Many marketers employ lead nurturing programs to keep the communication channels open and interest level up with long-term leads that are not yet sales-ready. Lead nurturing is important because you’ve already invested resources to generate the lead and you don’t want them to forget your company when they are ready to buy. These long-term leads have already raised their hands once to express interest in your products and services, and there’s a good chance they will again if you develop a good relationship with them.

Here are five ways you can make your lead nurturing programs dynamic in 2011. These strategies will help keep potential customers engaged with your company and increase your opportunities to win more business from long-term prospects.

1. Map out a content plan
The number-one factor in keeping leads interested is providing useful and relevant content that helps them do their jobs better. Try to plan out a year’s worth of content that you can deliver as part of a lead nurturing program. You probably already have a lot of the content on hand; other pieces you may need to develop. Now is the time to get started.

The content can, and should, take a number of forms. Here are few ideas:

  • White papers/articles
  • Case studies
  • Data sheets
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Links to specific industry news/resources
  • Interviews with experts/executives

2. Personalize your outreach
By personalization, we mean more than beginning an e-mail with ‘Dear David,’ although that’s always a good idea. Take the next step and personalize the content you deliver based on the interest area of your prospects. If your company sells only a few products, it’s easy, but if you have a large portfolio of offerings, try to provide specific pieces of content related to your prospect’s interest area. Again, it comes back to relevancy. You have a much higher chance of keeping your prospect in the fold if you provide information they want.

One way to personalize lead nurturing is to deliver content based on action taken by a prospect. For example, if they click on a link in an e-mail about one of your new products, you might send them a product information sheet next. Or if they download a white paper on a specific topic, you might invite them to a related Webinar.

Sometimes you don’t know a lot about a prospect at the beginning. Maybe you only have a name, e-mail address and a company name. If that’s the case, then one of your first lead nurturing touch points could be an invitation to participate in a quick online survey. You can ask a few questions to learn more about your prospect’s needs and interests, then use the data to tailor your lead nurturing.

3. Create a lead nurturing schedule
Try to develop a schedule for communicating with long-term leads that enables you to deliver your content piece-by-piece at regular intervals. Each new long-term lead your company generates should be started at the beginning of your lead nurturing program, not thrown into the middle of the lead nurturing process.

In a lead nurturing program, you will have different prospects receiving different content at different times. This may sound complex, but most lead management/sales automation programs allow you to set up processes to support this type of lead nurturing.

4. Mix it up with media
Some people like to read, others prefer to watch, still others favor one-to-one conversations. Therefore, you should mix up the media you use in your lead nurturing programs:

  • Use e-mails with links to content (white papers, videos, data sheets, application notes, blog entries, etc.), invitations to Webinars, or offers to subscribe to an e-newsletter or your blog. Invite prospects to visit your Facebook page and become a fan. Ask them to follow you on Twitter.
  • If you have postal addresses, send a personalized printed letter along with a brochure, data sheet, or interesting article.
  • Pick up the phone and place a call. It’s okay if you get voice mail; this is your opportunity to leave a brief 15-20 second message and let your prospect know there’s a person at your company that cares.

5. Engage prospects with interactivity
A great way to nurture leads and keep their interest up is to ask for their opinions and give them many opportunities to interact with you. Conduct online polls and surveys, invite them to participate in online discussion forums, or invite them to an online event where they can ask questions online and chat with your team. Lead nurturing is about building strong, memorable relationships and one of the best ways to do that is to make communication a two-way street.

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