Lead nurturing is a hot topic these days. Historically, lead generation programs were always designed to quickly pass fresh leads on to sales as soon as they were identified. Time was of the essence, the theory went. And quantity was king. Today, things have change dramatically. In recent years, organizations have realized that it is preferable to let marketing hang on to leads as long as possible before passing them on to sales. Why the big shift in strategy? And what’s be big advantage of nurturing leads before handing then off to sales. Let’s examine what brought about this fundamental reversal.
The challenge of alignment
Since the dawn of Sales and Marketing (or a least since these two disciplines exist as structured departments within an organization), there has always been a challenge with alignment between the two functions. Sales are consistently skeptical of the quality of leads produced by marketing (after all, if these leads were truly qualified, sales would have found them years ago…). And Marketing is convinced that they understand the customer, the product and the brand better than Sales.
These tensions existed because the two teams couldn’t seem to agree on what a qualified lead actually looked like. Marketing did not understand the true needs of the sales team, nor the effort required to follow up with a prospective customer, not to mention the financial impact of “wasting their time” with prospects that had neither the need, the budget nor the authority to buy. For more on the challenges of sales and marketing alignment, check out this excellent article by Phillip Kotler “Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing” that appeared in Harvard Business Review..
Over 95% of all outbound calls end in voice mail.
For this reason, and many others, most prospecting and lead nurturing programs must be based on solid alignment between the sales and marketing teams. Both must share the same vision, the same objectives and the same definition of a valid sales lead.
Green, ripe or passed their prime?
One of the greatest challenges to achieving this alignment comes from the very definition of a sales lead, and more important, the point at which they should be handed over to Sales. After all, just because prospects raises their hand doesn’t mean that they are ready to buy.
A B2B purchase decision can take weeks, month and sometimes even years. Getting sales involved too early, before the prospect is ready to move forward will only lead to frustration for both the customer and the salesperson. Producing leads that are not ready to buy will cause Sales to assume that all your leads are bad and will return to their old habits.
The end of cold-calling
It’s hard not to recognize that traditional approaches are quickly loosing ground. Telesales, and more specifically cold-calling in particular have lost much of their efficiency (assuming they ever were efficient), because customers and prospects are more and more difficult to reach by phone. According to some experts, over 95% of outbound calls end in voice-mail.
Content marketing and lead nurturing are steadily gaining ground as the most effective ways of identifying prospective customers. These approaches use relevant high-value information — including studies and research reports, webinars, white-papers, etc — to attract and identify prospective customers, establish and nurture a relationship with them until they are ready to buy.
Lead nurturing: building lasting relationships
In doing so, you ensure that prospects with medium to long-term potential are never rejected because they are handed off prematurely to sales.
The fundamental benefit of the lead nurturing process is preventing anyone from being rejected because they have not yet reached the point at which they are not only qualified but also ready to move forward with the buying process. That’s why it is essential to put in place a process that will enable you to cultivate or nurture a relationship with your prospects — to educate them on the value of what your business has to offer. To build your reputation, your establish your credibility and demonstrate your expertise. That, in a nutshell is what lead nurturing is all about.
The five steps of the lead nurturing process
In the Slideshare presentation below, I describe a five-step process for nurturing leads that include the following steps:
1 – Attract: Use valuable content presented on your site or your blog to attract prospective customers who have an interest in your field of expertise and as a result, could be prospective customers.
2 – Identify: Find out who these prospects are and capture that information in a database so you can engage a dialogue with them.
3 – Qualify: ask a few simple questions that will help you determine if a person is a potential prospect for your sales team.
4 – Nurture: provide a regular stream of relevant, personalized and valuable information, throughout an established nurturing cycle. Record and measure the prospects’ interactions, assigning a value to each.
5 – Release: When the prospects reach the target lead score threshold through the agreed-upon interactions, you validate their interest in speaking with a salesperson. You then release the leads to the sales team, securing from them a formal commitment to follow up in a timely manner.
For more on the lead nurturing process, check out the slideshare presentation below. You can also view a pre-recorded webinar that I gave recently by clicking on the link below.