Far too often, I hear about inbound marketing campaigns that have successfully generated leads but those leads haven’t converted to sales. There seems to be a misconception that inbound leads = SALES. Many business owners and sales and marketing professionals assume that the lead is ready to buy when they visit the website and download a piece of their content. In reality, many of those leads are just beginning their buyer’s journey. They need to be nurtured before they are ready to purchase.
Simply put, lead nurturing is the process of cultivating leads that are not yet ready to buy. A successful lead nurturing program anticipates the needs of the buyer based on their buyer persona and where they are in the buyer’s journey. Nurturing keeps prospects engaged by providing the most relevant content such as e-books, whitepapers or slideshares, for their particular situation. When done properly, lead nurturing can build strong brand loyalty well before a prospect is ready to buy.
By cultivating this latent demand, companies can increase the conversion of unqualified leads to opportunities that ultimately creates more sales. Nurturing also helps accelerate active opportunities by giving prospective buyers the information they need to make purchasing decisions easier. Lead nurturing is about helping buyers along in their educational journey. However, it’s in this nurturing process where many inbound marketing leads get lost in the funnel.
There are things you can do to avoid losing any of your leads in the funnel. Here are three.
1. Align your sales and marketing efforts
Notice I said “sales and marketing professionals” in the opening? This is not just a marketing issue. HubSpot coined the term “smarketing” which is defined as the alignment and connection between sales and marketing. This very important component of the inbound marketing model is still hard for many companies to understand. This alignment has to exist in order for your sales and marketing teams to successfully convert inbound leads. Both teams must be equally invested in the program. There are simple things that need to be addressed to begin alignment including:
- Who will conduct “lead triage” as leads identify themselves?
- Who will handle lead scoring?
- How are the leads handed off from the marketing team to the sales team?
- How will your leads be classified and by whom?
- Is the sales team familiar with the marketing content that generated that particular lead?
I saved the most frustrating for last. Far too often, the sales team does not pay attention to the marketing content that is being offered. The sales team doesn’t even read the blog at times! I have coached hundreds of sales professionals and have met very few who understand how they can use the blog as a selling tool on a daily basis. The best thing about blogs is they're a tool that gets refreshed often. So if the latest blog post isn’t a good provoking piece for your prospects, maybe the next one will be.
2. Nurture by stage
The key a successful nurturing program is to focus on following your lead classifications and then nurture in incremental steps. If you have not successfully classified your leads, the appropriate content will not provoke or even educate your prospect. It will most likely turn them away.
For example, a welcome program that provides new inbound leads with helpful information about the problems your product or service solves, the kinds of companies you help, and where to find additional information sounds right, doesn’t it? IT’S NOT! An inbound lead is not looking to get bombarded with a bunch of “we do this and we do that” marketing collateral. When done properly, the inbound lead will receive offers for additional information that is closely related to what they have already downloaded. This will be well received and considered helpful by your new inbound lead, the prospect.
It’s important to understand what content fits into what stage of your lead nurturing program so you can offer the right content at the appropriate time. The wrong content at the wrong time leads to buyer confusion or resistance. Therefore, they are either getting lost in your sales funnel or abruptly exiting it. Again, the key here is taking small, incremental steps with the appropriate content.
Once your prospects are in the sales funnel, nurturing them with helpful, relevant content moves potential buyers through each stage of consideration at a natural pace until they’re ready to be passed onto sales. Nurturing is the “safety” net for every stage of the buying cycle, helping ensure that no revenue opportunity is missed.
3. Personalize your nurturing efforts
Assuming you have properly segmented your nurturing lists, this creates the perfect opportunity to reach out to your prospects with personalized and targeted content. Your drip e-mails should be tailored to the prospects interest, their job title, location, and most importantly, their buyer persona. As prospects get further along in the buying process and are about to be handed off to sales, simple plain text e-mails with a signature from the appropriate sales contact are most effective. This helps to make your contacts feel as if they are important to your company and you’re there to help them with whatever it is they might need.
I’m not saying you need to go as far as customizing your website visitors’ experiences through “likes”, preference menus, cookies, or any other tracking information that you can get from various website analytics. Although, through HubSpot and other available tools, it is possible and will one day be a part of lead nurturing best practices.
With the vast majority of leads failing to convert to sales, companies can’t afford to simply abandon prospects when they fail to become buyers within a designated time frame. In today’s buyer-driven marketplace where buyers are empowered to make informed business decisions more quickly than ever, marketers must cultivate a role in the discussion in a way that’s meaningful to their audiences.
By recognizing and anticipating prospects’ needs and providing them with the right information based on who they are and where they are in the buying process, marketing professionals can improve their lead nurturing success. Implementing a formal strategy for lead nurturing and following the guidelines I provided here will help you prevent any more leads from ever getting lost in the funnel.