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B2B marketing 101: What is lead nurturing?

Posted by Chris Hokansson on Apr 19, 2013 7:56:00 AM

Lead nurturing is the part of inbound marketing that takes leads from the top of the sales funnel and flows them through to sales.

Lead nurturing is paying attention to leads even though they’re not ready to buy—keeping them engaged with you all the way through their buy cycle.

A key component of this process is supplying marketing-qualified leads with valuable content that’s relevant to where they are in the buy cycle. Marketing automation software can handle much of that content provision, but as the lead moves closer to being sales-qualified (as determined by criteria you’ve set), personal contact by marketing and sales is still very necessary.

Why Is This Important?

The old model of generating B2B sales leads is broken. Once upon a time, in a different world than we live in now, interested potential customers were largely reliant on sellers for information about products and services. The whole goal of B2B marketing was to get people to make contact, at which point they were almost immediately passed on to sales to answer their many questions.

Information was the carrot being dangled to get potential customers in the door.

Now information is cheap and easy. Anybody can quickly research a product, service, or company—long before they’re ready to buy. Unlike the pre-Web days, buyers who are exploring their options can do their own exploring, without the need for any guidance from sales.

During this exploration state, potential customers are forming all kinds of opinions about you, your competitors, and what you offer. That’s why it’s so vital to identify marketing-qualified leads early in the buy cycle, sometimes before they even realize they have a need. That way, you can carefully nurture your relationship with them until they’re finally ready to talk to sales.

You can help them in their exploration, earning their trust and respect. They’ll like you for helping them, and that’s one thing that hasn’t changed in this new B2B marketing world—people still make emotional decisions and buy from people and companies they like.

At the same time you’re building a relationship, you’re also making sure that your message is reaching your marketing-qualified leads amid all the information clutter they encounter during their exploration. You’re telling your story, not letting it be told by your competitors.

What Can You Do?

To structure a lead nurturing program, you need to first understand who you are, what you’re selling, to whom you’re selling, and how you plan to reach them (i.e.., what content and forms of communication you will use).

Once you have determined these details—in other words, once you have a well-defined marketing communications strategy—you can use marketing automation software to manage the nurturing process. If you don’t have the appropriate personnel, a B2B marketing agency can help with the development of the strategy, as well as the implementation and management of the software.

Alignment is a key to the successful use of marketing automation. At a technical level, it’s essential that the platform you choose can be integrated into your CRM software. At the human level, the automation must be put to use to align sales and marketing.

Sales and marketing need to work together to develop the appropriate criteria for funneling a lead to sales. They also need to develop criteria for determining when to send leads back to marketing for more nurturing. This should be an ongoing conversation, always open to adjustments.

With an effective, automated lead nurturing program, salespeople will begin to realize that helping marketing develop the right criteria for a sales-qualified lead will result in consistently better leads that don’t waste their time. And marketing will realize that by getting well-nurtured leads to sales at just the right point in the leads’ buy cycles, sales will close more deals and appreciate marketing more.

The Bottom Line

Lead nurturing is a necessity in todays’ world of shortened sales cycles, but it won’t be successful without a clear marketing strategy and an automated system to manage the nurturing process.


Topics: leads, lead nurturing, sales and marketing alignment