Expectations for B2B demand generation strategies have never been higher.

Long gone are the days of simply hitting a lead quota and calling it a win. Now, marketers must deliver in-market opportunities and audience engagement that result in revenue, most often within the current purchase cycle – all while maintaining positive brand exposure and keeping an eye on long-term growth.

Elevating your strategies to deliver actionable revenue opportunities is a balancing act that requires an enormous amount of data, business intelligence, and collaboration between Marketing and Sales. It also requires operational expertise and real-time agility in optimizing your ongoing campaigns to ensure they meet those rising expectations.

You need to integrate the real-world demands of initiating revenue and growing your audience into a comprehensive opportunity generation strategy. It’s a new way of thinking about B2B marketing that’s gaining momentum. And it requires you to redefine how you think about working with a strategic demand generation partner.

“Opportunity Generation,” Defined

Opportunity generation is an elevated state of demand generation that focuses on engagement, more so than high-funnel awareness or bulk leads. It employs the full spectrum of demand generation strategies, channels, and data to find ideal customers and deliver actionable opportunities that fit into your overall revenue strategy.

These opportunities can take the form of highly scored MQLs ready to engage with your marketing message, or they can be BANT-verified by phone and ready to move directly to inside Sales. It all depends on your business goals and, most importantly, how you plan to drive further conversations with them.

Think of opportunity generation as a seamless extension of your in-house lead generation ideas for B2B, backed up by the data, reach, and expertise that only a strategic partner can bring to the table.

It’s a way to fuel your pipeline with both near-term wins and long-term audience growth, which B2B marketers have recognized as one of their greatest challenges moving forward.

“Lead Gen,” “Demand Gen,” and a Better Way Forward

There’s a lot of buzz these days in the trade press about finding the right mix of “lead generation” and “demand generation,” and some of it can be pretty confusing.

This piece by analyst firm Gartner is typical of the high-level conversation. It uses the term “lead gen” for any transactional opt-in and focuses only on in-house campaigns, ignoring the reality that B2B marketing teams rely on demand generation partners to help keep their pipelines moving. These partnerships are a key part of the trusted ecosystem that B2B marketers have cited as a major asset in their overall demand generation strategies.

Here’s what “lead generation” and “demand generation” mean when working with a real-world partner.

How Lead Generation Works

Lead Gen is highly transactional and focused on getting prospects’ contact information into the top of your marketing funnel. It’s very much a volume / commodity play and has broadly earned its dubious reputation as being a pretty low-value use of your marketing budget.

Most often, contact information delivered is based entirely on activity within the vendor’s own list and channels. The “engagement” you are paying for can be no more than a single click on some tangentially related blog link, and permission to contact is masked in some global opt-in agreement that the prospect probably doesn’t even remember. “Lead gen” is so transactional that desirable prospects get hammered with offers, and you just become part of the noise. There’s very little (or no) positive exposure to your value proposition.

“Leads” delivered in this fashion often fail to meet what should be the fairly demanding criteria to be considered MQLs that fit into highly personalized nurturing campaigns. For our marketing campaigns here are Bython, we score contacts on 20 or more touches before we advance them down the funnel. With some lead gen vendors, that number might be three or four touches, and you have very little visibility into each contact’s activity.

It more or less runs as a black box. You get a bunch of names for your high funnel; you pump them into drips and sequences, and you hope for the best. Not the best formula for ROI in B2B.

How Demand Generation Works

“Demand generation” has evolved as a preferred method to engage with customers, both for internal campaigns and when working with a vendor partner.

It’s driven by the realization that while a very small percentage of your Total Addressable Market (TAM) may be ready to make a purchase in the next three months, you still need to develop relationships with the other 20 or so percent who may be in the earliest stages of needs assessment.

So, “demand generation” casts a wider net of value-added content about your solution and allows prospects to self-select (with a few well-timed nudges here and there) the pace of their personal purchase journey. Demand gen tends to focus on general awareness and runs consistently across multiple funnel marketing funnel points, with occasional shifts toward transactional offers as your pipeline dictates.

When working with a partner, campaign deliverables still take the form of delivered contact information (“leads”), but they should at least have demonstrated an interest in your product or service category

So, that all sounds great – in theory.

But demand gen has its own set of challenges. When working with a demand gen partner, you still often have very little insight into the real-time response to your campaigns running against their lists. Even worse, it’s often not “their” list – the boom in demand generation has led to agencies and brokerages entering the market who basically are reselling leads created by other vendors. Qualifying activity and purchase intent may be weeks old by the time it reaches you, turning a possible revenue opportunity into a dead-end lead.

And, despite the overall benefits of demand generation’s “always on” approach, sometimes you do need to find and engage with hot prospects that you can rapidly move to Sales. Switching gears from broad audience segments to a laser focus on a very specific audience segment can be a real challenge, particularly if you need to break into new accounts.

So, B2B marketers need to adopt a data-driven approach that can deliver actionable in-market opportunities now, while also laying the groundwork for clearly defined business needs.

And the best way to do that is to build a strategic relationship with your demand generation partner.

The Building Blocks of Opportunity Generation

So, what do you need to elevate your current lead and demand generation programs to deliver actionable revenue opportunities?

  • A comprehensive revenue strategy. One of the first things your opportunity generation partner should ask while designing a campaign is, “What are you going to do with these opportunities once we deliver them?” Defining the desired customer path for opportunities is the first step in building actionable strategies that deliver revenue. It’s a foundation that your Marketing and Sales teams have to establish before you can successfully extend your audience engagement efforts by working with a partner.
  • Comprehensive demographic, firmographic, and intent data coverage. A key value point in working with any demand-generation partner is tapping into audiences you may not be actively targeting. A true opportunity generation partner has the data coverage that allows them to find prospects who act like your best customers, not just meet a few demo filters. Without this level of coverage, you are just back to throwing the widest possible net and hoping a few nibbles pay off down the road.
  • Accurate, real-time data. Your opportunity generation partner should be an open book about how they source and manage the data they use to identify audiences. Ideally, they should own much of the data, but if they do need to source some (and everybody does, at some point) they should be ready to answer any questions you may have. This ensures that they are not just a brokerage that is reselling contact info that may once have been a real opportunity but has now aged out to be just a dead-end lead.
  • An absolute commitment to quality. This goes beyond QA on delivered opportunities, which should be a given, but is often left wanting in bulk lead deals. Every email, every landing page, every phone script should create a positive user experience that primes a prospect for the next step in the conversation.
  • Absolute transparency into your campaign progress. To take advantage of in-market opportunities, you need to know what’s working, what’s not working, and how you can adjust to drive engagement. Regular progress calls are a baseline expectation, but you should also have access to real-time insights – and a partner with the experience and agility to adjust on the fly to meet your goals.
  • A strategic partnership that grows over time. After the close of each campaign, you and your partner should review results and hone your demand generation campaign strategies. What data, tactics, and insights do you need to improve to create actionable revenue opportunities? It’s a constant cycle of revenue growth that you can’t build with a generic lead vendor or disproportionate focus on high-funnel awareness.

Opportunity Generation Drives Revenue Growth

Today’s B2B marketers must prove their demand generation strategies are driving revenue, not just high-level awareness or a lot of dead-end leads. Adopting an opportunity generation mindset – and finding a partner with the data and expertise to deliver in-market prospects – is essential for accelerating your revenue pipeline and meeting ever-increasing expectations.

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