Whether you’re a mom-and-pop business or an international enterprise, you’re going to have potential customers looking at your products and services, kicking the metaphorical tires to see if you meet their needs.
They might browse around your website, see what you’re saying (and what people are saying about you!) on social media, check a few review sites, and maybe give you their email address in exchange for some premium content (yay!).
Once these potential customers have given you their contact information, they become leads — and how you treat them from this point on may very well determine whether your business will sink or swim.
That’s where lead nurturing comes in.
On average, 50% of the leads in any system are not yet ready to buy — and that number can go up drastically depending on your customer demographics and your industry. With so much information online, the buying cycle has become longer and longer, and it’s essential to have a strategy in place to gently encourage your leads to move towards a point-of-purchase decision.
“Lead nurturing,” then, is a catch-all term for all those activities you do while a lead is in the middle of the funnel. As usual, HubSpot has a pithy summary:
“You’ll need to continue talking to, sharing content with, and engaging those leads who may be stuck in the middle of your funnel — caught between their first conversion and a sales call.”
Whether it’s the sales team or the marketing team that handles lead nurturing, the goal is the same: Continue to talk with, engage with, and provide useful content to your potential customers.
And when you’re ready to pick a software solution to help you automate your lead nurturing, you’ll have more than enough to choose from. It’s almost unbelievable how many software solutions have sprung up to help sales and marketing departments manage and automate their lead nurturing process.
Here’s a guide that interviews CMOs at 15 top providers of marketing automation solutions. And here’s a look at 50 (!) top marketing automation tools from Capterra, which helpfully allows you to sort them by feature.
In this post, I want to take a look at what lead nurturing means for different sizes of business. Too often, “lead nurturing” becomes shorthand for “dump everyone into an automated email list,” which is the opposite of the careful, personalized contact that lead nurturing should really be.
After all, even though automation tools can help a marketing team get through work in bulk, there’s a reason it’s called “lead nurturing” and not “lead automation.”
|Lead Nurturing||Lead . . . Automation?|
Here’s how to get started with lead nurturing, no matter what size of company you have.
1. A small stream of leads
Let’s say you have a small stream of leads, maybe two or three every day. That doesn’t sound like much, but even just a few every day can get you near 100 leads a month. Any one of them could be your next big sale, so each lead needs to be carefully looked after.
At this level, your lead nurturing process could literally be a guy and a spreadsheet. All you need is a plan for how to contact these leads, and a way to keep track of the contact. You’re trying to develop a personal relationship with your potential customers pre-sale.
Building this relationship is about building trust; after all, people do business with the people they like. If you continue to share relevant content, and make yourself available to prospects to answer questions and help them solve their problems, they’ll like, trust, and appreciate you, and be willing to do business (or more business) with you in the future.
Make your contacts (emails, social, phone calls, or a combination; whatever works best for your industry and your demographics) as personal as possible.
Also, while this position often goes to someone in sales by default, a traditionally trained salesperson may not be the best choice. Ideally, you want someone who genuinely likes being nice, being helpful, and building relationships; someone with the “teacher/educator” mindset rather than the “aggressive sales” mindset.
There should never be any pressure on this person to “close deals,” only to continue being as genuinely helpful as possible to those in the middle of your funnel.
The whole point here is to seek out your prospects’ sticking points, rather than waiting for them to come to you with questions. They almost certainly have questions, but they’re also busy and forgetful. A good lead nurturer makes it his or her job to find out what those questions are. For example, one simple followup phone call could uncover a whole host of reasons a lead isn’t ready to buy yet:
- They don’t know if they can get the budget approved.
- They’re worried that the onboarding process will be too difficult and complex.
- They’ll need a solution in the future, but there’s no immediate point of purchase motivation.
In all of these cases, reaching out through lead nurturing to uncover prospects’ reasons for delay is incredibly valuable. It gives you the opportunity to isolate common pain points and develop materials (content like articles, videos, white papers, and how-to guides) that will address those pain points.
Although an automation tool isn’t strictly necessary at this point, even the smallest organizations will probably want to take advantage of email marketing tools, like MailChimp, to send email blasts to different groups of leads and to set up a regular email newsletter.
