Demand Gen: The Volume Myth

With over 8 years behind the wheel of many different marketing automation instances, we’ve seen our fair share of campaigns - many of which were successful, but also numerous failures. Through this, we have noticed that there is a myth that B2B Marketers can't seem to shake when it comes to demand gen for campaigns - “a larger audience is always better.”

This is not necessarily a toxic thought, however, when marketing teams prioritize the volume of people they want to target and ignore the genuine interest of those people, whether they are true subscribers or have shown interest recently (or ever), then it’s a problem.

Here are a couple of questions we like to ask B2B marketers who are thinking of increasing their audience size with unengaged prospects:

  • Question: “How do you personally like being marketed to?”

    • Typical Response: “I like to do my own research and then if I am really interested in a company’s content I’ll subscribe”

  • Question: “Do you like being sent generic emails from companies you have either not heard of, not interested in, or have not subscribed to?”

    • Typical Response: “No, I hate getting those emails and I never respond, apart to unsubscribe”.

So why do we continue to market to our audience in a way that we would not like to be marketed to ourselves?

As marketers, we often share an irrational belief that marketing to 10,000 people will lead to better results than targeting 1000, even if only 1000 people on the list are true subscribers. Are we kidding ourselves?

Testing this Theory

We recently saw an example of this (numbers simplified for privacy and easier explanation; but very close to reality):

The test involved inviting two different segments to the same event:

  1. List size of ~1000 subscribers who have meaningfully engaged in the last 24 months

  2. List of ~10,000 “leads” who have either shown no interest in the last 24 months or are purchased and new to the database

After inviting the two lists to the event independently but with all other variables (content, copy, timing etc) staying the same, there were zero registrations from the non-subscriber list and a CTR of very close to 0%. On the other hand, there were 50+ registrants from the engaged subscriber list.

The Results

The Unengaged List Results.png

The results from this test were clear. Sending a mass, generic communication to non-genuine subscribers in this specific example was a failure. Not only were there no meaningful benefits from adding thousands of recipients, but there were unsubscribes, risks of getting blacklisted, negative impacts on their email reputation, and (more than likely) annoyed several hundred people in the process.

All this being said, it makes sense why examples like this happen so frequently. As B2B marketers, we have an increasingly difficult task. We have to cut through the noise, battle competitors for attention and find enough qualified leads/accounts for sales to meet lofty revenue goals (and in many cases keep sales busy).

As the numbers and targets at the bottom of the funnel increase, we often believe the numbers at the top of the funnel and in our campaigns have to increase as well. We are already doing all the content/inbound marketing we can and sales are still hungry for more, so we stop relying on inbound to meet our goals and move to a more proactive ABM approach, which often includes strengthening the database with unengaged contacts and then marketing to them.

An Alternative

I’d like to propose that we try to empathize more with our “audience” and think of them more as individuals and not thousands of names on a list. We need to think more about the people who may not want our message and then segment and prioritize our marketing to those who do. While always following the golden rule: market like we would want to be marketed to.


If we have to contact people who are not showing obvious intent, let’s take the time to research who they are and what they need, then craft a 1-to-1 message just for them. It may take longer and the volume will be lower, but as our test proved, maybe volume isn’t the correct goal to have anyway.

Whatever your company’s strategy is, it may be time to test your assumptions and make more data-driven evaluations on whether your strategy is actually working. Run audience tests, not just subject line tests and decide if the positives of increasing audience volume outweigh the negatives. You may find bigger is better in many cases, but it probably should not be your default option.

Like Seth Godin states in his book Purple Cow, that we recommend in our latest newsletter, “Doing nothing, is not as good as doing something great, but marketing just to keep busy is worse than nothing at all.