Are you losing touch with prospects who are not ready to buy, but might buy from you in the future? Automated lead nurturing will help you keep in touch.

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The B2B buying process has changed forever. Prospects are spending more time on the web doing research about your company’s products and services. They are getting information from their peers and third parties.

And to complicate things, most studies show that buyers now are really only engaging with sales representatives in about the last third of their purchasing process.

According to Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, up to 95% of qualified prospects on your Website are there to research and are not yet ready to talk with a sales rep, but as many as 70% will eventually buy from you or one of your competitors.

That’s why lead nurturing is now more important than ever. Lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with qualified prospects regardless of when they will buy, with the goal of earning their business when they are ready.

Here’s what you don’t want to do with your leads who are not ready to buy:

  • Send them a newsletter about your company on an irregular basis.
  • Call your leads every few weeks to “check in” and ask if they’re ready to buy.
  • Email your entire database with information about your company’s products and services regardless of the prospect’s interests or needs.
  • Ignore them.

So instead of generating a lead, tossing it to Sales and moving on, now you have to synchronize your marketing throughout the buying process and give prospects the information they seek, and just when it’s most helpful to them.

Lead nurturing, when done correctly, can pay big dividends. According to Forrester, CSO Insights, Marketo and others, companies that excel at lead nurturing:

  • Generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost per lead.
  • Reduce the percent of marketing-generated leads ignored by sales (from as high as 80% to as low as 25%)
  • Raise closings on marketing-generated leads (7% points higher) and reduce “no decisions” (6% points lower).
  • Have more sales representatives make quota (9% higher) and decrease (by 10%) the ramp up time for new reps.

What’s more, anecdotal evidence suggests that nurtured leads tend to buy more, need less discounting and buy faster than non-nurtured leads.

Fortunately, lead nurturing can be automated.

Here’s how: based on what your Sales and Marketing teams agree is a “sales-ready” lead, you offer content to your prospect that is mapped to their buying journey. Then, using marketing automation software, you provide the right content to them based on cues, timing and other information about the lead’s history.

There are two primary types of lead nurturing campaigns that can help you get started generating more and better quality leads:

Incoming Leads Campaigns

It all starts when a prospect fills out a form on a landing page. You don’t want to ask for any more information than is necessary, or your landing page conversions will go down.

However, you do want to capture enough information to begin to do some preliminary lead scoring to determine the likelihood and speed at which they might buy from you. For instance, you might be able to put the lead in one of a few different buckets such as “hot,” “warm,” or “cold.”

Depending on the sorting method you have, you can then determine which leads are “sales ready” and which should be further nurtured.

For those leads that need further nurturing, you’ll then want to plan additional, automated messages based on what they initially downloaded and how much time has elapsed.

But most important, using your marketing automation software through which the automated lead nurturing is facilitated, you’ll want to set up additional actions to be triggered based on the prospect’s additional interactions with you (i.e. their “digital body language”).

For instance, did they download additional information from your site? Which information? How soon? How many other pages did they visit? Which ones?

What’s more, using progressive profiling available in most marketing automation software, each time the prospect fills out another form, you can stop asking for the same information. Instead, you can start to ask additional, new information. Over time, you’ll build a more granular profile of each lead that can be further refined in your lead nurturing.

Stay In Touch Campaigns

Don’t give up on leads not ready to buy right away. Put them in a longer-term campaign to keep in touch. Remember that most of your leads will buy, they just won’t buy right away.

This is where lead nurturing can really pay off because so many companies chase the “hot” leads and give up quickly on the “warm” and “cold” leads.

For a stay in touch campaign, focus on 1) buyer roles, 2) buying stages, 3) content, and 4) timing:

Buyer Roles – In a B2B sale, even for a small company, there are usually several people involved in the decision process. These roles could include the end user, procurement, finance, management and other influencers. Each one of them has different information needs at different times. Based on the information you have provided, you should give them content tailored to their role.

Buying Stages – Remember that good lead nurturing provides the right content at the right time. There are traditionally four stages: Awareness (identify a need), Consideration (determine possible solutions), Research (evaluate solutions), and Purchase. Remember that the buying stages are non-linear and that prospects can move chaotically backwards and forward.

Content – This is crucial in lead nurturing since it can act as a sales rep stand-in when the prospect is not yet sales ready. The two most important factors in content development are the previous two: Buyer Roles and Buying Stages. Prospects find content targeted to their role much more valuable than generic content. And the content prospects find relevant can change dramatically as they move through the buying process. Remember to make the content valuable, not self-promotional.

Timing – In successful lead nurturing (and comedy), it’s all about the timing. The timing for every company and category will be different. But as a general rule, contacting a prospect more than once a week is too much and less than once a month is not enough. One trick is to ask your prospects how often they’d like to be contacted and with what information.

If you are new to or have not started automated lead nurturing, the process can seem overwhelming and confusing. Don’t let it be. The most important thing is to just get started, keep it simple and make continuous refinements.