Using Demand Generation to Drive Revenue & Growth at Startups

Startup marketing whiz Scott Gelber joins us to discuss what demand generation means and how it can help startups grow.

Startup marketing expert Scott Gelber joins us for an in-depth discussion on how startups can use demand generation and account-based marketing to ramp their revenue pipelines. Scott is the founder of SRG Marketing, a digital marketing and HubSpot agency that helps B2B startups

We discuss:

  • What is demand generation, and how can it help a startup?
  • The need to test and validate different demand-generation strategies
  • How can account-based marketing help in growing the revenue stream?
  • Inbound vs. outbound strategies and deciding what works for you
  • Advice for early-stage founders

Scott Gelber spent over six years working for early-stage SaaS startups growing the demand generation functions of the businesses before founding his own company. Scott has worked with companies across multiple industries like Construction, Corporate Governance, Cap Table Software, and Supply Chain, and developed customized and effective strategies to help them grow quickly.

This discussion with Scott Gelber comes from our show Startup Success. Browse all Burkland podcasts and subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts.

Find Scott on LinkedIn and visit SRG Marketing.

Episode Transcript

Scott Gelber Transcript

Speaker – 00:00:01:
Welcome to Startup Success: The Podcast for Startup Founders and Investors. Here you’ll find stories of success from others in the trenches as they work to scale some of the fastest growing startups in the world. Stories that will help you in your own journey. Startup success starts now.

Kate Adams – 00:00:19:
Welcome to Startup Success. Today we have Scott Gelber in studio who is the founder of SRG Marketing, and I’m looking forward to speaking with Scott about all things marketing for startups. Welcome Scott.

Scott Gelber – 00:00:36:
Thank you, happy to be here.

Kate Adams – 00:00:37:
Thanks. So let’s get right into it and tell us about SRG Marketing, what motivated you to found it and then we can delve into how you’re helping early-stage startups.

Scott Gelber – 00:00:51:
Yeah, happy to. So SRG Marketing is a demand generation agency that specifically helps early-stage B2B startups grow their revenue. And the way we do that is by both creating and executing their demand gen strategy. So prior to starting the agency, I worked as a demand gen marketer with early-stage SaaS companies. I did that for over six plus years and I did it across a lot of different types of companies, different industries. So I got to see a wide array of different types of demand gen strategies and how they fit into the business process. So I really love the process of going into a business that’s figuring out their demand gen strategy, maybe new to it, creating those systems and processes to help them scale. To ultimately help them grow their pipeline and grow their revenue. So I was doing it in-house and now I’m just doing it for our clients.

Kate Adams – 00:01:43:
Excellent. That’s really strong experience. So for those founders listening, my background is in marketing, I know what demand generation is, but let’s start at the basics. What is demand generation?

Scott Gelber – 00:01:56:
Yeah, it’s a good question and to be honest, I feel like there’s not one set definition, so I’ll try to describe it the way that I think of it. So what demand generation means to me is using any type of marketing tactics, channels, campaigns to generate awareness of your product and interest. And the goal is ultimately increasing your sales pipeline and revenue. So that could be any strategy under the sun of marketing – it could be events, it could be ads, it could even be helping with cold outreach. I think it’s a mix of those strategies, coming up with the right mix of strategies for your business to create consistent pipeline generation.

Kate Adams – 00:02:35:
I like your answer because I think that’s what throws when I speak to founders, it throws them off, it encompasses so much, so many different tactics. Where in the past the way we describe different marketing activities was more channel focused. But here, like you said, it could be events, it could be what you do around content, so you explained that very well. So now walk us through how you work with startups. How they can use demand generation to their advantage.

