After Lead Generation … Lead Nurturing
Marketers expend considerable time and resources to generate leads, working to engage a visitor to the company’s website, trade show display or seminar event at least enough to gain contact information for future interaction. Generating the lead is the first step toward reaching the goal of converting that prospect into a customer.
Today’s digital age of computing and the Internet has significantly changed lead generation, empowering buyers to control much of the sales process, particularly in the inbound marketing context. Buyers have easy access to readily available information to thoroughly research and compare for informed decision making, often before a seller is even aware of the buyer’s interest. In some respects, this has lengthened the sales cycle as sellers have less control.
Generating the lead is not the end goal. The marketing task is to effectively capture these inquiries, assisting them through every step of the purchase decision process – maintain contact, build the relationship and create trust so the prospect will convert to a sale when the purchase decision is reached. This is accomplished through lead nurturing and necessitates marketers to get in front of potential buyers early on and personalize the buying experience for them, providing the information and answers they need, in a much more directly personalized manner than a general ad or product sales pitch.
In its 2015 Lead Nurturing Benchmark Study, Demand Gen Report found that among the B2B companies surveyed, marketers are using more sophisticated tactics and targeted messaging in lead nurturing, moving beyond early drip, blast email campaigns that sent a series of prepared messages to the entire database in the same sequential order. They are using data and predictive marketing in nurturing campaigns – determining where in the buying process a prospect is; who is more likely to convert; and using a prospect’s actions and interests to determine the nurturing path for more personalized contact.
In order to personalize a lead-nurturing program to a prospect, a marketer has to first know the customers, what they want, their goals, and the problems they are trying to solve. Creating ‘buyer personas” is an effective technique which allows marketers to understand, visualize and relate to potential customers and what influences their behavior. A buyer persona represents a common type or category of customer, a fictional profile based on demographics and psychographics, identifying generally common traits in that customer type. A well-constructed buyer persona can provide a marketer with an understanding of how to align marketing decisions to the potential buyer’s expectations and thereby personalize the experience, making it more meaningful and relevant to the buyer.
Prospects within the same buyer persona category may well be at different stages of the buying process – some in the early research phase, some closer to the buying decision. A marketer wants to build the relationship with the customer early on and nurture that relationship throughout, to the point of sale and beyond. It is important to segment the prospects into the various stages of the buying process so that contact and communications can be appropriately tailored and relevant to prospect’s needs at that particular stage. The segmentation can be done based upon a prospects actions and behaviors.
Buyer personas and segmentation are tools to understand a prospect’s characteristics and stage in the buying cycle. Content mapping is trying to determine a prospect’s needs at each step of the buying process in order to create and deliver content, messaging and communications that provide a relevant, personal and persuasive experience. For example, at the early stage content may include blog posts or other accessible materials to educate; as interest increases, more in-depth content showing industry leadership such as white papers; as product consideration becomes more focused, technical materials such as specifications, demos and product overviews or comparisons; and when close to the purchase decision, testimonials and case studies showing the specific value of the product or service.
Generating leads is the beginning of the sales cycle but certainly not the end goal of a marketer. The leads must be nurtured along the purchase process for maximum benefit. Lead nurturing is becoming more personalized and targeted. Marketers may find these efforts more difficult to keep on top of as the campaigns become more defined in targeting. Marketing and sales automation technologies allow workflows to be automated so that marketing efforts and messages can be aligned and that each lead receives the most relevant messages at the most opportune times, creating a more personalized experience for the buyer.