enterprise saas demand generation frustrated salesman

I checked. In the past week, I received over 200 demand generation outreaches (emails, LinkedIn requests, webinar invites, phone calls). There were 152 emails, 25 of which were personalized.  There were 18 LinkedIn connection requests. Only one didn’t try and sell me something on first contact. I was invited to 23 webinars – none of which I attended. There were 14 calls from unknown numbers that I didn’t even bother to answer  A lot of companies spent a lot of money to connect with me and got zero results.  Demand generation in 2021 is tough.  Vendors need to find a way not to piss off their prospects so much.

A few years ago Don Welch, the CIO at Penn State University, penned a great article titled “An Open Letter to Vendors”.  Don is the ideal target for many SaaS companies.  The article gave great advice about what not to do and what works for him.

KL Magazine

What Not To Do

Don’t Send E-Mails

“Don’t bother with e-mails. If it looks like a sales e-mail I delete it without reading it. If what shows in the preview bar does catch my eye, it is for the wrong reason. Impassioned pleas for me not to miss this opportunity and increasing annoyance at my failure to reply really annoy me.”

Don Welch

Email is one of the top demand generation tactics:


“The single sales approach that sends me over the edge is an email that says I’m a moron and have been ripping off my employer by taking my salary.  They are worded something like, “did you know ransomware is costing companies like yours thousands of dollars?” No kidding? Sometimes, “we found a vulnerability in your network, would you like to know what it is?” Only one? Give me a little credit for being competent.”

Don Welch

75% of marketers think personalization improves click-through rates (SocialMediaToday).  While personalization can improve campaign effectiveness, it has to be done right.

“If you send a customized email, at least try to make it accurate. For example, a company that wants me to use them for background checks sent me a customized email to me saying what a great job they can do for the University of Michigan… wait for it…which I left 2 years ago… wait for it…which they sent to my Penn State email.  Yep, those are the people I want doing my background checks.”

Don Welch

Don’t Cold Call

Don’t cold call. Most of my day is booked. If I get some desk time I’m not answering an external or unknown number. My voicemail says to not bother leaving a message if you are a vendor we don’t already work with. Don’t leave a voicemail explaining how you are different, I won’t get 10 seconds into it before I delete it and I’m annoyed at you for not following instructions.”

Don Welch

In the 90s I worked for an enterprise software firm.  Our inside sales team used cold calls to generate leads.  I was skeptical at first.  The company hired a specialist to train the team. He was very effective. During the class, he would challenge the class to give him the name of a prospective company they had been trying to crack into.  He would pick up the phone and proceed to talk to various people, eventually get the name and number of a good prospect.  He would then call that person and in two minutes get them to agree to the next step with one of our outside sales reps.  Ron was impressive.

Fast forward to 2021 and things are different.  Caller ID is standard, even on mobile phones.  So are warnings like ‘suspected spam’. People simply don’t pick up the phone for people they don’t know.  One of my clients conducts win/loss interviews for enterprise SaaS companies.  Recruiting interviewees for a 20-minute discussion is tough.  They use a three-pronged approach.  Personalized emails leveraging CRM/SFA data, LinkedIn InMail messages, and finally cold calls using CRM contact info.  They experienced at most a 2% answer rate.  Of the successful contacts, less than 10% converted to a win/loss interview.  It takes a lot of dials to get 20 confirmed interviews.

Don’t Send Crap Through Delivery Services

“Don’t send me crap through delivery services. I’ve received SWAG I don’t want and ask my admin to give away without caring who sent it. I once wasted an hour dealing with Federal Express to get a package delivered to the right address that was a box of air with a postcard in it. I didn’t think it would take that long (yea FedEx) and I couldn’t confirm who it was from until the very end. Then I wanted it delivered so that I knew who I was never going to consider buying from.”

Don Welch

At the height of the Dot-Com era, a common demand generation technique was to send swag like mugs, t-shirts, or pens via FedEx to prospects.  The cost of such campaigns soon became prohibitive due to the extremely low conversion rates. While this practice still exists today it is no longer considered to be a mainstream tactic.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

What To Do

Let Them Learn on Their Own Time

“How do you introduce your product that is going to revolutionize security to me? I want to learn about it on my time. Advertise in podcasts or security websites. “Publish white papers and don’t require me to register just so that you can annoy me later.  I listen and read when I get the chance. Times like those I’m not reacting and I’m open to learning.”

Don Welch

Creating compelling fact-based content has always been the cornerstone of any demand generation program.  Yet many firms outsource this work to marketing agencies that produce well-written SEO-perfect copy but lack real credibility.  

Nothing is better than content written by subject matter experts backed up by credible, independent research.  One trend that works involves annual industry surveys.  Your firm should consider sponsoring an annual survey that covers the problem domain of your market niche.  


Demand generation needs to shift from a ‘push’ model to an ‘attraction’ model.  Don Welch wrote his piece before the Pandemic.  His advice then was:

“Have a booth or presentation at a conference. Once again, this is when I’m in learning mode. So when I come by your booth I’m going to look at your signs and see what you do. Make them informative.”

Don Welch

In-person conferences and events are slowly making a comeback.  They always provided an opportunity for prospects to learn on their own time.  Today virtual events are extremely popular.  These are more than glorified vendor webinars.  An example is the Product Camp Online virtual conference.  Pre-Pandemic Product Camp was a global series of unconferences. An unconference is a gathering that tries to avoid hierarchical aspects of a conventional conference, such as sponsored presentations and top-down organization. The agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space. 

Final Thoughts

Prospects like Don are looking for credible content.  They need to learn new things that can make their business better.  Tactics like inundating a prospect with emails, LinkedIn requests and webinar invites after a single download are counter-productive.  In Don’s words:

I’ve got a job to do too and very low on my priority list is helping sales staff make their numbers.

Don’t tell me you have no competition, that your product revolutionizes security or that it is magic. Let me come to that conclusion and there is a good chance we’ll buy it. Tell me it’s magic and I’ll tell you why I think you are a moron.

I know I’m difficult to deal with, but I could spend 1-2 hours a day reading/replying to vendor e-mails and listening/replying to vendor calls. That is not a good use of my time. When I’m ready then I’ll listen. 

Also published on Medium.

By John Mecke

John is a 25 year veteran of the enterprise technology market. He has led six global product management organizations for three public companies and three private equity-backed firms. He played a key role in delivering a $115 million dividend for his private equity backers – a 2.8x return in less than three years. He has led five acquisitions for a total consideration of over $175 million. He has led eight divestitures for a total consideration of $24.5 million in cash. John regularly blogs about product management and mergers/acquisitions.