The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing for Maximum Sales
Businesses are greatly dependent on relationships. That is a reality that business people ought to accept and, if they’re smart, take advantage of. Forming relationships with the various personalities, individuals and entities that the business comes across in its daily operations is unavoidable, regardless of whether the business owner likes the other party on a personal level or not.
In business, it is important to build these relationships and maintain them, if the business wants to become profitable and grow.
Among the several key relationships that businesses have, perhaps the most important, especially with respect to sales and revenue generation and profitability is the one between the business and its customers – whether they are already buying and loyal customers or still considered as prospects or leads that show potential of being converted into buyers.
LEAD NURTURING DEFINED
Businesses that are introducing a new product or service, or even a new brand, have their work cut out for them. They have to employ marketing techniques that will attract the attention of their audiences, and these activities are part of a set of marketing methods known as lead generation.
The prospects or unqualified leads are subjected to several demand generation techniques to drive their awareness of the offerings of the brand or the company, and convince them into purchasing these products or services. Those who are receptive to these demand gen techniques are identified as qualified prospects or leads.
But there is no clear guarantee that these qualified prospects are automatically converted into buying customers. These leads may have shown all the signs of being an interested buyer, but that does not mean that they all deem it to be the right timing to make a purchase. Several surveys have shown that around 50% of qualified leads may be immediately converted; the remaining half, however, are not yet in a state of readiness to buy the product or service.
This is where lead nurturing comes in.
This marketing strategy refers to the process that a business follows or implements for the purpose of building and developing relationships with its qualified prospects or leads, regardless of their readiness to engage at a given point in time. The objective is for the business to maintain a solid and stable relationship with potential buyers, even if they are not yet ready to buy, or does not even show signs that they will buying any time soon. However, it will still carry out lead nurturing activities with the expectation of getting that much-coveted sale when the prospect is finally ready to engage, or buy.
This takes on a long-term view. The customer may not be ready to buy today, and maybe even tomorrow. However, eventually, sometime in the future, he will be ready to purchase, and you want to be there when he does. That is why lead nurturing is very important, because you want to be there every step that the customer takes on his journey to becoming a buyer.
Others may decide to leave him be for the time being, stepping in only when the customer is starting to show signs of readiness to buy. The problem with this approach is that you don’t know for sure what took place in the intervening time, between the point when you “left him alone” and made contact with him again. It is possible that a competitor may have established a relationship with that prospect, so that when he finally makes a purchase, it won’t be from you.
BENEFITS OF LEAD NURTURING
Briefly, let us go over the many reasons why you should do lead nurturing in your business.
Lead nurturing facilitates faster and easier communication, and sustains it.
This is a classic case of the early bird catching the worm. Through lead nurturing, a business is able to immediately establish contact with its leads, so it is the first to respond to a prospect’s inquiry. As a result, he has a greater chance of getting that sale. As proven by a study, the first to respond gets 35% to 50% of the sales.
Sustaining this connection through consistent communication also influences the buying decisions of leads. Some leads have to be constantly reminded of your existence, and by keeping that connection alive through lead nurturing, your business is bound to be at the forefront when the lead is sales-ready.
Lead nurturing allows businesses to be better acquainted with their leads.
Aside from conducting market research focused on customers, lead nurturing activities can also provide valuable information about your leads, particularly their interests or pains, which are central to their buying decision-making processes. The information acquired will be useful in shaping and tweaking, not only your lead generating and nurturing strategy, but your entire marketing program.
Lead nurturing strengthens the authority and solidifies the position of the brand or business in the industry.
Lead nurturing contributes greatly in how a business is able to shape its image, so that it is able to command the trust and loyalty of customers as well as other businesses. This definitely makes it easier for the business to establish its place as a leader or an expert in his niche, or even in the industry.
Lead nurturing helps the business maximize sales.
How does it do that, exactly?
- It helps shorten the sales cycle, which means higher sales volume and higher revenue from sales. In a Market2Lead study, it was found out that, with lead nurturing, the sales cycle can be compressed and shortened by 23%.
- It helps the business identify more selling opportunities. For example, the business may realize that it can also generate sales through cross-selling and up-selling.
