Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Goals of Lead Nurturing

One of the most common ways to use a marketing automation system is for lead nurturing. Also called “drip marketing”, “nurture marketing” or various other names, this is the art and science of keeping prospects “warm” until such time as they are ready to buy. At that level, there seems to be general agreement that it’s a great process to put in place. Similarly, the results are clearly showing that there is tremendous value in nurturing leads. However, there is often something of a lack of consensus on what the approach should be for nurturing leads.

At a high level, I would describe the goals of lead nurturing as three things, in order:

1) Maintain permission to stay in contact with the prospect: This is by far the most important goal of lead nurturing, and one that is most often overlooked. If a prospect emotionally unsubscribes, you have lost your connection with them, and you may in fact be marked as spam.

2) Establish key ideas, thoughts, or comparison points through education: A prospect you are nurturing may not enter a buying process for many months, if not quarters. However, if you can educate prospects, and by doing so, guide their thinking slightly to incorporate key requirements and ways of analyzing the market, when they do become buyers, you will be much better positioned

3) Watch for signs of progress through the buying cycle: As you nurture prospects, you can watch their digital body language to give you an understanding of when they are moving to a new stage of their buying process

Maintaining permission to stay in contact with the prospect is, as mentioned, the most critical aspect. As we’ve seen, unsubscribe rates, as measured by explicit clicks on your unsubscribe link can be very deceptive. Many recipients will emotionally unsubscribe instead. In order to manage your lead nurturing processes successfully, you need to ensure that you pay close attention to the engagement level of your audience through watching their response activity and manage the frequency with which you communicate with them in the lead nurturing process accordingly.

The need to maintain your audience’s permission to stay in contact with them is the key driver of why high quality, valuable, non-salesy content is crucial to your nurture strategy. However, that content can also guide thought processes and decision criteria. Often, buying decisions are influenced by how buyers think about the market, what “fault lines” they see as crucial in comparing vendors, and what they believe to be possible in the market. Depending on the buying process challenge you face, you can use this content marketing opportunity to educate buyers on what is possible, or on key buying criteria they may not have considered.

If you are successful in the first two goals, you can then begin to look for progress along a buying process through watching your buyers’ digital body language. You can include “teaser” content, such as content from an RSS feed and watch that for signs of interest in a topic that indicates direct buying interest, or can establish interim actions for prospects to take, such as signing up for a webinar or trial, that would indicate a deeper buying interest.

Lead nurturing can be a very powerful way to stay engaged with future potential prospects, and in doing so, successfully establish buyer preference and understand buyer timing. However, it only allows you to accomplish this if you are careful to maintain your audience’s permission to remain in contact with them.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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