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A lot of the focus in the marketing world right now is about automation. Automated advertising buying, automated lead nurturing, automated customer service with bots. Saying automation isn’t the key to lead nurturing seemingly goes against all the rhetoric currently saturating the industry.

Don’t get me wrong. Automation has its place in the marketing world. It’s a popular strategy because it’s efficient, scalable, and enables the management of a large quantity of leads. However, automation doesn’t work in every scenario and for every business model.

Why It’s Not Always Appropriate

For nurturing leads, the effectiveness of automation relies on applying logic to foster the lead. It follows the belief that if a prospect does X, then send them an email with Y content. If a prospect does A, then send them an email with B content. The customer journey is mapped out along with content to meet their needs along the way. The problem with this approach is that it treats every prospect exactly the same and assumes they have similar interests and needs.

In B2B marketing, we’ve found that automation takes more effort to implement and is less effective than managing each prospect individually. B2B sales typically have a longer sales cycle and a higher price tag. As such, a B2B firm doesn’t need a high quantity of leads to work, which is reasonable since there likely isn’t a large pool of leads available. This is why email automation tools aren’t always appropriate for nurturing B2B leads.

Trying to Make a Connection

In my experience in business development and lead nurturing, the biggest issue that I see with automation is that it is impersonal. People aren’t looking to do business with a company―they are looking to do business with a person or persons at a company. Making a strong interpersonal connection is critical to business development, particularly in B2B service and product-based industries. Why? Because people don’t trust companies, they trust the individuals at the company. A company doesn’t build credibility, but the people representing the company can become trusted connections for the prospects.

User’s Unique Needs and Personalization

Automation is making advancements in the area of personalization. However, nothing will ever replace human understanding and evaluation. Automation tools can include complicated decision trees to try to match every need and action of prospects. However, automation tools can read between the lines, take a minute to do quick online research, and modify the strategy. It comes down to treating every prospect like a thing and not a person.

I firmly believe that each prospect has unique needs and requires a different lead nurturing approach. While one prospect may be similar to another prospect, their needs and motivations could be entirely different. Treating them exactly the same in the lead nurturing process will only alienate one or both of them. It’s important to remember that leads aren’t just companies that want to do business with your company. They are individuals with complex idiosyncrasies and motivations who need your company to help them do their jobs better or accomplish certain objectives. Just think about how customized a Starbucks order can be (It’s nuts how granular a coffee order can be!). That’s how customized lead nurturing should be in the B2B marketing world, tailored to the individual.

Lead Nurturing Differentiation in a Competitive Market

Competition varies from industry to industry, but differentiation can be the key to successfully converting leads or establishing a less-than-stellar reputation. This is another side-effect of the popularity of automation. Everyone is sending the same generic emails after a prospect downloads a piece of content or attends a webinar. You can almost see the “wheels” working in the automation system as an email is triggered. While the email comes from “Sam in Sales,” it ends up in your junk email folder because it came from a server farm.

Whether the competition is cutthroat in an industry or there are only two or three players, having a customized, non-automated approach to nurturing leads can differentiate a B2B company from the rest of the competition. Taking the time to look at the lead, evaluate any information they provide, and determine what would help them move forward can be the difference between the prospect moving down the sales funnel or going with your competition.

Partner-Driven Relationships

The best way to start any relationship is with a generic welcome. Wait? What? No, the best way to begin any relationship is with a tailored message. Particularly in B2B marketing, relationships with clients are more partner-driver relationships rather than client and vendor relationships. For this very reason, nurturing leads with a personalized, custom approach is the best way to build a strong foundation for a partner-driven relationship. A personal approach lets a prospect know that you truly understand their needs and their business and position your firm as a partner-resource, not just a vendor.

Conclusion: For B2B Lead Nurturing, Automation Isn’t the Key

I’m not opposed to marketing automation. It can be very effective for lead generation programs where the sales and marketing teams must handle a high volume of leads in a limited amount of time. It’s also great for quick responses in a highly competitive market where the sales cycle is fast. For B2B service and product-based businesses, automation doesn’t provide the level of customer service or relationship-building foundation required for converting leads. Before buying into automation software or implementing an automated lead nurturing program, examine whether it’s the best fit for your prospects and clients―not for you.