Your marketing team spends a lot of time and money generating (or trying to generate) qualified leads, but how many of those result in closed/won deals? The truth is, there’s a big difference between “qualified” and “ready to buy.” That’s why creating a lead nurturing program is so important.
What is lead nurturing?
For most B2B businesses, that person coming to your website for the first time is not looking to purchase. Instead, they are gathering information, learning more about what you have to offer, and seeing if it helps resolve the problem they may have. In fact, it’s more likely than not, they are just one voice in a buying committee of 5 or more people.
Lead nurturing is the process B2B marketers use to build relationships with their prospects, even when they’re not yet ready to buy, in order to win their business when they are ready.
Your job as a marketer is to give your prospects the information they need to make a buying decision, to keep your brand front-and-center during this period and be ready when they’re finally ready to commit.
Here are five foundational steps you can take to set up a successful lead nurturing program:
- Understanding the fundamentals of lead nurturing
- Designing a basic lead nurturing program
- Sync in with sales
- Measure the progress of your lead nurturing program
- Learning how to use lead nurturing to build a better, more productive relationship between your marketing and sales teams
The fundamentals of lead nurturing
B2B buyers often work on extended buying cycles and may take 18 months or more to make major purchasing decisions. According to Ascend2, 48 percent of businesses reported their leads require “long cycle” nurturing with many influencers.
Today’s B2B prospects also spend far more time doing online research – upwards of 93 percent – 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.
The good news is these prospects are interested in your offer. 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 and segmentation are key parts to your nurture program (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.
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.
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.
If you’re using an adaptive marketing platform, like Act-On, you can take advantage of the latest technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, that can automagically segment, assign content, and send your emails.
Synch in with Sales
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.
Measure Your Results
Lead nurturing, especially when combined with an adaptive marketing platform, 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 clickthrough 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/won deals? What is the average revenue associated with those deals, and how long do they take to close?
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.
Review, improve, expand
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: 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.