Most clients come to me simply because they aren’t generating enough leads. They believe that if they could just get more ‘at bats’ or leads, they could increase their sales. While there’s some truth to this, one of the things that I see lacking in the marketing programs from many companies is a solid lead nurturing program. In many cases, these companies just don’t know how to nurture sales leads.
Some Critical Definitions
In order to ‘nurture’ a lead, you have to have a well-defined definition for the term lead and use that throughout your organization, across both marketing and sales, so you’re both working with the same definitions.
Lead Generation is the process of locating potential buyers and determining their likelihood of becoming a customer (before a sales call is even made).
A Sales Lead is typically defined as the name, contact information and background information of a prospective buyer and ideally this individual has expressed interest in your product, service, category or company.
And finally, a Qualified Lead is a prospect who is ready to see a salesperson.
So, what exactly does lead nurturing consist of? First, it’s a process. It involves a series of connections and conversations that will bring your product to the consciousness of prospective buyers, and maintain contact, until they are ready to talk to a salesperson. It requires persistence on your part, especially with B2B sales.
I often describe lead nurturing as the process of keeping yourself top of mind. In most cases, sales are not made on the first interaction. But it’s important to point out that 45% of all business inquiries result in a sale–eventually. The point here is that if you don’t nurture and keep your company top of mind, your competitor will get the business.
If you’re involved in B2B interactions, acknowledge that the sales cycle is longer. Typically, it’s a group buying decision, so just having more people involved in the process (think committees and boards) makes it take longer.
With a B2B buying decision, you’re usually talking about a high-priced item, which means there’s more thought that goes into the business case for the purchase. It’s often something that isn’t off the shelf, so if there’s customization, what does that entail and how do you know it will work?
And people are busy. They are usually wearing more than one hat and the purchase process for this item isn’t usually anyone’s highest priority so they’re balancing this along with all the other things on their plate.
Recognize The Buyer Journey Has Changed
Buyers are online, researching solutions to their problems. They’re listening to what their peers might be working on and how it relates to their own success.
With the ability to uncover a good deal of information about pretty much anything, buyers only want to engage with sales people towards the end of the process. So this means a few changes for the way sales and marketing are conducted today.
Because buyers can do a lot of research up-front, it means that marketers do have an opportunity to engage their prospects earlier in the process than ever before. However, that also means that marketing owns the relationship and has to keep it moving forward for a longer period of time–which essentially means you have to have well-thought out nurturing process.
How To Nurture Sales Leads
The next action is to develop a step by step nurturing process.
It works best to initially qualify sales inquiries with some kind of outbound contact, usually by email or by phone. Then that allows you to sort the remaining non-qualified prospects into buckets based on their qualification criteria. You want to gain more insight into their needs and the business issues that are most relevant and meaningful for them.
Then the best thing to do is to set up a decision tree contact process for communicating with the prospects but you want to do this by segment. You’ll want to segment prospects into groups that might be based on company size, the individual’s job function, industry, or maybe level of installed products. As you gather more intelligence, the information should be added into their record.
The idea then is to set up a flow of responses that details the frequency and path of communication and the medium and message to be used. Email is the most popular form of lead nurturing followed by telephone calls and direct mail.
May organizations fall into the trap of thinking that lead nurturing is sending out an occasional email newsletter. It’s not blasting your entire list with a white paper offer. It’s certainly not calling through the whole list every 6 or 8 weeks to check in and see if they’re ready to buy. It’s also not blindly sending out content that promotes every product and service you sell. That’s not what the individual was after in the first place. When you engage, it should be considerate of their interests and needs.
The nurturing function belongs in marketing–not sales. And it really should be managed as a separate activity so you can perform very specific tracking to identify success and areas for improvement or modification.
Realize that there are multiple avenues to take for generating loyal customers. Don’t ignore all the customers who need a little more time or convincing–learn how to nurture sales leads. Establish long-lasting, relationships, and you will acquire long-term loyal buyers who are invested in your company because you took the time to address their needs.