Four Best Practices to Optimize Your Lead Nurturing Efforts

In this digital era when technical professionals have more sources of information and a broader choice of vendors than ever before, many do not contact a supplier until they are close to making a buying decision. Other potential customers contact every possible vendor that could serve their needs. In either situation, and everything in between, you end up generating leads from technical professionals who could be anywhere in their buy cycle—from early research to late stage.

lead nurturing

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To convert more of these leads to sales, to keep your sales reps happy with qualified leads, and to improve marketing ROI on your campaigns, you need a solid lead nurturing program to help prospects move along to the next stages of their buy cycle. The word nurture means to nourish, protect, support and encourage. And that’s exactly what you need to do with your leads:

  • Nourish—provide them healthy servings of relevant, useful information
  • Protect—keep them interested so they don’t abandon you for another supplier
  • Support—stay in regular contact always ready to meet their needs
  • Encourage—give them offers to help them move forward in their buy cycle

An effective lead nurturing program will fulfill all of these goals. Here are the best practices you need to follow:

1. Segment and score leads
Sales and marketing need to work together to define different types of leads; for instance, leads that are sales-ready versus leads that belong in marketing’s nurturing program. Use any criteria that work for your organization to segment and score leads. It could be demographics, product interest, buying timeframe, purchasing authority, budget, size of potential deal, location, digital behavior (such as website visits, webinar registrations, white paper downloads)—or any combination of these attributes. You can apply weights to different lead attributes and come up with a lead score. Example: leads that score a one, two or three belong in marketing; leads scoring four or five are ready for sales.

The way that you score leads—and adjust their scores over time—is the foundation for all other best practices in lead nurturing.

2. Maintain prospect interest
If you do a good job of segmenting and scoring leads, you will gain a solid understanding of your prospects’ interests and needs. Your goal then is to feed them a steady supply of content and offers related to their needs and interests. Technical professionals are looking for information that will help them solve the problem they are facing, which is directly related to the reason they contacted you in the first place. They want to know how things work, how your product helps them complete a task, what their different options are and what are the latest technologies and newest products.

You can deliver this information in a variety of ways. New leads might be most interested in educational content such as infographics, blog posts, articles, white papers and webinars. Prospects that score a little higher would be looking for demos, product overviews and technical specs. The next level might include buying guides, ROI calculators and competitive differentiators. Get the right information to the right prospects and you will keep them engaged.

3. Watch for signs of progress
One reason lead nurturing programs exist is that the buy cycle can be long, complex and involve multiple decision makers. Prospects do not want to be pressured into making quick decisions. You must keep the long view and respect their timelines in your lead nurturing programs. That said, look for signs of prospects moving forward, and when they do, take appropriate action, such as passing them off to a sales representative or sending them a customized offer.

To do this requires that you keep track of what your prospects are doing and adjust their lead scores along the way. For example, a lead that scores one upon initial contact with your company could become a three after spending three months in your lead nurturing program, based on their digital behavior. Therefore, you must continually monitor your prospects, track their behavior and look for signs of progress that indicates a change in the status of their readiness to engage.

4. Use Marketing Automation
It’s possible to develop and execute a lead nurturing program using manual processes or spreadsheets, but marketing automation software is becoming a common tool and an investment might make economic sense. The fact is, your prospects are everywhere on digital media—websites, social media sites, online events, blogs, webinars, video sharing sites and more. They are downloading, clicking, reading, streaming, watching and commenting. Plus you’re likely using multiple digital channels in your quest to connect with prospects.

Marketing automation software allows you to capture all of this action across digital channels. It is built to excel at lead management and nurturing. It can help you manage all of this complexity by scoring leads, creating landing pages, tracking prospect actions, triggering automatic emails, reporting on the effectiveness of various content, producing analytics and much more.

