August 06, 2008

Lead Nurturing Best Practices: New Data, Charts, Tips to Put More Punch in Your Cultivation Tactics

SUMMARY: Only a small percentage of the leads you generate are likely to be “sales-ready” – especially during tough economic times. So, nurturing prospects for conversion down the road is a critical process.

Sherpa partnered with Eloqua and ON24 to survey more than 1,000 marketers about best practices for nurturing leads. Here are the results, featuring 3 new data charts and practical advice to make sure your nurturing adheres to best practices.
Don’t panic if the economic downturn has you concerned about generating leads. You have them – probably a large pool of them – in your marketing database. They will be ready to buy over the next 24 months. MarketingSherpa estimates, in fact, that more than half of the leads in the typical marketing database are viable, qualified leads – even if those prospects aren’t yet ready to buy.

Those leads definitely have value to your organization. But you must employ a solid lead nurturing strategy. We partnered with Eloqua and ON24 to survey more than 1,000 marketers about best practices in lead nurturing. We asked them specifically about three crucial lead nurturing activities:
o Use of several forms of media responses (not just email newsletters)
o Timing of telemarketing response to new Web leads
o Measurement of lead quality and the impact of lead nurturing

Three data charts show the results of the survey. Based on those responses, we’ve highlighted the tactics marketers are using, and which tactics hold the potential to qualify and convert many more Web leads. Here are the best practices and strategies for them:

Best Practice #1. Use multi-media touches to nurture leads

The first chart shows how many marketers are using more than just a standard email newsletter to reach out to leads in their nurturing program.

Chart: Aside from sending a general brand email newsletter, do you nurture leads already in your database by

Good news:
o 56.2% are using additional, targeted emails for those prospects
o 48.9% employ telemarketing to further qualify leads.

Bad news:
o Only 23.2% said they use direct mail for nurturing beyond those touches and miss out on the benefits of this approach

You need a combination of these media for a strong lead nurturing program. A variety of channels are necessary at different points in the process to catch their attention – particularly when the crush of day-to-day business makes your email messages just another blip in an overcrowded inbox.

Here are some tips on using multiple media channels for lead nurturing:

For email messages:

- Send a special, welcome email when a prospect enters your lead nurturing program. If they register for a white paper or other marketing collateral, for instance, use a welcome email to thank them, but also point out additional education resources available to them, such as:
o Other relevant white papers
o Product specification documents
o Customer testimonials or case studies
o Contact information for inside sales team members or marketing personnel who can answer questions they have on the materials they’ve requested.

- Also use prospect emails to periodically alert prospects to new resources that might be useful to them, such as:
o Upcoming webinars
o Appearances by company officials or satisfied customers at events
o New white papers

For telemarketing:

- Use specially-trained inside salespeople or an outsourced telemarketing vendor that specializes in B-to-B nurturing. You don’t want them to try close deals in these calls because your prospects likely aren’t ready to make a purchase.

- Use these calls to offer additional educational resources that will help move prospects through the buying process. Also, these conversations can collect additional qualifying information, such as a potential timeframe for a purchase decision, or details about company size and business needs.

For direct mail:

- Use targeted mailings, such as a simple postcard, to promote new white papers or upcoming webinars. Postal mail, sent along with an email invite, is a great way to attract additional registrations for your hottest marketing content when inbox overload might cause busy professionals to overlook your email offer.

- Larger mailings can also have a big impact on some of your best prospects. If you have a list of dream clients in your marketing database, consider sending them attention-getting dimensional mailers, such as:
o Printed product brochures
o Personalized packages that include targeted content and a branded gift, such as a notepad or, if the potential deal warrants the expense, a larger incentive like an MP3 player

- Integrate mailings with your telemarketing calls. When a telemarketer has identified a more qualified prospect, assemble a customized package of printed materials that demonstrate how your company can help meet their business needs or address particular pain points.

Best Practice #2. Quick response to Web leads can maximize conversions

How long should you wait before calling a prospect who has filled out a Web registration form? Responding with 24 hours seems reasonable, right?

