January 13, 2010

Five Ways to Improve Your Lead-Nurturing Efforts

By Heather Baldwin

If you hear the term “lead nurturing” and immediately think, “marketing department,” it’s time to reconsider this crucial component of selling.

In Marketo’s “The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing,” lead nurturing is defined as a process that builds relationships with qualified prospects, regardless of when they plan to buy, with the goal of earning their business when decision time arrives. Jon Miller, VP of marketing at Marketo, offers these five tips for doing it right:

  1. Make your content valuable. Before you send any content to a lead you’re nurturing, ask yourself this question: If this prospect never buys my product or service, will he or she still find the content valuable? If the answer is no or you’re not sure, don’t send it. Product spec sheets or information about your company is not of value to a lead. Instead, send material such as best-practice research, an article about something going on in the prospect’s industry, a link to a Webinar the prospect might find useful, and so on. Material that educates and informs is valuable; material that attempts to sell something, no matter how subtly, is not.
  2. Send bite-size content. Respect your prospects’ time. No one has time to pore over lengthy articles or white papers. Send something short and useful that can be read quickly. Keep in mind that more and more people are reading on their mobile phones and BlackBerrys. If what you send doesn’t capture their interest with those first lines on the screen, it’s probably going to be deleted. “The more you can deliver value in short snippets, the more likely it is to get read,” says Miller.
  3. Match content to profiles. The more customized the content you send, the more valuable it is to the lead. Consider his or her industry and position in the company when deciding what content you send, says Miller. According to research firm MarketingSherpa, 82 percent of prospects say content targeted to their industry is more valuable than generic content. Sixty-seven percent say content targeted to their job function is more valuable.
  4. Match content to buying stage. Prospects’ need for information changes as they move through the buying cycle. Someone in the awareness/research phase, for instance, will need different content from someone who is close to making a buying decision. Miller points out that educational pieces work well during the early awareness stages. Industry-oriented information, such as analyst reports, buyer’s guides, and so on, are appropriate when a prospect starts looking for a solution. And solution-oriented materials can be valuable for prospects engaged in an active buying cycle.
  5. Get the timing right. The frequency with which you deliver content is crucial. Once a week is too often; once a month is not enough, says Miller. So how do you find the right balance? Look at the prospect’s buying cycle and space your communications throughout that cycle. For instance, with a three-month buying cycle, you’d probably want to send content roughly every 15 days between day 10 and day 75 of the cycle. At the beginning and end of the cycle, the frequency should bump to every five or ten days. If you’re not comfortable you’ve got the timing right, just ask, says Miller. “An underrated technique to improve lead nurturing is just asking prospects how often they’d like to be contacted and with what information,” he concludes.