Demand Generation isn't a Good Thing

This one has been bothering me for a while. It might seem like semantics, but hear me out - I think there’s something important and actionable here. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you!

Demand generation is a bad goal.

As most of you know, “demand generation” - or “demand gen” for short - is a common term in marketing and growth, particularly in B2B settings. There are marketing teams focused on demand gen and there are demand gen specialists, heads of demand gen, etc. And I've got to wonder...why do we call it that? I think those roles are super crucial and I don’t think we should get rid of those people. But I DO think we should get rid of the term and refocus the position.

Here lies Demand Generation. It lived a good life.

Why? Because demand for a solution is born out of a problem, not a solution. A startup taking credit for generating demand is like a restaurant taking credit for creating hunger...the only reason anyone demands a solution is because someone else created a problem. Your job as a marketing team (and as a company), therefore, isn’t to generate demand...your job is to find and fulfill demand. Be the solution...don’t take credit for the problem.

If the demand for your product doesn’t already exist, then one of two things is true:

  1. You created a solution where there was no problem

  2. You identified a real problem but didn’t solve it

If both of those statements are false and you still don’t have people lining up to purchase your product, then you simply haven’t found those people yet. They’re out there...they want your solution and are searching for it--wallets out and ready to pay!!--right now. So your goal generate demand, it’s to identify demand and convince the solution-demanders that you’ve got the fix they’re looking for.

With that in mind, I propose a shift in terminology.

This is a free image I found called "Smiling Man." He is probably smiling because he has stopped using the phrase "Demand Gen".

But alas, I'm not just a naysayer. I've got ideas for how to rename the late beloved Demand Generation.

Instead of saying demand generation, what if we call it one of these?

Demand fulfillment

I know, it sounds like something that happens at an Amazon warehouse. But aren’t the principles the same? People want something (a problem solved), and it’s your job to deliver it (the solution). In marketing, your job is simply to make connections with the people who already demand the solution, and to convince them that you’ve got the right team and product for the job.

Demand Capture and Collection

One of the best B2B marketers I know is John Short of Compound Growth Marketing. These are his terms. He's technically a demand gen guy, but he often thinks of his role more along these lines.

Although I do "demand generation", I've always thought of what I do as more of a demand capture. Much of demand generation is capturing leads that already have intent. That said, much of creative/brand marketing is positioning your product (or new industry) in a way that people understand so they want to use it.
- John Short

The latter part of his point is that there are exceptions; when you're a disruptor, your market likely consists largely of people who don't even know they're experiencing a problem. In this case, demand generation is arguably necessary.

Demand matchmaking

Matchmaker, matchmaker, find me a lead. The people who have the problem and demand your solution are out there, just walking around not knowing you exist (or simply remaining unconvinced that you are the solution you claim to be). Your company basically just needs to match up them like in Fiddler on the Roof or Tinder. That essentially makes the marketing department glorified matchmakers: find the buyers, and match them up with the people at your company doing the selling. I know you hate this one so just sleep on it before you shoot it down.

Demand elimination

This one is fun because it’s violent and aggressive. Elimination!! That’s something supervillains do. It’s also what your company wants to do. Your company wants to eliminate the problem that it’s seeking to solve. If everyone uses your solution, there is no more problem and everybody wins! You have successfully made lots of money by eliminating demand for a solution. This one has the added benefit of making it less weird to dress like a secret service agent every day.

Acquisition and/or Lead Generation

Yuck, so boring. Also definitely the best options, likely because I didn’t come up with them. They at least have the benefits of being A) far more closely tied to your actual desired outcome and B) commonly used terms. I mean, please don’t give up on my 3 previous suggestions, but you can use Acquisition and Lead Generation while you deliberate my ideas.

What do you think? Is it time to kill demand gen?