- It can keep customers engaged, and re-engage the “lost” leads, until they are ready to buy. The leads that you thought you have lost or have forgotten you may come back once they are reminded through your lead nurturing efforts.
LEAD NURTURING AND SALES
It isn’t hard to see the clear connection between lead nurturing and sales. A successful lead nurturing campaign keeps prospects informed about the company, its brand and its offerings. Without being pushy and with just the right amount of subtlety, marketers will also be able to convince the prospect to buy from that brand the moment he is ready to engage. When that moment comes, the Sales team will be there, ready to close the deal.
Compared to how things were in the past, the buying process – orthe buyer’s journey, in general – has definitely changed, and the Internet is largely to be blamed for that. It made shoppers smarter and buyers more cautious when it comes to making buying decisions. They tend to conduct their own research on the product or service being offered, and then proceed to making comparisons and looking for alternatives.
If producers and sellers found it difficult to identify their prospects in the past, today the greater challenge lies in actually “holding on” to the identified prospects. Lead nurturing dictates that leads, once generated, should not be left behind and left entirely in the hands of the Sales team.
So what does lead nurturing involve?
Technopedia identifies the beginning of lead nurturing at the point when the company has obtained the contact information of its prospects or potential customers, thereby allowing for the personalization or customization of communication with them. Take note: that is just the beginning.
The business must ensure the synchronization of its marketing and the buying process of the customer, in order to increase the chances of converting leads into actual sales for the company.Essentially, lead nurturing entails being involved and staying close to your prospects at each stage of their buying process, and throughout your company’s sales process.
This may be accomplished through regularly sending relevant content to the prospects, or simply checking in with them from time to time. Simply being present and on hand to answer the questions of prospects is also an effective means of nurturing leads.
LEAD NURTURING CAMPAIGNS
The sales team will be able to do its job more effectively and efficiently if the marketing team is able to provide and facilitate a steady stream of high-quality leads. Much of that definitely hinges on the performance of the marketing team, specifically its lead nurturing campaigns.
We now take a look at the two basic types of lead nurturing campaigns that the marketing team may develop and execute in order to generate maximum sales, and what activities are usually conducted under each campaign.
I. Incoming Lead Processing Campaigns
Lead nurturing activities in this type of campaign are all geared towards making a good and positive first impression on your leads. You are basically going to be laying the groundwork for how the rest of the marketing and sales processes will turn out.
Incoming lead processing campaigns are characterized by the following steps:
Step 1. Determine which leads to nurture, or which prospects are sales-ready.
The “ideal customer” is identified, with marketing and sales working together to come up with his profile, using various tools and methods. Often, they will use lead scoring methods, utilizing data such as demographic attributes, behavioral attributes, and completeness of data profile. Marketers will then use the results for segmentation or categorization of the leads.
You want to put all the sales-ready prospects in one group, because that is where you will direct your lead nurturing efforts. You can gauge the sales-readiness of a prospect by considering the following:
- The frequency of the prospect’s visit to your website.
- The prospect’s activity history when visiting your website, such as the page he visits most often and the page he stays the longest at.
- The search terms used by the prospect when researching about your company, brand or offerings.
- The prospect’s rate of response to your email campaigns and other offers.
- The interactions (number, frequency and nature) between the prospect and the sales team.
Step 2. Establish permissions for lead nurturing.
It is common human courtesy to get permission to stay in touch, and it also applies in business.
Prospects should have a say on whether they will be included in a company’s lead nurturing program or not. Thus, their permission is sought. This is not something that should be ignored, since the permission, once given by the lead and established, marks the beginning of the relationship between the company and the lead with respect to lead nurturing.
Some of the approaches used in establishing permissions are:
- CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. The United States established the rules and regulations for commercial email through this legislation, requiring marketers to avoid using misleading and deceptive subject lines or headers while giving recipients the right to choose whether they should receive communications, or stop receiving them. Email marketers send communications to prospects – whether solicited or unsolicited – but the emails include a section that provides the recipients a clear and easy way to choose not to receive any further communications. A common example is an “Unsubscribe” hyperlink, or a similar URL for those who no longer wish to receive similar emails. Marketers abide by the provisions of this law, but with modifications of their own, and this resulted to the other two approaches.
