by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter
"B2B organizations face buying cycles of varying complexities, but at the core of all buying cycles lay three distinct commonalities: Prospects, leads and customers." This line comes straight from the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Benchmark Report
All three are part of an integrated whole, and this Sherpa article will touch on these elements while taking a closer look at lead nurturing.
Brian Carroll, Executive Director of Applied Research, MECLABS (Full disclosure: MECLABS is the parent company of MarketingSherpa
), and author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale
, shared his expertise on handling leads during the B2B sales process. To begin thinking about leads, Carroll posed the question, "What does a lead mean? Is it getting someone to raise their hand, or is it to develop a sales-ready prospect?"
Leads fall into both categories. At the very earliest stages of demand generation just getting a potential customer to request more information about your product or service can be enough. As that prospect gets deeper into lead nurturing efforts, the goal is going to be to develop them into a sales-ready lead who can be handed off to Sales. Lead nurturing is all about taking that prospect from just raising their hand, to someone who is prepared to become a customer.
This how-to article looks at all three stages of a prospect -- demand generation, lead nurturing and the hand-off to sales -- and offers five tactics to utilize in the middle portion of lead nurturing.GENERATING LEADS WITH A PORTFOLIO APPROACH
Without lead generation, there are no leads to nurture, and
Carroll recommends a portfolio approach to lead generation involving four different lead types:
He added that these different lead streams should be integrated and all work together.
Carroll said, "Look at what is working right now in your portfolio, and keep testing new things in your portfolio so that you are switching things in and out. I would not rely on one particular lead source."
By implementing more than one lead source, lead generation becomes a multi-touch process. This improves the entire process because one lead source is good at starting the conversation while another might work better at converting those conversations. If both sources aren't part of your lead generation efforts, you will miss out on optimizing the process.
Lead generation should also command the lion's share of the marketing budget. Carroll suggested 60% to 80% of the budget should be allocated to demand generation, while 20% to 40% should go to nurturing the leads you already have.NURTURING THE LEADS
"The easiest way to conduct lead nurturing is to look at the relationships that you already have," explained Carroll. "How can you carry the conversation forward? Think of lead nurturing as being an extension of the conversation you started with lead generation."
He added to look at the relationships started through the different lead generation sources and ask what content or information can be shared to advance that conversation.Tactic #1. Empower Sales during lead nurturing
Sales is an important element in developing a lead nurturing program. The ultimate goal of lead nurturing is to generate more sales and to accelerate leads in the pipeline. Even though Sales may not be involved in the execution of the program, Sales should be involved in a number of ways:
o Sharing their point-of-view
o Sharing thoughts for messaging
o Sharing what they are hearing in the marketplace
Carroll offered an example of involving Sales in the lead nurturing process, "Let's say you did a webinar event. What you can do is equip your sales team with a nurturing content piece that could include an executive summary and key takeaways from the event."
He added, "With that content, your sales team can call these leads and say, 'I saw you attended our webinar last week, and we put together an executive summary and a two-page document with key takeaways, and I wanted to email that out to you for you to pass along. And what did you think of the event?'"
Giving Sales this lead nurturing content provides them with a valid business reason to engage the prospect.
Carroll said, "It is, of course, about building relationships and adding value to people, even if they never buy from you. Empower your sales team to do nurturing."Tactic #2. Nurturing at a small business
Large businesses will have large marketing departments, and will likely have tools such as marketing automation and CRM software that help make lead nurturing, well, more automatic.
Small businesses, even as small as a one-person company, face challenges in simply finding the time for lead nurturing.
The solution is to set up a calendar with a specific time every day, or at least once per week, to nurture the database. Carroll recommended making this time either during non-business hours or during non-revenue generating time, and also suggested leveraging electronic communication such as email or blogging to share content.Tactic #3. Repurpose content for nurturing
Reuse the content you already have -- repurpose it and use it in a new way. The first step is to inventory existing content and think of way to extend that material.
For example, a whitepaper can be broken into three to five articles that share a point of view.
Carroll stated this is a good strategy because, "...we are seeing more and more readers who would rather read shorter bits of information than longer. That is the trend."
If you are doing live events, record the event and convert that video into another content asset. Post snippets of material as well.
Looking at the earlier webinar example, the executive summary and key takeaways provided to Sales are examples of two additional pieces of content from one online event.
Carroll said, "You are already creating content, you probably just don't recognize it. So first, use what you have, catalog it and determine how you can bring new life to it. When you've leveraged what you already have and you have cataloged it, then you can start finding gaps in current content areas."Tactic #4. Take advantage of third-party content
Third-party content is another great source of material for lead nurturing.
Carroll explained, "Look at research where your customers and clients are going for information. I would start by first asking your sales team what types of content publications your customers are currently reading, where are they going for information and what are the questions Sales is asking those customers."
Use online alerts to key phrases in your industry to find content from bloggers and industry publications that is vendor agnostic and can shared with your lead nurturing audience through a short synopsis and a link.Tactic #5. Keep the touches coming
Carroll said most lead nurturing programs don't begin to impact conversion before at least five meaningful touches, and that it's important to continue nurturing leads whether it takes five touches or 25 touches to get them to the sales-ready point.
He offered an example of nurturing frequency, "If you have a nine-month sales cycle, you should nurture a lead in those nine months, and that's at a minimum level. So that means nine nurturing patterns during the course of that lead."MAKE THE HAND-OFF TO SALES, BUT STILL HELP DRIVE CONVERSION
The ultimate goal of lead nurturing is to turn that prospect into a sales-ready lead prepared to become a customer.
"If that relationship were a baton, there is a point in time where both Marketing and Sales hands are on the baton and you are making that introduction," states Carroll. "It is to be clear at what stage Marketing is going to hand the lead off so that Sales can run with it, and so that you don't drop the baton or drop the relationship."
You can find this ideal point in the relationship by leveraging lead scoring and lead qualification, and Carroll recommended this lead qualification occur through teleprospecting. He said, "There is only so much information that you can get off a Web forum, or that someone will volunteer in an email."
Even thought the prospect is now sales-ready, and the baton has been passed to Sales, Carroll added one more caveat. Even though Marketing hands the lead to Sales once the prospect is ready to talk to a salesperson, "it doesn't mean that Marketing is done. What we are looking to do is help accelerate leads in the sales pipeline and that is part of where we can work with the sales team to understand 'what are the key issues?', and, 'what are the problems that they are facing?' to help drive conversion."Useful links related to this articleB2B Marketing: The 7 most important stages in the teleprospecting funnel
Members Library -- Lead Nurturing and Management Q&A: How to Handle 5 Key Challenges
Members Library -- New Chart: The Long Road from B2B Lead Generation to Sales ConversionIntegrate Online and Offline Marketing Efforts to Continue the ConversationHow Content Strategy is Transforming an Entire Marketing and Sales Organization
MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report