Scott Gelber – 00:03:08:
Yeah. So essentially what we do with our clients is we create a tailored strategy for them that fits their business. What I’ve learned working across multiple different industries and multiple different businesses is that there is no one size fits all strategy to demand generation. I can’t say like, hey, do these three things and it’s going to work for your business because it worked for that business. So really what you want to look at are a few things. The first is the size of your addressable market. You want to understand how mature your product category is. We like to get an understanding of the company’s ideal customer. And then generally just like where they’re living online, where they’re consuming content, and usually from getting an understanding of those factors, we have a good idea of what are the best strategies to test initially. Then the second thing, usually what we do with the companies is once we’ve kind of identified, hey, we think these are the right strategies, we go and test it. And the key thing is to measure it and really understand what’s driving pipeline and revenue. So making sure that if you don’t have a CRM, you adopt one, you make sure that you’re able to set that up efficiently so you can track where your opportunities are coming from. And also making sure your ad platforms and Google Analytics are set up as well. So the idea is it should be easy to quickly identify what channels are actually moving the needle and which aren’t. And then the third thing is, once you’ve identified what’s working, typically what I’ve seen is that if you try five, six, seven different strategies, more often than not, only one or two of them actually move the needle for your business. And that’s what I’ve seen, is that typically one or two of those strategies generates 80% of the pipeline. So once you have the tracking in place and you can see that you really want to figure out how you can amplify the channels that are moving the needle for you, whether that’s, like allocating more budget towards it, just doing more of whatever it is that was working, or really figuring out how you can optimize it further to improve conversion rates. So this process of figuring out what works, then doubling down on the things that are working, that’s really how a lot of these companies and how I’ve seen businesses accelerate their pipeline quickly.

Kate Adams – 00:05:15:
I want to point out a few things that you said that really resonated. First, I liked the exercise you took us through that you do with your clients on understanding their market and where their market lives, because that’s so critical as a first step. And I do think that step is still skipped a lot. People make a lot of assumptions on their market. Do you find that still to be the case?

Scott Gelber – 00:05:43:
Yeah, I would say a common thing I see is founders. And people will hear stories of very successful companies growing in a certain way. And even if that company is not the same situation as their company, they just think they should be doing it because someone told them to or they read about it. In reality, some strategies for different businesses don’t work. And I saw that firsthand. I can’t tell you how many times I would go into a new company and based on my previous experience, I would say this works and this doesn’t. And I would see the exact opposite. I’d see the things that I thought work, not work. And I’d see the things that didn’t work actually work really well. So I think a key thing when starting this process is really letting go of assumptions and it’s really different for each business. I’ve had businesses where Google Ads and SEO are the main driver of pipeline. I work for a company where trade shows and events were our number one strategy. It’s really being open and curious and letting the data tell you what works for your business.

Kate Adams – 00:06:46:
So well said and let’s talk about that. That was the second point you said, that resonated with me, the testing, because I know my background is in marketing. I even walk into a new company with assumptions of what I think is going to work. And it’s the testing that can really prove you wrong or validate quickly what you think which is so important. Walk us through what you do around there.

Scott Gelber – 00:07:12:
Yeah, so I think to your point, it’s totally fine to have hypotheses around what you think will work. And typically, honestly, based on my past experience, I usually come in with some idea saying, based on your situation, here’s what I think is going to work. But the truth is I don’t fully know until we test and run and see what happens. So I think the idea is to set a list of strategies, hypothesis channels that you think are going to move the needle for your business and then test them on smaller scales. In my opinion, you have to spend some money, but you don’t want to break the bank on any one channel until you’re confident that it’s actually generating the right audience and generating pipeline revenue for you. So the key is to kind of set up a group of tests. Typically what we do is we like to project out, we think this is going to get us X amount of demos and X amount of revenue just as some baseline to kind of have a place to measure. Then we go and do it. And again, the key thing is actually having your CRM set up in a way where it’s easy to track your leads and how they convert all the way down the funnel. So you might get 100 leads from Facebook ads, but if only one of them turns into a meeting, it’s actually not as effective as a channel as you think. So by having that visibility in your CRM, you’re able to quickly look back after two or three months and really get an understanding of what’s actually working. And then from there, I think the key is asking yourself, why is that working? I worked in a business where we tried every type of channel, like Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, we advertised in third parties, we did events, we did like, everything. And the thing that unanimously generated the most pipeline was sending cookies to our prospects and following up with our SDR team. And I think instead of like, as a marketer, as a digital marketer, I would have loved for it to be something else because that’s what I claim to be good at. But the reality is that’s what the data told us. Then the question was, why is this happening? And it’s because we were operating in a market where we were going after enterprise customers. It was a finite list of accounts, and doing these more targeted personalized approaches worked really well for us. So by understanding the why behind why it’s working, then we were able to develop a much more comprehensive strategy around account-based marketing and do a lot more around that concept to help grow the company. So it’s this process of not only being able to see what’s working, but then understanding why so you can make the necessary investments to really accelerate your pipeline.

