Lead nurturing is essential to successful selling in the industrial sector because the majority of leads you generate are not immediately ready to buy. Rather, they are in the early research and information-gathering phases of the industrial buy cycle, which tends to be long and complex and often involves multiple decision makers and influencers. Therefore, you must “nurture” your leads — provide them nourishment to help them develop and grow and become a customer.

In this case, “nourishment” means relevant, educational content delivered at the right time to the right prospect. “Develop and grow” means that you keep your prospects interested and motivate them to choose your company when they are ready to buy.

Identify prospects for lead nurturing
If you haven’t engaged in lead nurturing campaigns yet, your first task is to go through your leads database and identify and segment those prospects who are good candidates for lead nurturing. For example, people who have visited your Web site and downloaded white papers or registered for Webinars, but weren’t sales ready.

If possible, divide your leads into segments that make sense, such as by industry, product interest, or title. Any information you have on them can be useful in segmenting them into discrete groups. This will help you be more relevant as you plan what content to develop and distribute.

Develop relevant content… and lots of it
If you think of lead nurturing as the process of telling your prospects a compelling story over time, you’ll understand why you need a library of appropriate and relevant content. Your content library might include white papers, technical articles, how-to articles, videos, Webinars, blog entries, Web pages, case studies, and more.

You may already have some of this content on hand; other pieces may need to be created. The single most important aspect of your lead nurturing content is that it be educational in nature, not sales-oriented. Repeat: educate, don’t sell. Why? Prospects that are not ready to buy are by definition not ready to be sold to; if you start out by selling, they might turn away.

On the other hand, when you tell your story with an educational slant, you are being useful and relevant to your audience. You might tell the story that takes a potential buyer on a journey from the types of problems they face to the solutions available to them and the results they can achieve. In doing so, you will demonstrate your expertise, build trust with prospects, and increase the likelihood they will choose your company when ready to buy.

The other important aspect about content is that the industrial buying process often includes multiple decision makers and influencers. Buyers can be segmented into three types: an analytic buyer who has a problem to solve; a technical buyer who is responsible for making sure the chosen solution will work; and an economic buyer whose concern is return on investment. Try to develop content for all three types. For example: a process white paper or case study for the analytic buyer, a technical specification sheet for the technical buyer, an ROI calculator for the economic buyer.

Use multiple media to reach out
People like to consume content in different ways: e-mail, Web pages, videos, online events, even one-to-one conversations. The most efficient way to distribute content to lead nurturing prospects is to send e-mails with links to content, but don’t forget about the human touch. A well-timed call to simply ask prospects if they have any questions can uncover real opportunity.

Include a call-to-action with every outreach
Although with lead nurturing the mantra is “always be educating” rather than “always be closing,” you should still include a call-to-action every time you reach out to a prospect. It doesn’t have to be — and probably shouldn’t be — a “buy now” message, but always include phone numbers and e-mail addresses to contact you for more information, or links to additional content that may be of interest.

Space out your communications
Ideally you want to ask prospects how often they prefer to hear from you, and then respect their requests. But if you don’t know, it’s a good policy to space out communications. Touching base with prospects every three of four weeks in a lead nurturing campaign is often enough to keep your company in their mind, but not so often that they begin to feel overwhelmed.

Define sales-ready leads
Before beginning a lead nurturing campaign, consult with your sales organization and agree upon a definition of what constitutes a sales-ready lead. Remember, long term prospects in your lead nurturing programs are not sales ready, but if they exhibit specific behaviors they might be. For example, if they answer a question about their timeframe for a decision, or they want a sample product, or if they do something else that indicates they are ready for a sales call. Hand off these leads to your sales team.

Track results over time
Lead nurturing campaigns can last six months, a year, or even more. Track which prospects drop off (for example, unsubscribe), which ones become sales-ready leads, and which of those become customers. This way you can measure the ROI on your lead nurturing program and refine the program as needed.

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