Lead Nurturing Best Practices

Lead Nurturing Best PracticesLead nurturing is the process of building relationships with prospects over time while shaping their interest in your solution to a certain threshold, or lead score, until the lead is ready for sales. It’s similar to progressing from dating to marriage. First, there’s initial contact where one person expresses interest in another. If the person being courted is too aggressive in their response it could be a turn off to the interested party. Fortunately, there are dating and lead nurturing best practices to adhere to. Whether dating or trying to sell, it’s vital to deepen the relationship over time and know when to commit more.

According to Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, 95% of website visitors are not ready to speak to sales. They may be just researching your industry and your company. However, studies show sales-readiness of website visitors will increase over time. In fact, 70% of those visitors will eventually buy from someone – including your competition. Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize this outcome.

What problems does lead nurturing solve?

If your lead generation process is similar to most companies, once a contact fills out a web form two things occur. First, the contact is loaded into a CRM system, such as Salesforce.com. Second, a sales person qualifies the contact with a phone call or email. If the contact does not seem like a short term sale for the sales person the lead is ignored and deemed “unqualified”. No further interaction occurs between the company and the contact. Consequentially, lead generation processes become inefficient and “rusty” over time while sales people develop a stigma about the quality of marketing’s leads. Research supports this trend as 80% of all marketing leads are unused, which is a waste of 80% of marketing’s budget.

How will lead nurturing help you?

To maximize ROI on your marketing dollars, it is imperative that interested prospects remain in close communication with you and your company well beyond the initial point of contact. Instead of dropping unqualified leads into a black hole, companies should build a relationship with the lead through a series of scheduled communications. By doing so, companies shape the preference of their potential buyers and stand a better chance of winning a prospects business.

Forrester, CSO Insights and Brian Carroll summarized the benefits of lead nurturing:

  1. Decrease the percent of leads generated by marketing that are ignored by sales from 80% to approximately 25%.
  2. Raise win rates of leads generated by marketing 7% points higher and reduce “no decisions” by 6%.
  3. Have 9% more sales representatives make quota and decrease ramp up time for new reps by 10%.
  4. Increase efficiency as nurtured-prospects buy more, require less discounting and have shorter sales cycles than prospects that bought but were not nurtured.
  5. Generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost-per-lead.

Number 5 is very important. Lead nurturing allows marketers to maximize return on their most valued asset, a marketing database. Marketers spend lots of money collecting new leads to build up their database. Rely less on adding uninterested contacts with incomplete information to your database and focus on building a high quality database you can nurture. By eliminating dependencies on new contacts and leveraging existing leads, marketers lower cost per lead.

For the expert marketer, this is solid data. However, for beginners trying to understand why they should spend any time on lead nurturing here’s a simple summary. Lead nurturing will:

  • automate follow-up communication with leads too numerous to be handled through direct sales; and
  • cultivate and nurture contacts over time so those contacts remember your brand when the need arises.

Lead nurturing tips

Creating a lead nurturing plan is not difficult. Here are four tips for creating your plan:

1. Create content that tells a story, from start to finish.

2. Don’t focus nurturing content on your product; rather, focus content on what your product does for your prospect. Communicate your message using 3rd party content, case studies, white papers, eBooks, Podcasts, webinars and tradeshows invitations.

3. Select a time line and frequency for your nurturing program. Most programs last 12 months on average but vary based on sales cycles. Identify how long your typical sales cycle is and use that as the duration of your nurturing program. Most programs nurture their leads one time per month on average.

4. Keep lead nurturing simple. Experts suggest 80% of the benefit of lead nurturing is achieved by the first 20% of effort. Refrain from creating too many lead nurturing programs / tracks. To start, create only one program per industry relevant to your business. For example, if most of your customers are in the finance and telecom industry create two programs; one with content relevant to finance and the other with content relevant to telecom.

Sample lead nurturing program

Below is an example of a lead nurturing program with 12 nurturing events over 12 months.

Initial Contact –> Introductory phone call and follow-up “thank you” email
Month 1 –> 3rd party article on pertinent technology via email
Month 2 –> Industry relevant case study via email with follow-up call
Month 3 –> Newsletter with scheduled follow up task
Month 4 –> 3rd party article on pertinent technology via email
Month 5 –> Relevant white paper via email
Month 6 –> Targeted campaign via direct mail
Month 7 –> Relevant eBook via email with scheduled follow-up call
Month 8 –> Link to relevant Podcast via email with follow-up call
Month 9 –> Free report via email with follow-up call
Month 10 –> Invitation to webinar via email with follow-up call
Month 11 –> Call to invite to industry trade show and follow-up with registration link
Month 12 –> Prospect calls you and becomes a sales-ready lead

Executing lead nurturing best practices

Once your lead nurturing program is up and running, you’ll need to start prioritizing and capturing your leads. First, you have to define what a sales-ready lead is. A sales-ready lead is a contact that meets your ideal profile and/or demonstrates interest in your solution commensurate with buying signals. By using lead scoring, companies have the opportunity to measure the relative levels of sales-readiness of one lead versus another. Combining lead scoring with real-time lead tracking technology allows companies to notify their sales team of a hot lead at the exact moment a nurtured-contact interacts with marketing collateral. For example, if a contact is sent an email message with links to an article on your company’s website, you’ll be notified in real-time via email or desktop software when the contact clicks the link. This process creates a closed-loop email marketing system, which most email marketing programs do not have.

We suggest defining a sales-ready lead and your lead nurturing programs in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). SLAs are used to broker collaboration and agreement between sales and marketing. Remember, make sure you execute your lead nurturing plan and stick to it. To quote Thomas Edison, “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration”.

A lead nurturing program similar to the one above can be fully automated and executed using revenue generation software from Lead Liaison.

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. What lead nurturing best practices do you suggest?

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