Kate Adams – 00:09:45:
That’s an excellent example. First of all, probably something that wasn’t on your radar that would have been such a high-performing channel. And then getting to the why when you describe the client, that makes perfect sense on why sending cookies they would stand out. I mean, it makes a lot of sense. And then back to your point of the pipeline. I’ve worked for so many startups that are obsessed with leads, but then the leads don’t move through the pipeline. And that’s such a key area as well.

Scott Gelber – 00:10:19:
Yeah, exactly. And sometimes it feels good to generate hundreds of leads because that’s what people think demand gen and digital marketing should be like this lead gen system where you’re pumping out so many leads and everyone’s just coming to you and it’s a machine, but it’s not the case with a lot of startups and different businesses. And that’s why I think really focusing in again on how many qualified demos did you get, how many are now potential sales opportunities. It’s a much better metric to measure than leads itself.

Kate Adams – 00:10:50:
Absolutely.You mentioned this in your previous example about the cookies, account-based marketing. Let’s delve into that because that’s a hot topic right now and I want to explain that to founders listening.

Scott Gelber – 00:11:04:
Sure. So essentially what account-based marketing is I guess the best way to explain this is if you think about the typical marketing and sales funnel, it kind of is the diagram of an upside-down triangle, right? And the idea is, at the top you have awareness across the whole audience. You’re getting in front of so many people and then a small percentage convert on your website, and then a smaller percentage becomes an opportunity, and a smaller percentage becomes revenue. So it’s this idea of kind of fishing with a large net and then finding a few that actually become customers. And it’s not a bad strategy. It honestly depends on the dynamics of the business, specifically the size of the addressable market. Because if you have hundreds of thousands of potential customers and you get in front of all of them and then 1% turn into a customer, it actually works out pretty well from a business perspective. So I’m not knocking the strategy, but what account-based marketing is, is kind of flipping that strategy on its head. So instead of just casting a wide net and seeing who comes to you, you’re more fishing with a spear and you’re kind of flipping the script and saying, who do I think are actually going to be the best fit customers for my business? Let’s start there. We have the defined list and let’s go figure out how we can get their attention and get in front of them. So instead of having a one-to-many message where you’re kind of at the whim of whoever shows up to your website and wants to talk to you, you’re actively putting time, effort and money into the accounts that you think would be the best customer for you. And for a lot of businesses, that can be a very efficient way of marketing because a lot of times when you’re marketing to a wide group, you’re spending money advertising and promoting to people that will never buy your product. With this strategy, you’re spending more on the people that you think will buy your product and are the right fit. So it’s a little bit of a waste mitigation strategy where you’re thinking more in terms of quality instead of quantity, and you’re getting in front of the right people. So the end goal should be that your close rates should increase because you’re only talking to really qualified buyers. And ideally, also your average contract value is increasing as well because you’re deliberately going after these customers that are going to be the best fits for your business.

Kate Adams – 00:13:18:
I really like the strategy for most B2B plays. With B2C, you want to cast that wide net. It makes a lot of sense. But for some of these B2B startups, you don’t want, as we used to call them, all these wasted impressions right on your spend. So targeting in that way makes a lot of sense. Can you give us an example of a startup you’ve worked for where account-based marketing has been very successful?

Scott Gelber – 00:13:48:
Yeah. So I think the example I gave earlier was one of the best ones.

