For many marketers, demand generation sits at the top of their priority list.
Yet in today's Web 2.0 world, they really need to think differently about marketing. To understand why, you have to take a look at how buyers' behaviors have changed.
For most of recorded history, b-to-b marketing was virtually a one-way street. Sellers controlled all the information and they pushed out messages (such as product features, technical specifications, pricing, etc.) as they chose. If buyers wanted more information, they had to provide something in exchange—at the minimum, their contact information and often more detailed data.
Then came the Internet, and suddenly the balance of power shifted in favor of the buyers. In order to compete, sellers found themselves taking all the information they used to hold and protect so closely, and putting it up on their Web sites, where it was available 24/7/365.
Rather than pushing messages out, sellers now have to wait for buyers to pull them in. The buyers are in control of when they receive information and how much of it they receive. The upside of this is that sellers can find buyers they never knew existed or that they could never sell to efficiently.
The resulting effect on demand generation has been profound. Previously, when sellers wanted to generate demand they started inundating their target audiences with messages. Today, unless you have a very small, limited market where you can reach all the right people directly (and have permission to do so), that strategy doesn't work.
Even the nature of these messages has changed. In the old world of demand generation, it was easier to “sell” buyers. You could tell them they needed to “act now” or request more information, and they'd be likely to do it. As the seller, you could control the pipeline and the pace of the sale more easily.
Today, buyers prefer to be educated, not sold. And most would rather pursue this “education” anonymously until they've reached a purchasing decision.
What that means is the marketer's job is no longer generating demand; it's facilitating demand. You need to make sure your Web site is more like a consultative sales call, where it's easy for buyers to find what they need and propel themselves through the decision process. Most important, you need to build a relationship through your interactions, both direct and indirect, so they come to feel that yours is the type of organization with which they would like to do business.
All of this can be done by applying the science of Web analytics (both behavioral and attitudinal) along with the art of business intelligence to help you see which parts of your Web site move buyers in the direction you want them to go (so you can enhance those areas) and which are barriers to that goal (so you can knock them down).
The growth of Web 2.0 has also introduced one more “P”-word into the mix: Peer. While customer opinions have always been important, in the old world and even the Web 1.0 world, those opinions were mostly limited to information that remained within the walls or was parsed out as customer testimonials. That is no longer the case.
Today, through mechanisms such as user reviews on company or neutral Web sites, blogs, wikis, forums, podcasts, YouTube and dozens of other outlets, prospects and customers are telling each other exactly what their experiences with your products or services have been and what they think of the company. This is a frightening prospect to many marketers who fear what their customers will say. But if you have your act together it shouldn't be. In fact it will facilitate demand by the “network effect,” which is larger and more effective than any other method.
If anything, it should be a tremendous opportunity to receive the kind of feedback that allows you to improve your offering (as well as the processes around it) and tailor it to what the market is telling you it wants. And it's ongoing. By carefully monitoring the blogs, boards and other forms of commentary, you can keep your offering in tune with your target market(s), taking advantage of the demand that is already there instead of trying to build it blindly.
Forget demand generation. That is so 1995. Instead, focus your efforts on demand facilitation.
Karen Breen Vogel is president-CEO of ClearGauge (www.cleargauge.com), an organization that helps companies with complex buying cycles leverage the Internet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.