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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Foundations of Lead Nurturing -- Technology

I've put off technology for the end because I've been trying to figure out how I want to write this post.  

My friend Rebecca pointed me to a post by Mike Volpe of Hubspot, from last year, about about lead nurturing. I like his point and his passion for building relationships with his potential customers.

I wanted to take hold of this concept but couldn't shake a nagging sense of pragmatism. While his example is a great anecdote, if he spent that much time of his time with each customer, he wouldn't be able to effectively grow his business. As I was doing some more research, I ran across a post about why most customers suck (they exaggerate for effect). 

The lead nurturing process has to scale in a way that doesn't hinder building a personal relationship.

And it's at this point that we can start talking about marketing automation. However, I decided that I don't want to do just a review of marketing automation platforms. There are a lot of options out there, each with different capabilities and limitations. The only real way to know what will work for you is to research them.

Using marketing automation as a tool in a B2B lead nurturing program can help the prospect be prepared for a sales call. The goal is to get them away from the automated portion and into conversation. Using the technology can play an important role because it gives you the chance to maintain contact with prospects until they are ready to advance.

How can you use marketing automation effectively then? 

1. Lead Scoring
Using lead scoring during your lead capture process will help you start defining who are your top 20%, who are in the middle 60% and who are in the unqualified 20%. Lead scores can be simple - based on demographic information - or more sophisticated. With scoring in place you can start determine how you filter your leads, including where you draw the line for MQL (marketing qualified lead)

2. Define a goal/threshold
This veers back towards the process side again. But, using marketing automation allows you to dynamically update prospect lead scores based on their activity after you've collected their information (and given them an initial score). What you are looking for is an optimized point when leads should be passed over to sales for personal attention. Setting a threshold forces you to move leads through the system, think of it as the accountability. If prospects are reaching this threshold and still not ready for sales, then you've got some work to do. 

3. Create a path
Building on the point above about lead scoring, you need to clearly define what path you will be presenting your prospects. You want to encourage them to continue engaging with your company, that mean determining what lead nurturing content you will use based on initial lead score and where you want them to end up. Each step on your path should include a call to action that gets your prospect closer to understanding why they should buy your product or service.

Caveat: I feel that I need to point out that capturing someone's email address and subscribing them to your corporate newsletter is not a lead nurturing path. You'll need to build it out just a little further. (And if you are going to include your newsletter as a piece of content in lead nurturing, make sure you have a call to action that allows your prospects to keep moving.)

4. Measure and Test
I'm going to put these two together because they go hand-in-hand. One compelling aspect of marketing automation is that, if integrated with your back-end sales system (I definitely don't want to take that for granted) you get closer to closed-loop marketing. The window between leads generated by marketing and sales activity is too often opaque. As marketers we should always be striving to measure not only the CTR or conversion rate of a campaign but also the closed sales deals.

Set your KPIs and measure how your leads are progressing based on the criteria that are important to you.  If you are just implementing marketing automation, or lead nurturing, or measuring your marketing efforts, I recommend that you spend some time getting a baseline. It's tempting to want to start changing things immediately and just try to beat the previous number. But establishing a baseline for your marketing campaigns will give you a much stronger position when you have to prove your results later. (Assuming you were able to drive them upward.)

When you begin testing, look at what's already been done for similar campaigns. While I don't recommend you follow everything, previous research can give you ideas for what you should test first in your own campaigns. Remember, testing is a continuous process. Continue looking for small and major changes that you can make to your campaigns and nurturing paths to continue to increase your response and, ultimately, closed deal rates.

Links on tagged: Lead+Nurturing

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