Resources Lead Nurturing And Being Top-Of-Mind

Lead nurturing is focused on engaging people that meet your customer profile but are not actively looking to buy. When done effectively, lead nurturing will create a strong brand and position you as the preferred option when the potential customer initiates their buying process or is ready to buy. Adopting the perspective and vernacular of the buying cycle, lead nurturing is the process of promoting the progression of a potential customer from a state of being unaware of their problem or need to recognizing and starting to define it. Whether lead nurturing formally ends in the problem definition stage or a later one (e.g., solution evaluation or risk assessment) depends on how you operationalize your sales process, and varies by industry and specific companies within industries. However you define its end point, the main challenges for lead nurturing are effectively engaging potential customers in a cost-effective manner, and when to transfer the opportunity to sales as a qualified lead. In practice, lead nurturing has existed for a long time, although it may not have been formally recognized or named as such. It has received greater attention recently with the development of technologies that enable increased automation of the process, and the massive expansion of data and systems to profile and track prospects.

Generating qualified leads - meaning the person fits your marketing profile and is actively looking to buy - is often expensive and difficult. In addition to the general challenges entailed in just communicating and engaging with your tarket market, only a small percentage of that market will be actively looking to buy at any given point in time. The percentage can vary by industry, but data from our customers and other resources indicates that only about 10% of the total market is actively looking to buy. So the vast majority of people reached by your marketing activities are not qualified leads. They may have the potential to become customers, but are not a qualified lead at this point in time. They fall into a grey area between being just a simple contact and a qualified lead. Such people can go by many names, such as: contact, potential lead, future prospect, potential customer, etc. We will use all of those terms interchangeably.

It is important to note that, in most industries, a qualified lead is not a definitive sale. If so, then the function of sales is nothing more than order taking. A qualified lead is typically construed as the point at which an opportunity has met enough criteria to be transferred from marketing to sales - or if generated within sales, the point at which the forecasting status level of the opportunity is elevated. There is a lot of selling (e.g., qualifying on specific technical criteria, dealing with the competition, etc.) to still take place. Because sales usually entails more resources and costs per opprtunity than marketing, it is typically not cost-effective to transfer the opportunity to sales until it is a qualified lead - however that is defined. Of course, there are exceptions, such as when the sales rep initiates the contact with the person through lead generation activities like cold calling, etc. 

Whether generated through marketing or sales, it is not a best practice to just drop all contact with people who have the potential to become a customer but are not actively looking to buy - and hope you reach them again when they are ready. It is usually far more effective to stay engaged with potential customers so that you will be their first consideration, often called top-of-mind, when they are ready to buy. Even better than just staying in contact is helping promote their progression to being ready to buy; and doing so in way that establishes you as not only their first consideration, but as the best or preferred option.

The wisdom of that strategy is clearly documented in the diagram above, which illustrates how lead nurturing can help produce sales. The initial data represented in the diagram was gathered through research conducted in collaboration with the Massini Group and some of their clients. We subsequently conducted similar research with clients, and the general pattern was consistent - maintaining meaningful contact with prospects will help you beat the competition and improve lead conversion rates. It can not be overstated that they key element in lead nurturing is 'maintaining meaningful contact.' How that contact is maintained and whether it is meaningful will determine whether the nurturing is cost-effective and results in increased sales - or whether the nurturing works against you by exhausting resources and annoying prospects. Further comments on each issue, being cost-effective and meaningful, are provided below.

With respect to being cost-effective, there is no doubt that technology has helped. Electronic communications and related technologies have dramatically reduced the cost of creating, tailoring, and distributing information. Technology will, with few exceptions, play a critical role in your lead nurturing strategy. However, an over-relience on technology can be counterproductive. Too much emphasis on technology can restrict your considerations of options for maintaining contact. In addition, technology runs the risk of becoming intrusive and annoying. And at its worst, fueling customer perceptions of the vendor being aggressive or desparate. 

Our strategy for maintaining contact considers a multi-prong approach that integrates all your marketing activities and varies the nature of the contact with prospects. The specific mix of contacts will vary based on your overall marketing plan. But, it can include emails, electronic newsletters, attendance and meetings at scheduled events (e.g., general marketing events, topic specific workshops, etc.), individual meetings (with both the rep and other personnel), phone calls, etc. Varying the nature of the contacts produces a number of benefits for both you and the prospect. They include: providing variability and developing a broader base to the relationship, designing opportunities into some contacts for you to gather aditional information from the prospect, reducing the prospect's sense of pressure to buy.

Generally speaking, meaningful communications are those that inform, educate, or entertain. But, whether a specific communication is meaningful varies from person to person and situation to situation. One person may find information and another wants entertainment. Or, the same person may want information from one source and entertainment from another. The best way to increase the likelihood that communications will be meaningful is to take the time and effort to learn what interests the audience. The most direct way to learn what interests them is to ask. The responses you receive are also good research data that can be often be used (e.g., in subsequent messaging, for the development of additional information and resources, etc.) for a variety of purposes. A less direct method of learning about interests is through market research - your own or acquired from a third party - on people that match your profiles. 

In most instances, people will only have limited interest in your company and your products. What they are more likely to be interested in is learning more about themselves: their industry, their business, how you can help them improve, etc. You can even educate prospects on how to be a better (e.g., how to evaluate vendors, etc) and other best practices in making purchases. When providing information about your offerings, the general rule is that detailing features will be of less interest than describing how they can be used to solve problems and highlighting the benefits that can be gained form that use.

It's important to note that lead nurturing communications should be welcome, meaning they are sent with the permission of the recipient. If the prospect did not not request or agree to a communication, it is less likely to be well received and effective. In the worst case scenario, it will register with the recipient; but register as a negative - as being annoying, intrusive, aggressive, or desparate. Maintaining permission to stay in contact is one of the best indicators that your communications are meaningful. A prospect rejecting further communications from you - through unsubscribing for electronic newsletters, refusing to take your calls, etc. - is a message that you have failed to engage them.

Lead nurturing is a powerful technique that should be employed by the vast majority of vendors. The specific strategy and tactics will depend on your needs and resources. Our understanding of best practices and the technology to support lead nurturing will continue to evolve. As is always the case, automate what makes sense to - but no more. It is possible to engage in effective lead nurturing with no more than what are common business technologies and many additional needs, if the exist, can be outsourced. The Golden Rule of Sales is apropos: Sell unto others as ou wouldhave them sell unto you. Consider how you would react if a vendor was marketing to you in the way you are nurturing leads. The answer is the first, but not only, insight into whether you are marketing effectvely.



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