Your company probably spends a lot of time and money generating qualified leads, but how many of those result in closed deals? The truth is, there's a big difference between "qualified" and "ready to buy." In fact, according to SiriusDecisions, 70% of the qualified leads that make it to sales get disqualified or discarded at some point.
Here's the catch: Up to 80% of those "dead end" prospects will ultimately go on to buy from you - or from a competitor - within 24 months.
Lead Nurturing Fact: 50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy.
Lead nurturing is the process B2B marketers use to build relationships with these prospects - even when they're not yet ready to buy - in order to win their business when they are ready to buy. Your job as a marketer is to give these prospects the information they need to make a buying decision, to keep your brand front-and-center during this period, and to be there when they're finally ready to commit.
In the following guide, we'll explain the six foundational steps your company can take to set up a successful lead nurturing program. These include:
Understanding the fundamentals of lead nurturing;
Designing a basic lead nurturing program;
Learning how to refine and expand your program;
Measure the progress of your lead nurturing program; and
Learning how to use lead nurturing to build a better, more productive relationship between your marketing and sales teams.
Step 1: Understand Lead Nurturing
B2B buyers often work on extended buying cycles; they may take 18 months or more to make major purchasing decisions. Today's B2B prospects also spend far more time doing online research - a situation that often brings them to the attention of a company's sales and marketing teams long before they are ready to make a buying decision.
Lead Nurturing Fact: 80% of prospects deemed "bad leads" by sales teams go on to buy within 24 months.
One challenge, of course, is separating these "warm" leads - those that aren't ready to buy today - from the "hot" leads that represent immediate sales opportunities. That's why lead scoring tools are increasingly popular today (see sidebar). Another challenge is how to engage those warm leads over time, giving them the information they need without annoying or alienating them.
Think of lead nurturing as a journey for your buyers, where your marketing organization plays the tour guide. You'll learn more about what buyers like, based upon their online activity and behavior. You'll provide relevant, timely information, based upon those preferences. Finally, you'll learn to recognize when buyers are ready to make a decision - and to begin a conversation with your sales team.
How Lead Scoring And Lead Nurturing Work Together
In a previous guide, we explained how lead scoring can supercharge your sales and marketing efforts. An important lead scoring concept - the warm lead - is also extremely important for the lead nurturing process.
Warm leads show a clear interest in your products and services, but they don't score quite as high as obvious sales-ready opportunities. Defining a warm lead in a scoring system is often a matter of trial and error; it will depend upon a number of behavioral and demographic scoring criteria, combined with your company's experience dealing with various types of buyers. Once you find the right lead scoring threshold, it's much easier to automate the process of routing hot leads straight to your sales team, while holding back warm leads for your lead nurturing program.
Step 2: Paint A Picture Of Your Ideal Buyer
Every lead nurturing program begins with a better understanding of your customers. Here are some key questions to help you accomplish this goal:
How many people are involved in the process of buying your company's products or services?
What job roles do they play, and how influential are they in the final decision?
What business needs drive their decisions?
What questions do they typically have, and what objections are they likely to raise, before they make a decision?
What does your buyer's purchase process look like?
How long does the process usually take?
How do buyers respond to your existing marketing campaigns?
Does their online behavior suggest certain patterns in how they consume your marketing content?
Once you gather the data to answer these questions, you can define a set of ideal buyer profiles that allows you to focus and target your lead nurturing campaigns.
Step 3: Design Your Lead Nurturing Program
Now that you have a set of buyer profiles, you want to marry them to a specific lead nurturing process. This includes:
Choosing a set of nurturing touch points: How many times do you want to contact a prospect?
Choose your content offers: Perhaps you start with a white paper, move on to a set of case studies, and then invite the prospect to a webinar.
Choose your cadence: Do you contact a prospect every week? Every two weeks?
Choose your contact methods: Does your entire campaign revolve around email, or do you contact some prospects by phone, direct mail, or other methods?
A very simple lead nurturing workflow may involve just a series of four or five email messages sent over a period of several weeks. A more advanced workflow may include multiple touch points, content offers, and communication channels, all over a much longer period, and with multiple variations. It's a good idea to start with a simple workflow, and then allow your campaigns to evolve over time.
