Forrester Research defines lead nurturing very simply: Lead nurturing is a process by which leads are tracked and developed into sales-qualified leads. The goal is to affect the sales outcome; the process is to reach the buyer in the formative stages of a buying cycle and use automation to develop a relationship with the potential to shape the buying process.
The buyer who has a genuine need may not buy from you today, but is very likely to buy from someone within 24 months or less. Staying in touch with that lead on a regular basis, say by using drip marketing, helps keep you in the running. Staying in touch by using lead nurturing, a form of drip marketing that seeks to progressively educate the buyer, helps separate you from the pack.
Lead nurturing pays you back in at least three ways:
- You close more leads, so the cost per lead drops
- Deal size is generally larger with nurtured leads – 47% larger, according to The Annuitas Group
- You increase sales productivity by giving sales leads that are already well-educated and self-identifying as qualified
You also help your brand, building a reputation with potential customers as a trusted advisor and source of thought leadership. And, of course…you make more sales.
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Who should you nurture?
According to a study by RainToday, out of 100 leads, 25 can be disqualified right away, 50 represent a future opportunity, and 25 are real opportunities. Lead nurturing focuses on building relationships with those 50 leads that at this point seem to be both interested and qualified, but are not ready to buy. If you’ve filtered and segmented your leads by some factor(s), you can build a nurturing track that’s targeted to those factors, whether it’s location or product or industry, etc.
Since the point of nurture marketing is to educate the buyer, you’ll be using at least a modicum of content. You’ll want to map your content to where a lead is in the buying cycle, so that there’s a step-by-step progression along the learning curve. Here’s a guide to what your goals might be for each stage:
Attention – the buyer recognizes a problem or need, but may not know there is a solution.
- Goal: Influence the way the buyer frames or identifies a need or challenge. Pinpoint unidentified needs. This does not involve promotions or product marketing messages.
Interest – the buyer seeks to address the need internally or externally and starts researching solutions.
- Goal: Resonate with buyer’s top three challenges. Determine budget, authority, need, and timeline.
Consideration – the buyer does more detailed research, begins to develop opinions and narrow options, and may reach out to potential solution providers .
- Goal: Differentiate with competitive advantages. Introduce marketing messages and promotional offers to encourage communication with sales.
Purchase – the buyer actively evaluates products and services to address need and is prepared to make a transaction.
- Goal: Transition the prospect from marketing to sales.
A good rule of thumb is to standardize definitions for what constitutes a qualified lead; generally, leads should fall into one of these categories (which could be named or numbered; what you call them doesn’t matter).
- Inquiry – a lead with potential who has responded to a marketing tactic. Can be lost without nurturing campaigns.
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) – a “good” lead, interested and ready to talk to Sales.
- Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) – a lead who has been acknowledged by Sales as a received MQL that meets the criteria for being a SAL. Sales should act on it within an agreed-upon timeframe.
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) – a lead that the sales team has decided is an opportunity for monetary value with an existing timeframe.
- Closed business – a deal that’s been signed by a customer as a commitment to purchase.
There are different types of lead nurturing campaigns, with different goals:
- Ongoing/awareness: Consistent ongoing communications with customers or prospects across any stage in the lead life-cycle. Example: regular newsletter.
- Acquisition: Designed to identify MQLs and encourage them to talk with Sales. Usually starts with complementary access to value added resources and progress to a marketing message, demo, or promo offer.
- Conversion or call-to-action: Mid-to-late buying cycle campaigns designed to drive prospects toward a sales engagement. Example: invitation to event for exclusive prospects.
- Post-purchase: After-sale campaigns that may include customer transaction info, loyalty programs, customer service and support information, and cross-selling or up-selling communications.
- Reanimation (Frankenstein): Revisiting unsuccessful or lost deals, as well as sales-accepted leads that for some reason didn’t buy.
- Ad Hoc: Outside of typical marketing communications; may include community membership invites, training, one-off content giveaways, and so on.
Learn more in “Introduction to Integrated Marketing:Lead Nurturing,” an Act-On white paper. Read online, or download to read later.
Ducklings image by Oskay, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license