I’ve found that there are no silver bullets when it comes to growing a SaaS product. Most SaaS businesses need to use a combination of channels to grow their business.
The first part of the post will show the framework in its entirety and the second half gives a voice over of what’s happening in each section of the diagram.
B2B Demand Generation Diagram
The majority of SaaS marketers visualize demand generation through a b2b marketing-sales funnel. I’ve found this visualization to be a great high-level overview, but lacked specific marketing tactics at each stage.
I’m a visual learner, so as I've built the demand generation engine at Lattice, I draw diagrams to explain the buyer’s journey. Here’s my latest diagram:
Now that you’ve seen the full demand generation engine, I’m going to explain how I think about each section in the diagram.
Demo = TOF Goal
At the top of the funnel, the core metric is demo requests. These demo requests represent the best Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
CRM Database (ex. Salesforce) is the fundamental layer of the engine. It’s where you store the most valuable data about your prospects and customers.
The bigger the database the more powerful your engine and the greater your reach.
Emails are the most valuable piece of information in your database. You can use emails to identify people, but also to send emails and run targeted ad campaigns
Databases grow with two inputs: cold and warm leads
Cold leads are purchased from different data vendors or partners. Services like Clearbit help you get access to the contact information of your target audience. There’s also different partner organizations that will give you leads in exchange for sponsoring something like an event.
Warm leads are captured on your website. These leads are generated in exchange for something. This could be a product demo request or an interaction with a TOF program like downloading a white paper.
Database Fuels Account Based Marketing
Database contact information drives a variety of demand generation programs. Examples include Email, Direct Mail, Digital Ads and Outbound Sales
Warm leads are your high-quality leads and will perform better than cold leads. But cold leads will help you get in touch with net-new folks.
Once you have emails, then you can send marketing nurture emails to teach prospects about your product and drive them to a demo request.
Once you have physical addresses in your database, then you can start to send them direct mail.
Advertising platforms (i.e. Facebook, Google and LinkedIn) use matching systems. With these ad platforms, you upload your target database list to reach your audience on the ad platform. The quality and number of data points will determine your match rate.
Emails and Phone numbers fuel the business development team (BDRs) and support their outbound sales motion. BDRs work to drive people directly to request a demo.
The goal for all of these programs is to drive folks to your website, engage with a top of the funnel program and, ultimately, request a demo of your product.
Inbound Marketing Drives Website Traffic and Lead Generation
Driving quality website traffic leads to inbound demo requests. This graphic represents a variety of channels that drive people to your website.
Search is a foundational channel, which can be both organic and paid.
By investing into content marketing and making your website SEO optimized, you’ll be able to generate cheap traffic over a long period of time. It’s important for most companies to invest in SEO to build brand awareness and generate leads consistently.
PPC advertising (ex. Adwords) is a great way to drive search engine traffic to your site. By spending money on the right keywords, you’ll be able get to the top of Google and attract folks who have high buying intent.
Review Sites (i.e. G2 and Capterra) are optimized for organic traffic. They provide a resource for buyers looking to buy software. Marketers should optimize their listings -- usually by driving reviews -- and then invest in PPC programs where appropriate.
Getting the Media to write about your product is the traditional way to drive traffic to your website. Companies invest into PR and build relationships with journalists and other websites in your industry.
Web Referrals are prospects coming to your website from another organization’s website. Referrals can come from media placements, partner relationships, marketplace listings, and more. The more links you’re able to build around the Internet, the more web referral traffic you’ll get.
Social media marketing can be a powerful tool to drive traffic to your website. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the core channels that we invested in at Lattice. The great thing about social media is that you have a chance to build a relationship with your customers. And if you create something that resonates, then you have a chance to go viral.
By investing in big brand advertising, you’re able to drive a ton of brand awareness and generate website traffic. Brand advertising can take on many forms from sponsoring a podcast to putting up a billboard to running a commercial.
Customers (and friends) drive your best leads
Word of mouth is the best way to grow your demand gen engine.
Customers that come from WOM are typically higher quality than paid programs.
