Essentials for Successful Lead Nurturing

Updated: January 01, 2012

1. Define Your Buyer Profiles & Buying Cycle

Understanding that the goal of nurturing is to engage and build a long standing relationship with the buyer, doesn't it make sense to understand who that buyer is? This is done by creating an ideal buyer profile for your company's product(s) or service(s). For most companies, one buyer profile is not enough. In most cases, there are multiple people that make up the "buyer", each having a different view and approach to buying decisions. Developing various profiles that match the multiple buyer personas will enable your company to better engage with each one through your nurturing program.

In addition, as you define the buyer profiles, be sure to also identify and map the buying cycle. Phases of the buying cycle (for example, Interest - Defining Requirements - Proposal - Negotiation - Justification - Close) should be defined jointly among sales and marketing. The best success with nurturing will come when you understand the buying phases of your customers and prospects and develop a nurture program that aligns to those phases. Unless those phases are defined, it will be nearly impossible to deliver the right content at the right time.

2. Content Creation & Mapping

As just mentioned, it's imperative to ensure the content you are delivering is relevant to where the buyer is in the buying process. Nothing can stall the nurturing process more than having irrelevant content which in turn is ignored by the buyer. To ensure your content hits the right audience in a timely manner, develop a content map utilizing the previously defined buying process. Map content types to buying phases. For example, case studies are sent to prospects in the Interest Phase, ROI benefits are sent to those in the Justification Phase, and so on. This mapping process will give you insight on what types of content should then be created. Also, be sure to track buyers' interaction with each content segment. Content delivery is a dynamic discipline, and needs to be adjusted based on behavior of the buyer.

Keep in mind that the delivery of content is not contained solely to email (this is a pitfall for many). The best nurturing and content delivery is done in an integrated fashion. While email can be effective, it should not be the only mechanism by which you deliver your message. Be sure to include an array of media including email, direct mail, live events, telephone etc. As these are deployed, be sure to test them to determine the effectiveness of each and what combination of them yields the best results.

3. Ensure the Integrity of Your Data

I once worked with a company who wanted to develop a series of lead nurturing campaigns. Their reporting showed they were generating 4,000 leads per month and they knew the majority of these had to be nurtured rather than being sent to sales. As the planning continued we started to segment the data and found that there was a major data problem in their system. Every time a person took a marketing action (download of a white paper, filled out a form, registered for an event), they were entered into the CRM system as a new lead. This of course meant that the 4,000 leads the organization thought they were generating were actually much less. It was closer to 800-1,000 per month.

To make matters worse, the company's solution to cleaning data was to have the sales team delete duplicate records, leaving just one. In doing so, they also deleted buyer behavior data, taking away the ability to track any kind of buying process or persona.

The lesson in all of this is to be sure you have a process whereby your data is managed. Even the best nurturing campaign cannot overcome bad data. Make sure you define a process for how data is compiled, segmented, and de-duped. Define your hygiene strategy and data control policy to ensure ongoing integrity.

4. Define Your Lead Qualification Process

Earlier this year I was speaking at a conference about developing a lead management process. To get a feel for the level of marketing maturity I asked the question "How many of you are currently using lead nurturing?" About 2/3 of the audience raised their hands. I then followed up with "How many of you have implemented lead scoring?" To my amazement less than 1/4 of the hands went up.

I am still unclear on how a company can have successful lead nurturing without a defined lead qualification model. Sure, you could deploy a drip campaign, but that's not lead nurturing. That's simply delivering the same message to a broad audience (mass marketing). It doesn't allow for the 1-1 engagement that yields the best results.

Before effective lead nurturing can be enabled, a lead qualification process has to be developed. This starts with answering the fundamental question "What do we define as a lead?" This is not a question that can be answered solely by marketing. The answer needs to be the result of marketing and sales working together. Your efforts will be greatly enhanced if you define all the terms used in your lead funnel, starting at the top: response, a valid response, a marketing qualified lead . . . . all the way through to the definition of a customer.

Once the definitions are agreed to and in place you can begin the process of determining what qualification criteria should be applied to each definition. To be most effective, qualification criteria has to consist of more than just BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe). To quote Tony Jaros of SiriusDecisionsat the 2010 Sirius Decisions Summit, "BANT are the four most dangerous letters in B2B marketing." To get the most from lead qualification, emphasize demographic (buyer profile) and behavioral (actions is the buyer taking and how often) data.

Now that the definitions and criteria are in place, you can begin assigning the numerical values for each qualification i.e. lead scoring. Again, this is an exercise that must be done in a collaborative effort between marketing and sales. It is also one that should be measured and tweaked regularly. It's not a static one-time approach. As your buyers evolve and change so should your lead qualification process.

5. Develop Your Lead Routing Process

Most of us have been victim to the proverbial "black hole" that exists in the lead pipeline. Leads come into the top of the funnel and inevitably leak out. In addition there are those leads that sit in the database or CRM system, are ignored and eventually decay. To avoid this, it's important to define a lead routing process in conjunction with your nurturing program.

Lead routing consists of a series of business rules and Service Level Agreements (SLA's) that will dictate when and where leads are sent. Without the construct of lead routing, it's hard to ensure that leads get the nurturing they need.

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