- Single opt-in approach. When leads register or sign up, they will be required to fill out a registration or sign-up form. At the bottom of the form, right before they click on the button to finalize the registration process, there is a pre-checked check box asking for permission for the company to send additional information to the prospect through email. In some instances, there are even several options on what information will be shared, and the prospect gets to choose which ones he would want to receive.
- Double opt-in approach. In this approach, it is assumed that the prospect has already signed up or are already included in your database. It is a more direct approach, since emails will be sent to the prospects, asking for their permission for the company to send additional information through email. Those who respond positively will automatically be included in the lead nurturing program. As for the non-responders, a second follow-up or reminder email may be sent. If that does not still get a response, that means that is a lead not worth nurturing.
Step 3. Determine prospects’ preferences when it comes to the communications received.
Lead nurturing will be more effective if you use approaches that are in line with the preferences of the prospects. By getting your prospects involved and knowing their preferences, you will be able to customize the communications that will be sent to them in such a way that the information shared is relevant. For example, a company that uses the single opt-in approach offers the following options in checkboxes in their Sign Up or Registration form:
- Frequency of receipt of communications by the prospect, whether they prefer to receive the emails daily, or in a weekly email digest form.
- Other types of communication aside from email, such as direct mail, text messages, as well as existing marketing materials such as newsletters and similar publications.
- Email format, whether the prospect prefers to receive a text only email or an HTML one.
- Content that they want to find in the emails, which contains a list of the offerings of the company, or related information that reveals prospects’ preferences and interests.
II. Stay In Touch Campaigns
These lead nurturing campaigns, which are also sometimes referred to as “new new lead nurturing campaigns”, are specifically directed to prospects that are identified as qualified leads but, due to timing or some other circumstances, are not yet ready to engage and proceed to the buying process. It could be that they are still in the process of researching more about the product, and they are leaning positively toward buying it. However, they are not yet ready to talk to a sales representative.
These are the leads that require the most amount of attention or “nurturing”. You know you have them, and you know there’s great potential or possibility that you can generate sales from them. It’s just that they cannot do it right now, so you need to work on them more until such time that they are ready, then you have to make sure you are there, right there, with them, when that time comes.
The general steps undertaken in these campaigns are:
Step 1. Develop buyer personas or buyer roles.
Create buyer profiles that will define or embody the buyer personas that will be developed. These personas will then be used as a segmentation tool, specifically for purposes of lead nurturing. It’s a matter of matching; once the personas have been developed, the leads will be matched to the personas that match their profiles.
Being able to develop buyer personas implies that you already know your audience and you understand them – their goals, objectives and interests, and even the things that trigger them into buying a product or service. This will also aid you later on in the creation of targeted content for lead nurturing,
Step 2. Identify and define the buyer stages in the prospect’s buying process.
The inherent differences among prospects indicate that they may have different approaches when it comes to making buying decisions. Their buyer journeys are also bound to have differences, and it could be a challenge for lead nurturing, since you have to custom-fit your approach to match and synchronize with the buying process of the prospects.
This is why segmentation through buyer personas is important, since it is highly probable that leads or prospects with the same buyer persona will follow the same buying process.
Step 3. Create and use content that is focused on the buyer personas and the buying stages.
Content is something that can never be ignored in marketing, since it is seen as a core tool for lead nurturing. When using content for lead nurturing, take note of the following:
- Content must be targeted to the buyer’s role or persona, or even their industry. These types of content are considered to be more relevant and valuable than any generic content, since it speaks to the prospects on a deeper, more personal level. By using targeted content, you can increase sales opportunities by 20%.
- Content must apply to the buying stage that the prospect is currently in. If the prospect is already in an active buying stage – meaning he has decided to buy, but is only making a choice among alternatives – it won’t make sense if he is sent content that is purely introductory.
- Content must be engaging and easy to understand. Your choice of words, the length of the content, the formatting, any additional and supporting media… all these will affect how the content will be received by the prospect. Refer to the buyer roles and profiles previously established, and craft and present your content accordingly. For example, young professionals may not have enough time or patience to read long emails as housewives. If the prospects are kids or teens, adding visuals and graphics is likely to boost their interest and engagement.