2. A moderate amount of leads
Let’s look at what happens when you have too many leads for any one person to handle. Since a team is going to be managing lead nurturing, there are several important things to take care of.
- First, decide whether marketing or sales is responsible for lead nurturing, and at what point in the buyer’s journey the “handoff” from sales to marketing will be made.
- Next, refine your lead nurturing processes. You need to be on top of lead segmentation (putting potential customers in different categories) and have a different contact plan based on the different needs of your groups. You’ll also need to decide what counts as a “qualified” lead and when such a lead should get a phone call from a real person to explore their situation and how your company might be able to help. Oh, and you’ll definitely need email automation at this point.
- Finally, select and implement a lead nurturing software tool. This could include email automation, or you might need to use it in conjunction with a separate email tool like MailChimp or Emma. Also, notice that I’ve deliberately put this after the “refine your processes” step. Please, please don’t try to choose a lead nurturing software solution (which is usually something both complex and expensive) without first being crystal clear about precisely what you’re trying to accomplish for each lead.
Think of nurturing your leads like you would nurture your friendships, or even your marriage. Sure, you could do it all manually, but isn’t it easier to use a calendar on your smartphone? That way you can keep track of birthdays, when you want to keep in touch, and when you’re next getting together.
The calendar tool doesn’t replace the actual interaction that’s the meat of your relationship, but it does help you stay on track.
Similarly, whatever lead nurturing tools you choose are just a way to help you work more efficiently. You still have to do the real work of researching your buyer personas and crafting targeted communication to help meet their needs.
It’s about follow-up. You need to follow up consistently and with respect, always framing your contact as an effort to help the potential customer solve their problems.
3. You’re absolutely flooded with leads
Nice problem to have, right? It might seem so, but if you’re so overwhelmed with leads that you can’t take care of them, you’ll end up leaving a bad taste in peoples’ mouths.
At this point, a sturdy platform for mid-size to enterprise-level businesses is pretty much a requirement, and boy oh boy do you have a lot of choices.
HubSpot grew out of the inbound marketing movement and has shaped a great deal of how we think about inbound marketing, lead nurturing, and internet-driven sales. Their goal is to be a comprehensive solution for mid-size businesses, and to that end, they’ve developed tools across the board. If it meets your needs, you can use HubSpot tools for your CRM database, your lead nurturing, your email marketing, and now even your CMS (content management system; it’s how you build your website). If you fit HubSpot’s demographic, and you have the money, it’s pretty tempting to go with them for a comprehensive and fully integrated approach to digital sales and marketing.
Act-On developed a suite of marketing tools that is bound-agnostic. It works for both inbound and outbound, and for both sales and marketing. It boasts an impressive number of built-in integrations, as well as an API for custom integrations. You can make web forms and landing pages, track site visits, clicks and campaigns, and do email marketing, behavioral scoring, and lead segmenting. Act-On is deliberately focusing on companies that can’t afford Marketo’s services, so if your organization has a more “traditional” approach to sales and marketing and isn’t ready for a premium expense, this is a good choice.
Pardot and Marketo are heavy hitters: the most complex and often also the most expensive solutions. Pardot is part of the Salesforce brand, so if you already use Salesforce as your CRM, it’s definitely worth while to at least see if Pardot will meet your needs. (If you’re not already on Salesforce, then Pardot would not be my recommendation. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve found that Pardot suffers by comparison to MailChimp’s flexibility and HubSpot’s comprehensiveness.) Marketo is actively seeking out enterprise-level clients (GE, Microsoft, and Citrix, to name just a few), so if you’re ready to play with the big boys, go ahead and give them a call.
But this is such a tiny sampling. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of marketing software solutions out there. Plenty of the smaller players, like Aritic and RocketBolt, offer perfectly good services at a much lower cost.
A robust lead nurturing program can pay dividends. It can free up time for your sales and marketing teams to create more content and reach more people; it can personalize your communications to prospects, and it can help you stop any leads from falling through the cracks. All of this helps you build meaningful relationships and grow your business faster.
Whichever platform you choose, build out your lead nurturing systems first. Decide who you want to contact, how often, and through which channels. Then look for the system that will best meet your needs — at the best price of course — and just get started!