Kate Adams – 00:13:53:

Scott Gelber – 00:13:53:
And I think the key. So when I worked for that company, I was relatively new to demand gen. So the process that I described, where I figured out why it was working, I think now I would just kind of see the writing on the wall and say based on these factors, this is the right approach. And so I think for founders who think maybe this makes sense for them, there’s a few things you should look at. And the two primary things I would look at are one, how big is your addressable market? Two, how big is the potential average deal size of these clients? And the third thing I would look at is how mature is your category? So when I think about the company that we implemented the cookies on, it was a small addressable market. We were going after the largest real estate owners in the world. These deal sizes could be north of 100K. If we expanded through their entire portfolio, they could be half a million to a million dollar deals. So being junior I didn’t know that, I didn’t think of those factors and I tried a bunch of things. But as I mentioned, the cookies are what worked the best and it was like, why does this work? Well, it works because ahead of time we’re targeting the right people and we’re putting more money and effort like the direct mail costs a little bit more money than Facebook impressions, but we’re putting more time and effort into getting the attention of the right people. And when you’re putting more attention towards someone, you’re going to more likely get a higher conversion rate and more demo scheduled. And on top of that, if you’re only targeting the people that are the right fits, you’re not going to waste your time with people who aren’t. So the combination of these two things was a force multiplier and once we kind of looked at the data and realized how effective this was, we then started to figure out, okay, we need to double down on this account-based approach, how do we do it? So the first thing we did is we started small. So there are other account-based tactics that you can do. So for example, account-based advertising. So you can use platforms like LinkedIn or software to make sure that you’re only targeting the accounts and decision makers that you want to get in front of. We tested that out. We tested doing more sophisticated direct mail sends more personalized to the people. A popular thing we did is we’d look up the college that the decision maker went to and send them like a branded University of Wisconsin mug and they always loved that. So kind of taking it a step deeper and we saw that work and then as we kept proving it out, we really doubled down on it and we used software. So we bought account-based advertising software, specifically Terminus, and we bought a direct mail sending tool that made it easier for our team to send out more personalized gifts, more expensive gifts. And by using technology then into the process, we just accelerated the efficiency of it and what we saw was a much better return on our spend in terms of the pipeline we generated. So I think that’s the best example because the market was just so primed for it. So my takeaway would be if you see similar factors in your business, start small, test something like sending cookies to people. If it works, go all in and figure out how you can adopt your whole marketing strategy around it.

Kate Adams – 00:16:54:
I love how you described how you went all in and all the different channels you use. Those are some really creative, good ideas, and not everybody listening today knows how much you can target on some of these platforms like LinkedIn. And so if you wouldn’t mind, walk us through just some of the other inbound and outbound tactics you’re using a lot of right now for founders.

Scott Gelber – 00:17:19:
Yeah, so I’ll caveat some of these with they don’t work for every business as I’ve kind of restated. Yes, but I’ll go through some of them.

Kate Adams – 00:17:28:
As we’ve discussed today. Yes.

Scott Gelber – 00:17:31:
I can’t say it enough.

Kate Adams – 00:17:34:

Scott Gelber – 00:17:35:
But I think there are two main strategies. If I were to make two buckets of strategies for startups, they usually fall into two things. One is an inbound marketing approach which is essentially having people who are interested, who show interest in your product come to you rather than you go out to them. So that’s the first one. And that usually is a good fit for companies that have large addressable markets and have a relatively mature category. And what I mean by mature category is people are actively searching on search engines like Google for your software and there are ways to figure that out. So that’d be like one bucket of strategies. And the second is the account-based strategies that I just told you about which fit better for companies that have smaller addressable markets. And just to be clear, you don’t have to do one or the other, just sometimes we recognize that one might be more effective to start with than the other. But if you’re in the bucket of inbound marketing, some of the things that work really well are Google Ads website remarketing, which essentially is when someone visits your website and then leaves, you can follow them with ads all over the internet. So you probably see this all the time. When you go to buy a pair of shoes, you go to the checkout, you decide to leave and then all of a sudden you see those shoes all over Facebook, and all your websites. So that’s a really effective strategy that as companies are not doing it, it’s a no-brainer, it’s very cheap, and I don’t know the exact statistic, but there’s a statistic that a buyer needs a certain amount of touch points before they’re going to buy from you. So website remarketing helps facilitate that really well. So those are the two main ones, and then some others that are working from the inbound perspective are advertising on review sites like Captera or SourceForge or Slashdot, and that’s pretty much it. And some of those can apply to other businesses as well. But if you’re going that route, those are things I’d recommend testing right away. If you’re account-based, then I’d say more things like direct mail, advertising through LinkedIn where you can specifically target the right job titles and companies with your message. Something we’ve been trying with LinkedIn that has been working well is LinkedIn conversation ads. So they essentially look like if someone messaged you on LinkedIn so they pop up on the person’s screen. Sometimes your ads get lost in the newsfeed. And what we’ve been doing is we’ve been incentivizing people to take demos with a $50 gift card to Uber Eats, and I didn’t come up with this. A lot of people have been doing this, but it’s something we’ve been testing and that’s been working really well. And then some other account-based strategies are doing really targeted webinars. So something I did at a company is we did an exclusive webinar for just a small group of people. So I think roughly 15 to 20 people showed up. And we positioned the webinar as being only for certain people. We ended up actually paying for some really prominent thought-leaders in the space to come on the webinar, so it was extremely valuable for them, and we just did a very targeted event for them. And what happened is, again, we only got 15 or 20 people to show up, but they were all the right people and they were really valuable accounts, and more of them ended up converting to pipeline and opportunity than if we had done a wider, more broad webinar. So that was a pretty big ramble. But I think for the account-based stuff, thinking about ways that you can make really special, valuable events for a select group of people can go a long way.