- Content must “speak” to the prospect. Keeping a casual tone is highly recommended, but not too casual or familiar that it borders on the impolite. Personalization of messages provides higher probability of positive reception from prospects. Some emails start with greetings that refer to the prospect by his first name “John” or full name “John Smith”, instead of the very formal and impersonal-sounding “Mr. Smith”. That is one way of adding a personal touch. For example, the company may be using a mass-mailing tool to send updates and similar communications to its prospects, who are included in a mailing list. There is nothing wrong with that, but you have to review how the mass mail is presented. It should still have that personalized tone, instead of giving the reader the feeling that it is generated by a machine (which, in reality, may be true). Of course, the overall tone will depend on the personality of the prospect (as indicated by the buyer persona) and the nature of the content.
- Content must put the prospect first. Sure, your aim is to motivate the prospect into buying your product, but blatant self-promotion and advertisement is likely to turn him off, and away from you. Your first priority when creating content is to address the interests and pains of the prospect. Put yourself in the shoes of the prospect and consider what they are thinking, feeling and going through. Try to think of the things that may be worrying them or giving them cause for concern. This will point you in the right direction when coming up with insights and solutions that may help them. The promotional part comes later on, maybe close to the end of the content, when you subtly and ever so casually drop hints and allusions of how your product or service can provide the solution that the prospect is looking for. Do not forget to highlight the advantages of your product or service, especially those that directly solve their problems or issues.
- Content must include a call to action. Do not forget that your goal in lead nurturing is to prep the prospect to become sales-ready, and decide to buy what you are offering. Provide a way for the prospect to move toward that direction – albeit slowly and gradually – by including a strong call to action.
Step 4. Determine the timing of lead nurturing activities.
This refers to the frequency of initiating contact and communication with prospects. Some do it weekly, while others opt to send one email at the end of each month. The timing or optimal frequency of lead nurturing campaigns will depend on several factors:
- Preference of the prospects. This is a simple matter of asking the prospects how often (and when) they would like to receive information from you. No fuss, no frills, and the prospect will also appreciate that the company values their input and opinion on the matter.
- Duration of the buying cycle of the prospect (your sales cycle). Determine the average length of time that the prospect’s buying process is completed, and create a schedule or timetable showing when to send communications, and the content that will be communicated. You do not want to communicate with the prospect too often that he will be irritated and end up ignoring your communications, but you also would like to avoid contacting him too infrequently that he may forget about you. Typically, a longer buying cycle entails longer waiting time between emails while, in contrast, it is more acceptable to send emails with shorter intervals if the buying cycle is short. Pardot suggests 6 to 45 days interval between emails, depending on the length of the buying cycle, and try to limit the number of emails sent to about eight to ten for the entire duration of the campaign.
- Communication method used. A company may use more than one approach in its lead nurturing. The timing may be more straightforward if the campaign makes use of purely email in its communications. An email may be sent once every two weeks, increasing in frequency as the buying process is nearing its completion. However, if it uses a combination of email and direct phone calls, for example, timing strategically is crucial. Prospects may feel pressured and even harassed if, a couple of days after receiving an email, they receive a phone call, followed by another phone call several days later. In the past, email marketing was used as the main – and often only – lead nurturing strategy by marketers. But even marketers admit that this is not foolproof, and the results are lower than expected. To address that, use a combination of communication methods or strategies to maximize the potential of leads going to sales. Other options worth considering are website utilization, direct sales and social media. The latter, in particular, is gaining a lot of traction, with social media platforms presenting excellent opportunities for lead nurturing.
- Responsiveness of the prospect. If the prospect is responsive to your emails, you can take that as your cue to continue sending content more frequently. Usually, marketers take the opposite approach, sending content in rapid succession to unresponsive prospects. This may actually cause more harm than good, since the prospect may feel pressured to act. He will feel that you are steamrolling him into making a decision that he wants to make at his own pace. The worst thing that can happen is that you will lose him, and his potential of adding to your sales.
Remember that, when nurturing leads, you are inspiring and motivating them to buy from you and increase your sales. You are not dictating or pushing them to it. You want to guide them gently, so they will make the decision of their own accord and, in the process, become your long-term buyers.