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Buy Cycle Industrial Marketing and Sales Lead Management Marketing ROI Marketing Strategy

Demand Process: Taking a Strategic Approach to Demand Generation

Most B-to-B companies focus on too many marketing tactics without taking a strategic approach to demand generation, resulting in weak performance and ROI of marketing initiatives. This is one of the key points brought up at the Industrial Marketing Digital Summit by Adam B. Needles, chief strategy officer at ANNUITAS, a B-to-B demand generation firm.

Needles quoted a Forrester Research study that reported B-to-B marketers are juggling too many tactical balls, with 75 percent of them using 15 of the 26 marketing techniques surveyed. The findings held true across the SMB segment as well as larger enterprises.

The number one pain point for these organizations is the lack of quality leads for sales. This is a problem even in organizations using marketing automation technology, because the technology itself does not solve process issues. Another problem is that content does not support the buying process, because most companies lead with what they want to sell, and not with what customers want to buy. Needles referenced another survey that found 86 percent of the unique benefits touted by vendors were not perceived as unique or having enough impact to create preference.

Need for a strategic demand generation process

To overcome these challenges, Needles offers a four-step demand generation process that is strategic and perpetual with the goal of engaging, nurturing and converting buyers, driving repeatable revenue, and maximizing customer lifetime value. The four steps are:

  1. Put the buyer at center
  2. Address gaps in the middle of the funnel
  3. Build and operationalize a demand generation process
  4. Constantly optimize

1. Put the buyer at the center. Customers are living in a different world now. Due to their online research and participation in social networks and online forums, they are more informed and have more choices than ever before in terms of products and services available to them. In short, they are in control. Marketers must adapt because the power has shifted to buyers. The sales-driven culture is gone; the buyer-driven culture is here.

Companies must now build messaging, programs and systems around the goals of educating and qualifying their prospects. They must have the right content at each stage of the buy cycle and must understand at what point a potential customer wants to interact with a sales person. That’s when a lead is sales ready—when they’re ready to talk to sales person.

2. Address gaps in the middle of the funnel. Companies may be good at building awareness and generating initial contact, but too often the prospect disappears because there are no nurturing programs to support them through their buying process.

Lead management is not a strongpoint for most B-to-B organizations and less than one-fourth has a defined lead-to-revenue process, according to Forrester. Only 5 percent claim that every prospect interaction is orchestrated.

Needles also quotes a study performed by the marketing automation firm Eloqua in which the lack of lead nurturing had a negative impact on the number of leads. It is in this stage that prospects need to be understood, scored and segmented, offered relevant content, and generally cared for (or nurtured) until they are ready for sales. It is also where you continue to ask more questions of prospects that will help you further define their needs and qualify them. Also, successful companies continue to nurture prospects who many never become sales-ready because it keeps their name top of mind for referral situations or if the prospect changes jobs.

3. Build and operationalize a demand generation process. While technology such as marketing automation can help support your demand generation process from end to end, technology in itself does not build the process. The demand generation process requires a business and cultural shift in which the sequence of engagement, nurturing and conversion of buyer demand into revenue is treated as a series of steps that can be both managed and optimized.

The demand process must be structured to support each of the three phases of engagement, nurturing and conversion. You must define rules for content marketing, prospect scoring and segmentation, lead management, team member roles, and use of technology. Most importantly, the process must be used consistently and perpetually by your organization.

4. Transform and optimize the process. Improvement of the demand generation process is not an option; it’s a necessity. You should be tracking metrics and performance at every stage of the process. Two key areas to focus on are outcomes and governance. In terms of outcomes, volume and quality of leads, conversion, ROI, and customer lifetime value should all be on your list of metrics to optimize. Governance includes overall program management, end-to-end process documentation, and incorporation of best practices.
Making demand generation a strategic process is not a simple task, but it is an essential one for B-to-B companies.

For more details and several case studies, view Needles’ presentation on demand.

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Do you have a demand generation process? How have you engaged, nurtured and converted buyers? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Demand Generation