Problem: Leads Fall Out Mid-Funnel. Solution: Nurture Them

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Nurture marketing bubble gum machine imageDoes this describe your marketing funnel? Your top-of-funnel efforts are generating interest, you’re getting inbound traffic and plenty of leads, but too many just stall out in the middle of the funnel and never make it to that engagement with sales.

The problem could be trying to convert too soon (on your timetable instead of the buyer’s) or it could be lack of engagement. In either case, nurture marketing is the strategy most likely to solve the problem. Begin by thinking of a simple series of progressive steps as a process, then define how that process should flow (from the point of view of your buyer), then implement the process.

A. First, define the lead flow

Lead nurturing is like a series of interactions in a flow chart. Incorporating trigger-based steps can dynamically adjust the communication with the lead in real-time, making the process very responsive to the buyer. But even for simple campaigns the rules can become complex; fortunately, marketing automation can manage the process so it stays on track and visible.

  • Step 1: Determine your audience

Review your customer base and see what your good customers have in common, then think about how to segment a similar audience of potential buyers so you can speak to them in a way that feels personal. Your segmenting factors could have to do with size of company, location, industry, problem faced, and so on. Be sure to pick a segment that’s large enough and funded well enough so that you can get a return on your investment in nurture marketing.

  • Step 2: Align content to the target audience

In this step, you align value-added resources and content to the different stages of the buying cycle. This content is delivered in different communication mediums over a series of interactions throughout the campaign. Take the time to identify existing content or develop new content that’s specific to the various stages in the lead lifecycle.

Don’t start using selling messages too early. You want this series of communications to be buyer-centric, focused on their problems, not your product or service.

A content matrix helps you determine the existing messaging and assets that can be used in the nurture campaign. Content should be unique to the target audience and the way they frame the challenge. If you’re targeting an industry, use their terms and language.

  • Step 3: Select multiple mediums for the nurture dialogue

A lead nurturing campaign should encourage prospects to interact, not just consume information. If they can engage with you, often their behavior will tell you when they’re ready to talk to sales. Are they opening emails? Downloading white papers? Visiting the website? The most common mediums for communicating with prospects include:

  • Email. Emails in nurturing campaigns should include links to content or resources hosted on the website. Marketing automation tools can track click-through performance on email campaigns. Ideally, email activity can be used as a trigger to initiate the next step in a nurture campaign.
  • Websites. Your website will gather information and be the primary source of explicit data (provided by the prospect, often in registration or sign-up forms) and implicit data (derived from watching prospects’ behavior online and inferring information about the products or services they need). Most marketing automation systems include both nurture marketing technology and web analytics that track and record individuals’ behavior and actions.
  • Thought leadership. Value-added resources such as white papers, third-party research studies, and articles should be used at the early stages of nurturing campaigns. Don’t pitch your products or services; just provide useful information. This can convince the prospect that your company is a trusted advisor, and a good source of information for defining a problem or discovering possible approaches to solving that problem. Companies classified as a “trusted advisor” to a prospect are two-to-three times more likely to win the business.
  • Phone calls. Direct contact with sales development reps can be a nice value-add. At early stages, reps should just touch base to see if they can offer value or follow-up on a resource. Actual selling should be reserved for prospects who display signals that indicate they’re ready to buy.
  • Promotional and product information. Save product information and promotional offers for the final stages of the nurture flow, when prospects are becoming ready to solve the problem.

B. Build the lead nurture flow

Timing and cadence are important. Depending on the complexity of the sale and the lead’s buying cycle, the entire campaign could last weeks, months, or even years. The best way to determine how many interactions are appropriate and how long the campaign will run is to talk to your sales team. Study the good deals that closed with the best customers and work backwards:

  • How many touches does it usually take to close a sale? What type of touches work the most often?
  • What are the key pieces of information that salespeople delivered, and when?
  • What are the most commonly asked questions from prospects, and when?
  • Do we need to educate a new market, or are we targeting an industry or segment with a widely accepted understanding of the problem we address?
  • What do our advocates say about the products/solutions we sell? What’s the perceived value in the minds of those who bought?

Once it’s all lined up: Your target audience, steps, content, and cadence – it’s time to do a road test. Go live with a small portion of your target list, and analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Adjust accordingly, and roll your campaign out.

As you begin to experience nurture marketing success, you’ll find your mid-funnel stays robust and your sales people should be able to close these well-prepared leads more quickly. Two things to remember:

  • Keep your campaigns as simple as you can; don’t complicate them unnecessarily. You may wish to build a parallel nurturing campaign with a few key differences rather than over-complicate a simple one.
  • Keep experimenting and testing. The economy is dynamic and ever-evolving; your campaigns should be as well.

Want more information about lead nurturing? Check out Act-On’s Lead Management Resource page, where you’ll find white papers, blog posts, videos, and on-demand webinars on all aspects of lead management, including nurture marketing.

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Bubble gum machine image by Cody Davis Photos, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.