Demand Generation vs Lead Generation


What is lead generation and demand generation anyway?


In its simplest form:

Demand generation is the process of getting people interested in what you are selling (you’re creating demand); and lead generation is the task of turning that interest into names and contact info (or leads) that you or your sales team can follow up on.


If you think of the know, like and trust process, you can start to imagine how demand and lead gen fit into this process – and more importantly how they work together (just like marketing and sales).


You’ve likely heard someone say ‘You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger in a coffee shop and ask them to marry you, right?’ which is the same as expecting someone who doesn't know your brand or is familiar with your solutions to buy from you. Just as you need to date someone before marrying them, you have to create awareness and interest in your brand and solution first before you could even earn a coffee chat with that person (let alone get them to buy from you).


Demand generation is the higher level trying (think top of funnel) to create interest of those looking for your solution but don’t know who you are yet. The mission with demand generation is to create awareness and interest. The content you provide and share on the platforms where they are spending time is critical in capturing their attention. Here's a FREE guide to download that goes through the know, like and trust process: 6 Steps to Creating Content for the Customer Journey.


On the implementation side, demand generation is the set of marketing activities or tactics that’s focused on attracting your ideal customers and drawing them toward you and your offerings. If they like what they see during that first interaction, they are likely going to keep liking what they see with each additional impression or visual of your brand name.


Once an ideal customer knows and likes you – meaning they are comfortable enough to give you some of their information – they will provide contact information in exchange for something – an ebook, a white paper, or a gated document or access that requires them to give you their name and email. At that point it’s a lead – lead generation is harvesting that demand. It’s the set of activities to engage with buyers who are actively trying to solve their problem – they are no longer passive or researching or waiting – they are actively trying to find a solution.

Since I prefaced demand and lead generation as a battle, which one should win? The answer might surprise you. You actually need BOTH – demand and lead generation – to achieve your business goals and to have a successful relationship with your sales team (and customers). They will appreciate the efforts from you and nurturing the prospects further down the process so when the leads reach them, they have a higher chance of closing. Win/win/win!

Could you have one and not the other? Sure. Just like you can have sales without marketing. But why make life hard on everyone? It’s easier to achieve business goals when you have both. Keep in mind I said it’s easier – there are companies that focus solely on lead generation – but if you are setup to generate demand for your attention and leads who are really interested in buying from you – don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Keep the pipeline full of the best leads and the right strategies and practices to foster the process along the way.

A couple of other points to note: demand generation is more about your buyers and less about you. It’s about sharing as much content with as many people as possible and as freely as possible. Demand generation is about reaching buyers who may or may not have a problem but just aren’t ready to take action on solving it.


So they need someone to help them identify that they do and to show them the way – someone who will answer all the questions, provide the information they need when they need it and help them take the next step or a micro decision through the journey as they are ready.


At each step do they need education materials, do they need to see a process, do they need to see who else has experienced what they are and how you helped them solve it, do they need to hear from existing customers from ‘the other side’…each step creates an opportunity to help – and the content you provide at each step will either help them say ‘yes’ to that micro moment or confuse them to the point they stand idle or they dart in the other direction.


What you need to do is create an opportunity for an ‘aha moment’ - so they see you provided a better future for them and their company.


Once you’ve created demand for your solution, you then need to engage in your lead generation strategy that gathers contact details for an offer like a product demo or free trial.


With that in mind, let’s dive into the ONE that matters more in the long run. Do you know which one it is? It’s demand generation.


The 5 key components for a killer demand generation strategy are:

  1. A well-defined target audience – you need to be crystal clear on who you are targeting before you actually start marketing. If you don’t have your ideal customer identified, you can create them with the stakeholders in your company. If you want assistance with this, listen to my podcast episode 3 on creating buyer personas – it also includes a B2B template you can use and questions to ask (both free and not gated!). For details on how I can help, see this page on Personas for details.

  2. Pain points and messaging – once you know who your ideal audience is, you need to understand their pain points and how to engage with them on emotional triggers It’s important to map the customer journey from pain points, emotional triggers that will help create a message that will attract them and CTAs that will engage them along their journey. You’ll need to connect the dots with your marketing between the pain points and journey. Think of this as a connect the dots coloring book – all the dots are the connections that help create the picture. The dots in your customer’s journey are micro ‘yes’ moments connecting their problem to your solution. The pain point is the trigger that gets your attention and starts the process. Here are some FREE resources for you: How to Uncover Customer Pain Points [AUDIO], Map the Customer Journey [AUDIO], Words that Trigger Emotion in Marketing [ARTICLE]

  3. Valuable content – demand gen is about helping shape your buyer’s perspective and create a desire for your solution. Sometimes this happens before they even realize there is a problem so in order to attract and engage with them you need to create content that’s valuable. Start with the critical needs they may be having and present them with content that address their challenges or uncovers an opportunity.

  4. Be customer-centric – be where your potential customers are and mixing your inbound efforts with your outbound efforts. If you're already inundated with inbound traffic that’s converting at a high rate, you don’t need to worry about outbound efforts right now. BUT keep in mind that making sales calls, sending direct mail, engaging in social media, etc. is helpful when you need a balance of inbound and outbound leads because those channels will be critical to your process and their journey (another reason you need to know where they spend time consuming information and making decisions – be where they are!).

  5. Create frictionless engagement – although demand generation isn’t focused on capturing contact information, it IS important to respond and engage with your target audience when the opportunity presents itself. Lead Generation is asking for information upfront (think pop up) whereas Demand Generation is more subtle and any calls to action are toward the end of the content. Just make sure that you are providing an easy path to hand raisers to get a question asked, request a quote, speak with an expert or learn more.

Focusing on these 5 components sets you up for a killer demand generation strategy that will create awareness and interest in your brand and solution while also helping you meet your business goals.

Last point on demand gen: it’s not an overnight results-driven strategy. It takes time and is a long-tail effort that will prove successful over time. So don’t get frustrated, have a plan, create synergies between your internal teams by getting all stakeholders involved and know that while this article is a ‘battle’ the only WIN in this scenario is using a combination of both demand generation and lead generation. When you create a plan and involve the right people, this process is easier to see and even easier to implement, engage, monitor and report results.

Do you need help with your demand generation and lead generation efforts? Let's see how I can help.

Vicki O'Neill is a fractional CMO in Ohio who helps frustrated small business owners grow customers and revenue. She helps connect the dots between target customer pain points and your solutions. She founded KenKay Marketing in 2011, started her marketing and sales podcast Connect the Dots in 2018 and launched a 2nd podcast The Power of 3X in 2019 with her Gen Z daughters. Connect with Vicki on social media wherever you spend the most time. Join her community and receive weekly inspiration and valuable marketing tips that you can take immediate action on!


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