As the next chart shows, the largest percentage (44.1%) of our survey group said they respond within a day. The problem: That’s probably not fast enough.

Chart: If a prospect fills out a contact form on your Web site during business hours, how long does it take for your inside sales or telemarketing team to follow-up?

The odds of making contact with and qualifying a Web lead decrease dramatically the longer you wait to place that follow-up call, according to a study by David Elkington of and Prof. James Oldroyd of MIT. Their study found:

- Calls placed within five minutes of receiving a Web lead have the highest likelihood of making contact.
- The odds of contacting a lead drop 10 times within 30 minutes of that prospect’s online registration.
- The odds of contacting a lead drop another 10 times if you wait one hour.
- Waiting more than 20 hours to call a Web lead actually hurts your chances of qualifying that lead.

As the chart shows, only 6.8% of marketers say they’re making calls within 30 minutes. Are you among the 63.9% who said they are following up within 24 hours or longer? You have a great opportunity to boost conversions by shortening your response time.

Integrate your online lead registration forms with your inside sales CRM system or your outsourced telemarketing team. Then create a policy that dictates how quickly a representative must attempt to contact those prospects.

NOTE: The data shows a compelling trend, but optimal response time could depend on the nature of your product. One B-to-B training company found that extremely rapid response didn’t deliver good results, likely because prospects needed time to check with supervisors or manager about a purchase decision, and weren’t yet ready to make a decision. Test it.

Best Practice #3. Use a lead scoring system

Assessing the quality of the leads in your marketing database is essential to finding prospects that are ready to pass along to the sales team. The practice also lets you measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

In our survey, more than half of the marketers (53.5%) said they already measure the quality of their leads or plan to implement a scoring system in the next six months. That’s a good start, but it represents another huge opportunity for the remaining 46.5% to adopt a best practice that will help them buck the economic downturn.

Chart: Are you measuring the quality of each lead in your database now, and do you measure how your nuturing efforts each month affect lead quality?

Here are some tips on developing and using a lead scoring system:

Step #1. Work with sales to define highly qualified leads

The ultimate goal of a lead scoring system is finding those prospects ready to talk to a sales person. The best way to determine what constitutes a sales-ready lead is to speak directly to your sales team. Ask them exactly what characteristics they’re looking for in a lead, and use that guidance to set your criteria.

Step #2. Rate each prospect

You’ll need a system that assigns a scoring or rank to each prospect in your database. You can use any labeling convention that works for your team, such as:
o Labeling leads cold, warm, or hot
o Using numbers or letters that “grade” leads as 1-5 or A-F

Then determine the criteria to assign a designation to each prospect. Criteria can include:
- Number of marketing touches and prospect activity level, such as email open and click rates, white paper downloads or event attendance, and telemarketing contacts
- Customer profile, such as industry or company size
- Qualifying information, such as having a budget in place, set time frame and decision-making authority

Step #3. Measure the impact of nurturing activities

With a scoring system in place, track which leads in your database move closer to sales-ready status.

- Record all marketing touches and determine which ones helped move a prospect up your qualification score.
- Monitor each prospect’s email activity to look for increased open rates and clicks, which could indicate a prospect is closer to making a buying decision and actively searching for more information.
- Monitor website activity to find prospects who are suddenly visiting your site more often, reading company or product information, or downloading additional white papers, case studies and other supporting material.

Step #4. Close the loop with your sales team

You need to track the result of all leads passed on to your sales team. This could be as simple as a weekly call with the sales team manager to receive a verbal update on leads. Or you can establish policies for recording follow-up sales activity in CRM or sales force automation software.

The goals:
o Determine which leads were closed
o Determine which leads dropped out of the sales cycle and have no chance of becoming a sale
o Determine which leads dropped out of the sales cycle due to changing circumstances, such as a loss of budget or a change in purchase timeframe, which would allow you to place them back into your nurturing process

Useful links related to this article

MarketingSherpa B-to-B Presentation: Top 10 Marketing Fast Fixes + How to Generate and Nurture Leads



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