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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lead Nurturing Fundamentals -- Content

Having been through the exercise of defining what a lead is, the role of content is to help you move those leads through the B2B buying cycle.
This means two very important things for the content that you use for lead nurturing.

  1. Content should be appropriate to your prospect's stage in the buying cycle.
  2. Content should include a call to action that moves interested prospects closer to being sales ready.
Let's break it down to the individual steps and see what applies.

1. Identifying the problem -- You don't have a nurturing role here but certainly marketing can be instrumental in helping shape the discussion around problem-identification. This is not to imply that you should be creating problems so you can sell more product but if you have insight into your industry and can identify where companies are failing then bringing that to light benefits both sides.The content that you would want to focus on is less targeted and more traditional publishing. Speak at key industry events, get quoted in trade publications, and write your own blog.

Call to Action: Find out more information about your company and products from your site.

2. Defining the criteria -- While discussion about a solution may still be at a very high-level at this stage, experience with existing companies and products will influence the input given.
The work you have done in branding your company and products will bring your value into the discussions, even before your name is actually mentioned.

Call to Action: Find out more information about your company and products when doing research.

3. Researching the options -- This is a key step. At this point in the cycle two crucial things happen. First, the responsibility for moving the process forward is typically delegated to a lower level within the organization. And second, you may get your first contact with a new prospect. I'm probably going to run afoul of Sales people everywhere but there is a real danger if you try to take prospects at this stage and skip right to the Purchase stage. For some prospects it might work, however as a strategy you're going to lose more than you keep.
Image Credit: Viewoftheworld
The content you want to have for prospects in this stage is high-level information. White papers serve this stage well if they are positioned as research or insight into broad needs fulfillment. Content at this stage should be easily accessible, either living outside your lead capture mechanism or behind only the lightest of touches.

Call to Action: Engage with your company by providing information in exchange for something of value.

4. Evaluating Products/Services -- In my experience this is probably the most critical stage in the buying cycle for marketing, especially in the context of lead nurturing. In this stage, information has been gathered, both generally about the industry and specifically about companies. The prospect is now comparing products against each other; looking for the strengths and weaknesses of each product when lined up side-by-side.
By this time your prospects should be engaged with a sales person. But marketing can still contribute to closing the deal. Content for this stage should reinforce what they are hearing from sales. Case studies that show how similar problems were solved or spec. sheets that detail the features a prospect needs can be effective. You can also use high-engagement content like webinars to keep yourself at the top of the evaluation list.

Call to Action: Contact your company, or sales person, with specific questions about your products or services.

5. Trial/Test Period -- This can be a tricky case. If your company offers a low-barrier free trial that prospects can use on their own, then marketing should have a trigger to re-engage with the prospect before the trial period ends.
This is a good time to ask if the prospect needs more time to continue their evaluation or if they want to speak with someone about your product/service in more detail. This step can also help you determine which prospects may never be viable for your company and allow you to shift focus away from them.

On the other hand, if your trial requires a commitment, such as a physical installation, then you're in a good position having gotten in the door. While your prospect is going to be heavily engaged with sales, and possibly a sales engineer, marketing can still contribute.

If you have a customer-support area of your site that facilitates either customer-to-customer interaction or easy access to your own internal support, you should provide your prospects with information about how to participate and some pointers towards areas that might be most useful to them.

Call to Action: Extend the benefits gained from the trail by purchasing your products or service.

6. Purchase and Implementation -- After the deal has been completed is a good time to make sure you have clean, viable data. Check if the initial contact is still going to be active in the on-going relationship. If the primary contact is changing, make sure you have updated information about the new contact. If there are going to be additional contacts after the sale, make sure those are also captured and associated with the deal. With a more complete picture of how you will be used within your customer's company, you are in a better position to make cross-sell and up-sell offers.
When you do win a new customer, have a welcome package ready for them. The contents of this will vary but should include contact information to key areas of your company. You can use this touchpoint to ask for an opt-in from any new contacts as well.

Call to Action: Opt-in to continued communications from your company. Explore additional products or services that may be of benefit.

Links and additional resources at Delicious: Lead+Nurturing

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