Kate Adams – 00:20:58:
No, that was a great list of ideas for founders listening for their marketing teams. That was very helpful. Thank you. So we’ve shared so much about marketing today, and it’s been a great, really helpful overview of what’s happening there. We always end the show with just some general advice for founders. You’re a founder yourself, you’ve worked with so many, just something you want to share as we close out – last words of wisdom for those that are going through this journey.

Scott Gelber – 00:21:31:
I guess one piece of advice that I’d have that has worked well for me is I read this book on positioning for marketing called “Obviously Awesome” by April Dunford. A lot of people in the space talk about this book. I actually didn’t like the book that much, to be honest. But there was one thing that was in the book that really changed my thinking and I think really helped me get traction at the beginning. And what was said in the book was when you’re marketing, you should niche down as far as you can until the addressable market is not big enough to help you hit your revenue goals. And that really resonated with me because when I started I positioned myself as a general demand gen consultant, not specific to any industry, not specific to any size company. I didn’t really have anything unique about me as to why people should work with me. And when I heard that, and I thought about what my goals are for the year and I thought to myself, are there enough early-stage startups out there that are using HubSpot for me to hit my revenue goals? And the answer was yeah, obviously. And positioning myself as an early-stage demand gen consultant made a ton of sense. It made a ton of sense. It’s where all my experience has been. It’s the clients I was working with anyway. So once I made that shift to niche down and focused on just being focused on early-stage startups, it made everything so much easier because I knew exactly who I should target. The messaging I had was for them. When I got on the phone with them, I could tell them exactly that I was for them and why I was for them and the experience I had. And that seemed to resonate so well. And there have been clients that come in that are not that niche and they either work with me or they don’t. So I don’t think the worry originally was I’m going to be limiting myself if I niche down. That hasn’t been the case and it’s only helped me position myself better and sign more customers. So I guess my one point of advice would be if you’re in the early stages, really try to focus in on a niche, build that out and then expand from there. That’s been the biggest shift in my company that’s really helped us grow.

Kate Adams – 00:23:34:
Excellent advice, and I like how you describe that as making it easier. Right. Because it’s a very difficult path. So the fact that that focus made it easier for you says a lot. I will say, Scott, as somebody with a background in marketing, I really enjoyed the conversation. And two, you really know your stuff and the way you are able to describe everything so clearly for founders, listening I know is going to be a huge help. So tell me where a listener can go to find more information on SRG Marketing and you.

Scott Gelber – 00:24:11:
Yeah, so the first thing I’d recommend is to follow me on LinkedIn. That’s where I’m writing and posting about all these things that I just mentioned in this episode. So if you liked any of the advice or I’ll explain things, I’m doing this pretty consistently on LinkedIn, so that would be the first recommendation. Second, you can visit our website and learn more about what we do. The website is and we offer free consultations to customers to at least help them, at the very least get an understanding of maybe where they should point their strategy. So if that’s something you’re looking for, go to our website and we’d be happy to chat with you.

Kate Adams – 00:24:47:
Excellent. Thank you so much for being here today. It was a lot of fun.

Scott Gelber – 00:24:50:
Yeah, thank you for having me. This was a ton of fun.

Speaker – 00:24:53:
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