How to Learn Demand Generation

Funnel_-_Mid-1There is no school or class that teaches you demand generation

I hadn't heard of demand generation before I became a field marketer and certainly hadn't heard of it while in business school. While we did learn tools like Lifetime Value and associated sales funnel dynamics, no one discussed how that funnel works in real life.

So how did I learn demand generation? How can you learn demand generation?

Are you preparing for graduation and want to be a marketer? Are you thinking of switching from sales to marketing? Perhaps you are already a Product Marketing Manager and think you can do a great job driving leads to your sales team? 

Whatever your motivation, know that demand generation can be learned just like anything else. What you may not know is demand generation covers a wide range of skills and activities. Each organization defines demand gen a bit differently in terms of the Role and Process.

Defining Demand Generation

In general, demand generation is about creating interest in a company’s services through the application of various marketing techniques in a structured process.

A demand generation marketer’s job is to find and attract people to look at your company as a potential solution to their problems. You collect their names in exchange for increasing levels of help via content. Your key goals are the number of qualified leads and the revenue linked to your efforts.

This process is usually managed as a “lead funnel” or “sales funnel.”

Understanding the day-to-day work of demand generation is difficult because the role can vary widely across industries and depend on the size of the firm. There are two excellent starting points, both from vendors of marketing automation software – the folks who help marketers like us.

Skills and Duties for Successful Demand Generators

This list is by no means exhaustive and may vary by company and hiring manager preferences. Large teams may have people just working on reporting, while an SMB or tech startup role will mean you do it all. My preference is to “do it all” when you are starting out in demand gen and over time you will find areas you enjoy more than others.


All these skills are nice, so where do you build them?

Where to Learn Demand Generation Skills

There are two ways to learn any business skill: on the job or on your own.

Learning demand generation on the job

In many ways this is the best method. You learn from experienced marketers and you receive a paycheck, however small. The downside is you may have to start toward the bottom of the marketing ladder.

Your colleagues will show you what works for that firm's audience and industry. While they may have diverse work backgrounds, you will primarily learn the techniques and messaging related to your industry. Those industry skills are absolutely necessary and expected, so be prepared to stay in that industry for much of your early career.

Upsides of learning on the job:

  • Paid experience!
  • You make mistakes people expect and can forgive.
  • You learn from right people (usually).
  • Few other ways to gain this experience.
  • Networking in the function and industry.

Downsides of on the job experience:

  • Industry experience is limiting at first.
  • Career switching may put your promotions on hold.
  • Firms tend to hire young for entry-level roles.
  • Firms tend to hire people with industry+skill set, not just for skill set.

Learning demand generation online

These days, the best source of information is online. There are a myriad of blogs, gurus, and vendors who have distilled different aspects of marketing into easy to digest nuggets. The tools of marketing – spreadsheets, emails, and psychological triggers – are all available online. What matters is how you organize those tools and concepts for your audience. 

Whether you are still a student or an experienced professional, you can learn a lot of demand generation skills simply by reading every day. This is primarily how I learned the concepts behind email marketing and marketing automation.

As with anything written, remember who is writing and why. Vendors and gurus all have good advice, but sometimes that advice is self-serving. 

  • Marketing Books – deep dives into topics, often written by marketing gurus, and occasionally company founders. Vendor written books often lead to product solution, so keep that in mind!

  • Marketing Blogs – these run the gamut from consultants to former executives to pro-bloggers. All offer great tips and frameworks. Sites like Copyblogger also provide courses on their chosen topic.

  • Vendor Blogs – these are great to understand technology offers; step-by-step instructions; and to learn niche areas like video marketing. The best vendor blogs provide high-level frameworks as well as detailed instructions. 

Learning demand generation in business school

While many of the skills you need can be learned on the job or through self education, many companies will not hire you without some sort of credential: earned or bought. Earned would be through hard work on the job, bought is through a formal schooling. Undergrad or graduate business schools are the same in this regard.

If we look at the skills I outlined above, I can tell you that many of those are not in your typical business school curriculum. Copywriting is not equivalent to a BA in English even if many English BAs end up in copywriting. A BA in English may be a good precursor to copywriting, but it is not the same as doing it. Professional event skills or team leadership skills may be learned as a byproduct of working on teams or running special events, but these are not what hiring managers are always looking for. They want someone who can hit the ground running to execute meaningful tasks; interpersonal skills will simply help close the deal. 

Courses that will increase your value the most for your next job in demand generation:

  • Statistics
  • Excel
  • Financial modeling
  • Copywriting
  • Creative writing
  • Journalism

Which Business Schools are Best for Demand Gen?

If you happen to be in the market for a degree or certificate, I would simply look at the catalog of courses to see which skills will come out of each course. Do they align with what is listed above? Can you speak with the professors or lecturers to learn more?

Is Growth Hacking Demand Generation?

Depending on how you look at it, they are the same kind of marketing. Essentially it is direct marketing with digital tools. There are faster and new ways to gain attention and find audiences that are prebuilt, sending people over to sign up as your captive audience. Growth Hacking looks at these "new" ways to test ads, guest content, and track it to iterate fast. 

If we assume demand generation encompasses the entire acquisition-through-close process controlled by marketing, then Growth Hacking sits primarily at the top of the funnel (tofu) in acquisition.

Growth Hacking can include tofu inbound/outbound techniques that "demand gen" folks might call content creation, PR, communications and promote with inbound/outbound tools.

Recommended Content for Learning More

Here are additional resources for a better understanding of “Demand Generation” skills and concepts:



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