Companies grow WOM through customers having a positive brand/product. And creating easy avenues for customers to tell their friends.
Website hosts programs and drives demos
Website is key to the demand engine. It’s the place where prospects learn about your brand and engage in your programs. As you can see, all of the top of funnel programs (eventually) drive prospects to request a demo.
Once a prospect comes to the website, one of three things happens: 1) Demo Request 2) Sign up for Top of Funnel Program 3) Leave the Website
Website optimization should be aimed at driving demo requests
Most people are not ready to demo your product, so you want to create other avenues for them to engage with your brand, even if they are not ready to buy. That’s where TOF programs come into play. By signing up for something like a newsletter, webinar or white paper, you’re able to give the prospect something of value. And get their valuable email which you can nurture over time.
The majority of people will leave your website without giving you their email address. For this group, you want to use retargeting ads to drive them back to your website, signup for a TOF program and eventually request a demo.
Top of Funnel programs help to nurture potential customers. Once you’re engaged in these TOF programs, you’re able to carefully push that prospect towards a demo request.
As prospects interact with TOF programs, it’s important to use a lead scoring system. This system helps you measure the level of engagement and make sure you’re passing qualified leads to sales. The more touchpoints demand generation campaigns create, the higher the lead score.
The great thing about TOF programs is that they also generate Word of Mouth. You don’t need to make someone a customer to have them tell their friends about your brand. You just need to create something that they enjoyed whether that’s a piece of content or an experience.
Demo Requests and TOF programs revolve around data (email) collection. These moments help to build your database and fuels ABM activities
What Happens After the Demo Request
After a demo request, the goal is to book a meeting. Your ability to improve the Demo > Meeting conversion rate will have a huge impact on pipeline creation
To increase this rate, the best companies have an automatic calendar scheduler built into the website. This allows a prospect to schedule a meeting when they are most engaged. Calendly and Chilipiper are great software solutions in this space.
Many companies also use SDR (junior sales) teams to follow up with leads who have requested a demo, but have not scheduled a time to talk. These SDRs are trained to follow up with email and phone calls to qualify the lead and get them to schedule a meeting with an Account Executive. The goal is to pass qualified leads over to the sales team.
If you don’t have an SDR team, automated email campaigns are another tactic that can be used to get prospects to schedule a demo meeting. Marketing automation systems (i.e. Hubspot and Marketo) are essential for lead nurturing and running marketing campaigns.
The Sales Cycle
After the meeting is scheduled, the GTM motion becomes primarily led by the sales team and the sales cycle starts. The ultimate goal is turn the prospect into a customer (Closed Won).
The Account Executive will manage the relationship with the prospect. The sales cycle starts by qualifying prospects to make sure that the product will work for their needs. From there, AEs demo the product and work with the buyer to answer any questions and concerns throughout the deal cycle.
The marketing team supports the AEs by investing in Sales Enablement programs. These programs include activities like making the pitch deck, competitive intelligence, and creating collateral.
The marketing team also supports the sales process with down-funnel marketing programs. The best example of this are intimate events where prospects get to meet other customers and learn from the companies leadership
Closed Lost prospects get pushed back to the Top of the Funnel and become marketing led again. The marketing team will nurture them with a variety of programs until they are ready to request a demo again.
The customer phase is typically led by the Customer Experience and Product teams, but marketing plays a role in helping build a positive experience that encourages word of mouth.
Marketing teams can help by investing into customer marketing. This can mean a variety of things from customer events to customer communities to writing some copy in the product to lifecycle emails. The goal of all of these activities is to make sure customers have a positive experience.
After you have happy customers, it’s marketing’s job to help them tell their story. This ranges from case studies to speaking at events or on a podcast.
The great thing about the demand gen engine is that it continues to grow as you invest time and resources. The more traffic you drive to your website, the more data you collect, the more emails you can send and the more demos you drive. It’s a self growing engine that will scale as your business grows.
Importantly, you don’t need to build all of these channels and loops at once. There’s a few foundational ones (website and CRM), but you can add different channels over time as you grow your marketing team and budgets.
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