Lead Nurturing: How to Go from Cold to Hot in a Complex Selling Environment

By Sandra Jean-Louis July 09, 2015

As a B2B marketer, I subscribe to many of my prospects’ email campaigns. It’s a great way to get to know them better, gain some insights and determine if we’re a good fit.

While most of them are effective at pulling prospects into their funnel, they usually miss the mark on continuing the conversation. They may send three or four subsequent emails to keep me hooked after I’ve downloaded their product. But then, nothing. Crickets.

Why do so many marketers fail at nurturing their hard-earned leads? It’s as if they develop lead gen pieces in isolation, without a follow-up strategy. Lead nurturing inevitably falls by the wayside, revived only as a reaction to company news, launches or other major announcements.

It’s most puzzling because B2B marketers know the game:

  • It takes multiple exposures before a buyer chooses a vendor
  • Long buying cycles can work against you if buyers forget you exist
  • In increasingly commoditized industries, you need to stay visible to make the shortlist

Lead nurturing is a balancing act between science, art and guesswork. But long-term leads shouldn’t feel so neglected that they end up pushed out of your funnel. What makes a lead nurturing program work, convert leads and speed up the sales cycle?

You Have to Show Up

Like most marketing activities, lead nurturing isn’t an isolated exercise. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be present and committed to staying visible throughout the process, and you must align with the buyer’s journey and engagement level.

The good news is that you don’t have to go at it alone. Sales, account management and product stakeholders can all share their specialized knowledge to help you better understand your typical buyer’s approach and speed up the sales process.

Answering these questions will provide great fodder for future campaigns:

  • How do customers typically buy your solutions? How long are their buying cycles?
  • What common objections do you hear? Which ones are hardest to address?
  • What makes your solution(s) unique and excel compared to your competition?

Make It All About the Customer

The point of lead nurturing is to stay visible until your leads are ready to buy. But to be effective, they must believe you can help them, and there’s no better way to do this than by keeping your content customer-focused. Whatever the format, aim to educate, entertain and make it easy for them to take the next step.

  • Review your buyer personas annually. Do they still match your intended audience, or do you need to create new personas to target a new market segment?
  • Personalize your messages by segmenting your lists. As you learn more about your prospects, find opportunities to add value and keep connected in relevant, meaningful ways.
  • Ask questions. What are their challenges, needs and interests? The more you know, the more consumable you’ll make your webinars, white papers, blog posts or infographics.
  • Ask who else should be added to your distribution list. This will bring members of your leads’ buying committee into the loop.

Be Consistent

I’ve failed at this many times, so I won’t tell you this part is easy. It isn’t. Just remember: Every missed blog post or e-newsletter deadline that passes is a missed opportunity to connect with your audience and get closer to making the short list. How can you make it easier to build consistency and get more exposure?

  • Use an editorial calendar. For some of us, rigidity can be painful. But relying on your own will probably won’t last long, and despite your best intentions, you may end up overwhelmed into inaction. Let’s get it out of the way: use a calendar, make it as simple as possible and stick to it.
  • Scared you won’t follow the calendar? Spread this responsibility by assigning deliverables to different stakeholders. Your combined efforts will keep everyone accountable and in the loop.
  • Use a style guide to help you write faster and with a single voice.
  • Create an internal content repository your organization can access anytime. This way, sales can easily retrieve and forward valuable information to their leads on demand.
  • Automate your social media posts as much as possible. Scheduling everything a week at a time—rather than rushing on the fly—still leaves you enough room for retweeting and last-minute posts.

Keep It Simple

If you want to keep your readers’ attention and your content mojo intact, keep it simple.  Never waste their time: Know your audience, focus your message and be sure you include a call to action.

  • Industry jargon is for geeks. Sure, you might be selling a SaaS e-commerce platform or deploying mission-critical data systems. Serious stuff. But the VP of e-commerce and the CTO you’re writing for are still human. In an increasingly noisy world where everyone’s attention is eroding, there’s no room for heavy verbiage. Write conversationally, as if you were chatting with them over a cup of coffee.
  • Focus on a single message. What is it you want your reader to know?
  • Always have a call-to-action. Do you want them to call you? Download your latest white paper?  Get feedback about your case study? No matter where your reader is in the sales cycle, a call-to-action keeps the line of communication open and gently pushes your lead to the next step.
  • Repurpose your content whenever you can. It not only saves you time, but stretches your marketing dollars to increase your ROI. For example, expand a blog post into a two-page white paper; reformat your eBook copy into a webinar script; turn your latest customer testimonial into a full-fledged case study.

Build Complexity Slowly

As you learn more about your leads, you’ll uncover opportunities to fine-tune your messages and quicken the conversion process. Remember, building a successful email campaign is a strategic, long-term effort.

  • Segment your list as you learn more about your leads. From basic information such as job title, responsibilities, and company size, to the intricacies of their pain points and challenges, you’ll find the sweet spot that resonates with them and can focus on that in future messages.
  • Automate drip campaigns. Sending timed emails ensures you don’t neglect your audience and can help you segment them into different branches. 
  • Vary your communication methods. Although lead nurturing is primarily done by email, physical mail is an unclogged channel that can be very effective at the beginning of a campaign. People respond to different actions, so don’t be afraid to experiment with direct mail and short voicemails.
  • Invest in robust CRM resources to streamline you efforts and stay on top of all communications with your leads.
  • Ask for help. The size and scope of your program is unique; sometimes it makes sense to enlist an outside resource to help evaluate progress and plan your next move.

It’s Not That Hard … Once You Get Started

Lead nurturing is a must for B2B marketers, but no single generic plan will appeal to the masses. To get the most from your campaigns, be willing to test, retest, evaluate your efforts and then optimize whatever works. It might sound tedious, but once you’ve found a winning combination, all that’s left is to rinse and repeat the steps for that particular segment.

When you master these tips for nurturing your hard-earned leads, your leads will feel like they matter. And once they do, you’ll convert them into happy customers for life.

Sandra Jean-Louis

Sandra Jean-Louis

Sandra Jean-Louis is a B2B and Certified SEO Copywriter at Word Central. She’s a seasoned online marketer who helps information technology, software and professional service firms generate more leads and sales with targeted content and marketing copy. Connect with Sandra on LinkedIn or contact her at Sandra@WordCentral.ca.

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