Lead Nurturing Fact: 85% of tech buyers said they need to encounter at least three pieces of content before engaging with a solution provider.
-Knowledge Storm/ Marketing Sherpa
Step 4: Assign Responsibilities
Lead nurturing is usually the marketing team's responsibility, and it's a fairly simple matter to assign a team member to manage a company's ongoing nurturing campaigns. Yet the process of developing a lead nurturing program is a cross-organizational job and should involve sales; you'll need the right people to gather data, create buyer profiles, develop nurturing campaign workflows, and find or create content.
There are two other reasons to build a lead nurturing team that includes representatives of both sales and marketing:
Managing handoffs. The goal of a lead nurturing campaign is to move prospects down the funnel, turn them into opportunities, and hand them off to sales. But the devil is in the details: What criteria define an "opportunity?" When does the sales team take over the messaging and contact process from marketing?
Building a feedback process. Is the nurturing program delivering results? When leads don't work out, are sales reps trained to return them to the nurturing program, or do they simply discard them? As always, clear lines of communications between sales and marketing can make the difference between success and failure.
Progressive Profiling And Lead Nurturing
By definition, lead nurturing involves prospects that are already in your marketing database. So when you offer them a new piece of content as part of a nurturing campaign, the last thing you want to do is ask them for the same information over and over again. But what if the information you have already collected has gaps, or you'd like to learn more about a prospect so that you can deliver personalized content?
Progressive profiling solves this problem, while still allowing you to collect more information about a prospect over time. A white paper offer, for example, might just ask a prospect for one or two new pieces of information; the marketing automation system then appends this new information to a contact's existing record.
Step 5: Get Started - And Measure Your Results!
Lead nurturing, especially when combined with a marketing automation solution, gives your company the ability to track and measure the effectiveness of your efforts. There are a few places to look for key performance indicators in a lead nurturing campaign, including:
Engagement: Email open and click-through rates are an obvious starting point for your tracking efforts.
Lead acceleration: How long does it take to move your leads between nurturing campaign stages, and how long does it take to move nurtured leads into the sales cycle?
Outcome metrics: How many nurtured leads that enter the sales pipeline turn into closed deals? What is the average revenue associated with those deals, and how long do they take to close?
Lead Nurturing Fact: Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost per lead.
Once you establish a baseline with these and other key indicators, you can look for trouble spots in your nurturing campaign, experiment with solutions and consider your next steps.
Step 6: Plan For The Future
A basic lead nurturing campaign, using a handful of buyer profiles, a limited process flow, and some performance metrics, is a great place to start. Like lead scoring, however, lead nurturing is a process that's never finished; there's always room to refine, improve and expand your efforts.
Besides adding new touchpoints, content, and communication channels to your existing campaigns, there are other ways to take advantage of lead nurturing, including:
Customer loyalty and retention: Use nurturing tactics to build deeper relationships with your existing customers - including cross-sell and upsell opportunities based on targeted content.
Customer welcome and onboarding: Customer welcome and onboarding: Use lead nurturing to introduce customers to a newly-purchased product or service; give them support options, tips and tricks, community information, and other resources.
Remarketing: So-called "waking the dead" campaigns can make the most of missed opportunities (see sidebar).
Lead nurturing can be intimidating, and it can certainly be a complex undertaking. Getting started with lead nurturing, however, can be a straightforward process, given an effective game plan and clearly defined goals.
'Waking The Dead' With Lead Nurturing
Some sales-ready leads don't work out. Some might get all the way to a closed deal, only to fall through at the very last minute. Red-hot prospects might make all the right moves - and then suddenly drop out of sight for no apparent reason.
Whatever you do, don't write off these missed opportunities as "dead" deals. A buyer might suffer a setback, such as a budget snafu or a change of management. They might have a last- minute change in their product requirements. They might simply want to spend a little more time thinking about their decision. A lead nurturing program is an ideal way to reach out to these missed opportunities and to stay on their radar.