SaaS Demand Generation: Stop “Optimizing for Demos” and Start Creating Demand

For several years now, SaaS demand generation marketers have found themselves on a tragically familiar hamster wheel. 

Try that shiny new strategy.

Find momentary success by collecting new leads.

Close a few important deals.

Duplicate the marketing strategy as trends start changing.

Fail to generate the same momentum as before.

Unfortunately, that’s the problem when all we do is build our strategy around lead capture. Our efforts become focused on momentary optimizations instead of sustainable growth. 

At Elevate Demand, we approach SaaS demand generation a little differently, and we’re going to pull back the curtain on why you need our Sustainable Demand Framework. 

What is SaaS Demand Generation?

In a traditional marketing sense, SaaS demand generation is the machine that powers lead generation for SaaS sales teams. Many marketing teams follow a similar playbook to gather MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) using tactics like content marketing, digital marketing, and field or partner marketing.

The goals of these strategies are to increase new opportunities for ideal customers, which account executives can then (ideally) convert to new closed business. 

But after years of trying the same “rinse and repeat” strategy, does the future of SaaS demand generation really look the same as it did in 2020 or before? 

At Elevate Demand, we know that sustainable growth in the B2B realm doesn’t happen without an in-depth understanding of the most important pieces:

  • Growth Hypothesis – Your growth model + core values reimagined 
  • Growth Process – Prioritize new experiments and capture learnings like a boss
  • Strategic Messaging – Ace your product positioning and brand messaging 
  • Marketing Execution – Make the magic happen with tangible takeaways 1-2 years

(re)Defining Demand Generation for SaaS Businesses

If you’re a demand generation marketer or SaaS team member, it’s time to have some tough conversations about viable marketing growth. This is especially true at a time when many B2B organizations are cautiously increasing marketing spend in the midst of economic uncertainty.

But as it stands right now, we’re simply too focused on how we want to sell the product, not on how buyers actually want to buy the product.

In the last ten years, buyer preferences and behaviors have changed dramatically, and more companies are fighting for their attention. Buyers hold all the power—but marketers are still twisting their arms to make them go through the process the way we’ve always done it.

Are SaaS Business Processes Outdated?

Unfortunately, these truths hit the hardest for B2B SaaS demand generation teams, and it’s not just about how we’re using things like eBooks or running sales cadences. In fact, it’s the whole demand generation process that’s broken.

It’s how we’re deciding what should be considered a “lead.”

It’s how we’re aligning marketing and sales efforts.

It’s how we’re measuring the success of demand generation teams.

SaaS demand generation teams are relying too much on outdated methods. The result is bloated, unbalanced revenue engines. 

If you’re wondering how we know this, it’s because most of us have been prospects in this process countless times. Auditing B2B marketing at SaaS companies has been the catalyst for designing a better, more scalable growth process.

What the Typical B2B SaaS Demand Generation Process Looks Like

The typical demand generation process in B2B SaaS is, first and foremost, optimized for ‘leads.’ If you’re coming to the table with B2B marketing experience, you’ve probably heard the following tactics or have been encouraged to perpetuate them.

‘Optimize for leads’

Over the years, we’ve downloaded our share of gated eBooks, whitepapers, and webinars, which are distributed across paid social channels and search channels. Traditionally, these content methods serve as primary touchpoints in the funnel, drawing prospects into the mix in exchange for basic information.

How to Do it Differently: 

Stop gating leads and move to building real “Awareness” for your brand. Yes, this means no more gated eBooks, webinars, or downloadable reports. With no leads to nurture, no leads to sell into. 

‘Nurture the lead’

Traditionally, once a prospect fills out a basic form, they’re enrolled in a nurturing sequence. Often, they’re considered an MQL at this point. At the very least, their download is usually labeled as a measure of intent, and they’re assigned a lead score.

How to Do it Differently:  

Let’s start building Product and Category Awareness. Most B2B brands will start "running" ads to products and pain points to educate on the product and frustration they solve. Let’s educate the market on what you do and wait for a need to develop. When the need is there, they think of you and come in willingly. 

‘Sell, sell, sell’

In the typical playbook, getting enough new content downloads means that the marketing team hits their lead number for the month, wins congratulations from leadership, and pats themselves on the back. Cha-ching! But when the sales team starts reaching out—that’s where the trouble with this process becomes more obvious.

How to Do it Differently:

Capitalize on dark social referrals. Build campaigns and marketing execution to take advantage of dark social referrals and networking, and build brand awareness in relevant social channel feeds—where buying actually happens first.

‘Rinse and repeat’

Over time, we’ve seen B2B demand generation marketers get caught in the false struggle. When the next month’s inbound lead or MQL goals get delivered, it’s time to pick another trendy strategy, get another predictable bump, and keep iterating every time you get stuck.

How to Do it Differently: 

Measure and look for positive signals of what's actually working and the strategies that aren't. This means taking a careful look at the increases in inbound volume or sales efficiency metrics. Find a channel or message that works, and scale it. 

What’s Wrong with the Old Demand Gen Process?

In past years, I used to run a campaign to get leads within 10 points of an MQL. Conveniently, the piece of content I sent them would score them over the threshold. As savvy marketers, we’d cheer and celebrate hitting MQL numbers weekly. 

