Nurturing

Generate More B2B Sales With Lead Nurturing and the Human Touch

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Last month I participated in a webinar on Adding the Human Touch into Your Lead Nurturing with Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and the “godfather” of lead nurturing. We received a ton of questions after the presentation – so many that we didn’t have time to get to all of them, so I wanted to address several of them here.

Q: What marketing metric(s) should I use to capture lead nurturing effectiveness? How do you overcome those who claim they “would have bought the product anyway without nurturing”?

The first measurement is the percentage of qualified prospects you are nurturing that move to leads or pipeline in any given period (especially compared to the percentage that go inactive). The bigger your percentage, the better your nurturing is performing.

You’re always meeting and adding new people to your pipeline, but nurturing refers specifically to those already in your database. Of that group, some should raise their hands every month (or whatever time period is most appropriate to your buying cycle) and say, “now I’m ready to engage with sales.”

Of course, the only way you can truly measure the impact of your nurturing is to conduct an A/B test where you split your leads into two groups and nurture one group and not the other. The conversion rates of each respective group will help you persuade those who claim nurturing doesn’t significantly alter the buying process. At Marketo, our prospect-to-lead conversion rate triples with lead nurturing. We generate leads from 20% of the qualified prospects we nurture in any given 12-month period, but only 6.5% from those we do not.

It’s important to note that it’s a lead nurturing best practice not to compare your results against my number specifically, as they heavily depend on your organization’s unique definitions of a lead versus a prospect. What matters is the relative difference between these two groups.

Q. Do you ever pass a lead to Sales if it is an interested influencer instead of a direct economic buyer?

At most organizations, the answer is absolutely yes. If you have a qualified buyer at a qualified company, you want to empower that person as the champion who introduces you to the key decision maker – but this is not often easily done without a special human touch. You need to select an experienced rep in your organization to build a relationship as a trusted advisor with that champion lead.

At Marketo, our sales development reps (SDRs) are typically the people who begin navigating a prospect’s organization to determine what tools that person needs to build an internal case for our products. It’s critical to add the human touch to lead nurturing.

Many of our customers find a SDR team reduces their costs, as SDRs are less expensive than outside sales reps. They have also achieved improved conversions, faster lead response times, superior data collection, better revenue cycle analytics and in-house talent development.

Q. Is there ever a point where you should “fire” a lead that may have once shown interest or is it always better to keep nurturing them until they opt-out or buy?

The cost of calling an incremental lead that is not ready to become a sales lead is very low versus the cost of not calling a qualified prospect and missing out on a deal. If a lead consistently engages with your content and is truly a potential buyer, then there isn’t much harm in continuing to nurture that relationship. (Of course, if they are not a qualified buyer to begin with, then arguably you shouldn’t be nurturing them in the first place!)

While it may be tempting to “fire” a lead whose score shows promise but never seems ready to buy, resist the urge. They like your content, and you incur almost no extra costs in sending them the great nurturing content you’ve already developed. But if it happens repeatedly, it is OK to raise the threshold for the level of engagement that lead must exhibit before you call them again. At Marketo, our SDRs can put these “repeat recyclers” into a special category that continues to nurture the prospect but requires a much higher lead score before they become a lead again.

However, if a lead is inactive and hasn’t engaged with your content in 6 months, then clearly they’ve disengaged from your brand. You need to alter your tactics accordingly, and start treating them differently. Consider stopping sending them emails – if they’re not engaging anyway, you won’t lose anything and may improve your sender reputation.

Q. Can you be more specific about what actions demonstrate “buying signs” besides pricing and specific product page visits?

Certain levels of content engagement matter more than others, and some are more transparent than others. For example, a visit to your pricing page indicates a high likelihood of purchase. In comparison, an email open only demonstrates simple engagement.

At Marketo, we split our content into three different categories that correlate with the three stages in a typical B2B buying cycle:

  1. Early-stage content.
  2. Thought leadership rules B2B marketing because it appeals to prospects at all stages of the buying cycle. Relevant content develops trust with today’s self-educating buyer and shares best practices to build demand and brand awareness. Other best practice content includes webinars and white papers. However, be warned: Prospect engagement at this level does not constitute buying behavior, so don’t put too much weight on their actions.

  3. Mid-stage content.
  4. At this stage, you need to answer a specific business question or solve a particular problem for your prospect. It is a good idea to develop content that helps decision makers organize their purchase research around what you sell, such as RFP templates, buyer’s guides, and industry analyst reports. Many companies, including Marketo, place mid-stage content behind (short!) sign-up forms. While such roadblocks diminish potential reach by 80% to 90%, they also keep your funnel stocked with high-quality leads.

  5. Late-stage content.
  6. Company-specific information helps interested purchasers evaluate and affirm their selection, but interpreting engagement at this level can be tricky. For instance, a visit to your corporate “About Us” web page may show high buying interest – but it could just as easily indicate early stage research. Another perfect example is a demo download. Someone who someone watches your demo may merely want to educate himself. However, if that prospect fills out a form to watch a 20-minute, in-depth product demo, then that’s a buying sign. You may just have a winner.

In each stage of the buying cycle, you can gain visibility into prospect buying intent when you monitor the keywords they use in search. As a general rule, the higher the search specificity, the greater the likelihood of purchase. For example, a search for “Marketo” suggests much more buying potential than “marketing automation {add correct link to resource page}.”

    A few rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • Content that is self-promotional defeats the purpose of building trust.
  • Short content is good.
  • Reuse and repurpose your content wherever possible.
  • Start small, think big and adapt quickly.

For more, check out Marketo’s Content Marketing Cheat Sheet and Maria Pergolino’s 6 Rules for Content Marketing.

Q. We’re having a hard time “selling” leadership that lead generation should fall under the marketing umbrella. Marketing’s long term thinking often clashes with sales’ short term thinking. Do you have any advice?

This is a good question. As transforming buyer behaviors lengthen the sales cycle, key decision makers want to engage with Sales much later on. So if your lead generation efforts come exclusively from Sales, then you’ll have an extremely narrow funnel. You’ll only be looking for ripe bananas, as Brian Carroll said – and all bananas aren’t always ripe all the time. On the other hand, a Marketing team that owns lead generation can plant seeds of interest early on and cultivate them until exactly the right time. This makes your sales cycle much more efficient and predictable and reduces seasons of extreme feast or famine.

Another way to look at this is through the words of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, who said systems are much more productive where there’s specialization. Sales specializes in closing business; Marketing specializes in cultivating it. By definition, Sales isn’t going to be as skilled in other stages of the buying cycle, such as generating leads. It’s just like baseball: you don’t hire a pitcher because he can bat.

Conclusion
Nurturing occurs between people, not companies. No longer is it appropriate to “always be selling.” Instead, you need to always be helping – whether information seekers are ready to buy or not. Most of your selling takes place during in-house conversations between the 5 to 25 people typically involved in the corporate buying process, so the more people you help, the better your chances of eventually closing business.

As Brian said In the webinar, 92% of B2B buyers are open to cold calls if the salesperson is relevant. When you think of yourself as a concierge, you become a value-added portion of their day. It’s like eating at a restaurant. If the food is good, but your waiter is rude and inattentive, you won’t enjoy the experience. However, an attentive and personable server leaves you with a positive impression.

Check out the entire webinar:

Or download the webinar slides here.