Ever since the advent of the Internet, the consumer base has continued to gain more and more fine-tuned control over purchasing decisions. Gone are the days of sales departments driven by face to face interactions, warm smiles, and firm handshakes. Now customers have the time and resources to carefully investigate their options from the comfort of home, without the necessity of forming interpersonal business relationships along the way.
What this means for sales and marketing is a sea change in the way companies must nurture customer relationships. Ultra-aggressive sales tactics can do more harm than good. Organizations are increasingly cognizant of the fact that customers must be attracted, not pushed, through the sales funnel. In fact, lead nurturing has been known to increase conversion rates by as much as 79%!
How then can a company craft an effective lead nurturing strategy for increased revenue and sustainable growth? Here are 6 basic guidelines, in sequential order, that can help you to nurture leads and ultimately convert them into loyal customers.
Align Marketing and Sales
It may sometimes seem like marketing and sales live in two different worlds; and those worlds are at war. Salespeople may complain that the marketing department doesn’t provide them with enough (good) leads, while the marketing department may riposte that sales is to blame for negligence in lead follow up.
What’s the antidote for this particular issue? It’s crucial that both marketing and sales can agree on what a lead actually is. A sales lead has been defined as “the identification data gathered from a prospective buyer of a product or service.” But since 73% of marketing leads have no current intention of buying products or services, when does that lead truly become a prospective buyer? At what point does a marketing lead become a sales lead? What criteria have to be met?
Creating a clear, mutually acceptable definition of what constitutes a marketing lead and what constitutes a sales lead is the first step towards implementing an effective lead nurturing strategy.
Define a Clear Lead Management Process
Once your lead definition is in place, it’s time to dig into the technical details of the lead management process. Specifically, you want to clearly delineate at what point in the “sales funnel” marketing hands the lead over to sales.
Each company may handle the lead management process a little differently, depending on the structure of its sales and marketing departments, the nature of its goods or services, and other factors. However the funnel is represented, the main point is to differentiate marketing qualified leads (MQLs) from sales qualified leads (SQLs). Put in simple terms, MQLs are not quite ready to begin the purchasing process, whereas SQLs are sales-ready.
When MQLs and SQLs are clearly differentiated, marketers and salespeople alike are able to focus on areas where they can accomplish the most good, instead of aggravating unwilling prospects or holding back sales-ready leads.
Gather Relevant Lead Data
Now that sales and marketing have been aligned and the lead management process has been streamlined for everyone, the marketing department in particular has its work cut out for it. Lead nurturing is about much more than successfully organizing departments for maximum efficiency. Marketers need to target their efforts with a certain amount of “educated empathy” to keep leads flowing through the funnel. That’s where lead data comes into the picture.
With such information in hand, marketers can extrapolate the data to an imaginary customer’s “profile” or “persona,” which will help them to narrow their message and initiatives to appeal to that particular demographic.
Implement a Lead Nurturing Content Program
With your target customer’s “persona” in mind, it’s time to begin creating content designed to appeal to your company’s preferred demographic. One important piece of this is implementing a content delivery timeline that allows for regular touch points with the MQL.
While such a lead nurturing content program does not necessarily need to be intricate, it should ideally accomplish 2 major objectives:
- The timeline of content delivery should allow for regular, even frequent content delivery. This will encourage the customer to keep your company, products and/or services in the forefront of his mind.
- The delivered content should be of sufficient variety and/or interest to appeal to the customer.
Utilize Email Marketing
For many companies, email marketing is the preferred option for content delivery to market qualified leads. In fact, one study shows that 64% of companies believe that email marketing offers a high ROI compared to other delivery channels.
Besides being cost-effective, email marketing allows you to vary your content delivery according to where your leads are in the sales funnel, and what their areas of interest are. So one customer may receive an educational email from your marketing team; another opens up an invitation to a special company-sponsored event; yet another customer farther down the funnel receives a personalized email, perhaps from a member of your sales team. Lead nurturing in this way can drive customer engagement with your brand and even close out sales.
Track, Measure, and Analyze
Of course, nothing can be improved if it isn’t measured. Tracking metrics such as website traffic, customer engagement, and lead conversion rates can help you determine where the weak spots in your strategy are. Accurate KPI measurements can help you to determine what type of content generates the highest conversion rates, or brings in the most visitors to your website. Ongoing measurement and analysis will help you to continually enhance your lead nurturing strategy.
Lead generation in itself is a vital component of good marketing. However, a clearly defined and effective lead nurturing strategy is also essential. It can lead to optimized lead conversion, boost your company’s bottom line, and promote sustainability for the future. From the top of the sales funnel to the bottom, lead nurturing will spell out increased profitability for your company.