But here’s the catch—the MQLs were closing at less than 1%.

They weren’t even qualified buyers.

Our sales team members didn’t even want them.

It killed our reputation (and our flow) in what was supposed to be a B2B marketing goldmine.

This model, so common in SaaS demand generation, is full of problems. Let’s figure out why.

In today’s world, most B2B buyers are not pain-aware, and they don't care about your product—yet. Brands with the most flashy awareness don’t always win, and product-based differentiation is dying. Demand generation has a massive plateau effect that leaves smart marketers scratching their heads. While it sounds great in theory, it's simply a sales-led playbook chock full of “live demos” and leads that don’t contribute to sustainability.

It continually drives up CAC and CAC payback time.

The inefficiency of constantly driving sales members to reach out to leads that haven’t signaled real buying intent always wastes valuable resources. This causes leadership teams to pour even more resources into sales in the hopes of getting things done. Unfortunately, it’s like trying to fill up a pool with a hose that’s full of holes.

It kills your sales and marketing alignment.  

Sending over leads that convert at .5% or less comes with a cost. Sending thousands of leads that convert poorly also shreds your credibility with sales team members, who begin to doubt your processes and motivations.

It wastes your ad spend.

Optimizing for leads causes SaaS companies to waste budget scraping for leads instead of generating tangible demand. You run social ads pushing for demos or free trials, ignoring the fact that no one browses Facebook hoping to get a demo of a B2B product.

Meanwhile, you’re under invested in intent-based branded search traffic that drives revenue, but you’re blowing 80% of your ad budget on non-branded search because your agency is following a “best practice.”

It builds friction throughout your buying process.

It’s no surprise that the old way of doing demand generation has a big plateau effect. Unsurprisingly, sales cycles take far longer than they need to because gated forms are blocking people from seeing the content that they want and need.

How to Overhaul Your SaaS Demand Generation Strategy

The problem in B2B SaaS demand generation is this—the metrics that demand teams are using to measure success don’t hold up. It’s time to start aligning your demand gen team around revenue, not things like leads and MQLs.

Leads can still exist, but the only “sales-ready” lead is one that has requested a direct sales interaction. When you follow this precedent, you’ll be sending a lower volume of leads, but win rates will soar and CAC payback times will drop. Most importantly, revenue starts to rise.

To drive enough requests for sales interaction, your team may need to change the way you’re using content and improve the things you publish. Creating content that promotes an agenda works occasionally, but new content must deliver value and education without an agenda, since buyers are hard-wired to detect “salesy” content.

Here are a few ways to ramp your content for revenue optimization, rather than lead qualification.

1. Un-gate your content. 

In SaaS marketing, your purpose is served more effectively by getting as many people as possible to read your content. Set aside the fear of loss surrounding gated content. The real loss is how much you’re losing by having your best content behind a wall that buyers don’t want to cross.

2. Utilize comparison channels. 

Create content targeted for keywords, like “[competitor] + alternative” that reads like a third-party review of competing B2B products. Inbound leads are now coming directly from this content and spending more time on page.

3. Rewrite product content in a press-release news style. 

Next, rewrite all of your product content to follow a press-release-style article format. This introduces your product to the market in a way that feels informative, not promotional.

The reader knows it’s you talking about your product and that you want them to buy it, but writing should be educational rather than salesy. Ironically, switching priorities like this is the best thing you can do for a hungry sales team ready to close more deals.

4. Use case studies. 

Many parts of the SaaS demand generation playbook need to be thrown out, but telling your customer stories is one tactic you should “double down” on.

The reality is that most B2B competition has a hard time pulling these off in a way that’s compelling. Many SaaS studies are generic, lack specifics, and use tech-heavy language that doesn’t relate with human responses. The studies are also done too early in the process for  big brand names, and they miss generating meaningful results.

5. Use awareness channels to maximize content distribution.

Social platforms, especially LinkedIn and Facebook, are ideal spots for B2B SaaS companies to advertise—but you need to align with your buyers’ behavior on those platforms.

No one goes to social platforms to buy a SaaS product—but they do go to learn and connect. So, use ads to distribute quality, ungated content to them. You can read some of my specific tactical advice on running B2B LinkedIn ads here.

Meanwhile, you can refocus on intent-based branded search terms in Google. These may drive up to 80% of the revenue, even as companies pour the majority of their ad spend into non-branded search terms.

>> Check out our advanced paid search strategy for B2B SaaS companies. <<

SaaS Demand Generation Channels

Two ways to think about SaaS demand generation channels. At some point along the journey, your team should use both strategies in order to capture and create new demand.

  • Demand Capture – This is where buyers show intent. Think about sources like Google Ads, Search, etc.
  • Demand Creation – This is where buyers are active but show no intent. Consider the ways that social media, email marketing, and communities play a role.

Optimize For Revenue, Not Leads

The SaaS demand generation processes that we’ve relied on for years now are broken, but they can be fixed. There’s never been a better opportunity to optimize for sustainable revenue, and give power to the buyer.

The key—instead of optimizing the entire demand generation process around short-term, instant gratification metrics that benefit marketing, you can decide to optimize the buying process around the way buyers actually want to buy.

You already know how to get started. Now go execute. And if you want to do it faster and more effectively, let’s talk.