B-TO-B: Are you ready for lead nurturing 2.0?

Jul 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Lead nurturing is a great way for business-to-business marketers to make the most of every opportunity and lower the cost of sales. But the process has evolved from creating and distributing static content to self-identified prospects to continuous interaction across numerous communication channels.

In other words, lead nurturing 2.0 is here.

To determine if your company is ready to adopt a lead nurturing 2.0 program, you might start by exploring the concept of lead nurturing itself. It’s a relationship-building process designed to support a prospect’s buying cycle.

Through lead-nurturing practices, an organization offers prospects a stream of uniquely relevant information and engages them through an ongoing dialog. The intent is to educate, inform and prepare prospects to, ultimately, make a purchase decision.

Taking it further, lead nurturing 2.0 leverages the information that a marketer already knows about a prospect, along with what the prospect reveals about him or herself during the sales cycle. The point is to integrate both self-reported and behavioral prospect data and then to use this insight to drive prospect engagement.

Keep in mind that lead nurturing 2.0 is not about campaigning when a company feels it is appropriate. Rather, this approach enables measurement of buyer engagement to deliver the most relevant message possible when the buyer needs it.

TOP NEEDS FOR A SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM

Developing and implementing an effective lead nurturing 2.0 program requires specific expertise in four areas: talent, insight and segmentation, digital capabilities, and tools and measurement. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

  1. TALENT

    Traditional sales and marketing professionals are often directed to drive sales without an established strategy. But in today’s environment, campaigns designed to stimulate a purchase decision are not good enough. You need to focus on the buyer journey, not on the product or service. For instance, marketing and sales people must be Web savvy; they must have an astute understanding of social behavior online and how those behaviors and attitudes translate to future buying decisions. Marketers also need a background in the sales funnel process and how it works.

    Lead nurturers must be comfortable with data, analytics and buyer insight, and have the ability to leverage the tools available today. And marketers embarking on a lead nurturing program need to be focused on return on investment and measurement — both online and offline — in order to justify costs over the entire sales cycle.

  2. INSIGHT AND SEGMENTATION

    Marketers need to understand and segment prospective buyers in ways that allow them to establish individual value, develop relevant messaging and react to the prospect’s behavior and level of engagement.

    Knowing value is not only the basis for determining allowable spend, it also helps you figure out how much time to invest in the lead nurturing process. You must understand prospects in ways that facilitate buyer assessment, segmentation and engagement analytics.

    • Buyer value assessment — Evaluating buyer value helps determine how much to spend on nurturing an individual target. Most companies have trouble identifying those prospects that represent both their greatest opportunity for growth, profit and retention, and their greatest risk of attrition.

      Buyer value can be calculated any number of ways, but the simplest and most direct approach is to examine how much the customer spends in a particular product/service category, as well as how much he or she spends with the marketer’s firm. Those that are top category spenders — and which align with the marketer’s solutions — can translate to high-value prospects most easily.

    • Segmentation — Segmentation allows messaging, channel and, to some degree, context to be tailored to individual groups of prospects. Effective segmentation helps move prospects through the nurturing channel faster by delivering the right message to the right buyer in the right context.

      As a rule, good segmentation ensures significance (each segment is different in meaningful, uniquely identifiable and action-oriented ways); scale (the total number of segments is small, and each segment is large enough to communicate with effectively); and mutual exclusivity (each target company and its buyer roles fit squarely into one clearly defined segment).

    • Engagement analytics — Analyzing engagement enables you to react to how prospects are interacting with your company. Imagine if you knew how prospects were engaging with your business — both online and offline — where they were in the buying process, what they were most interested in, what companies they were talking to, what needs they were trying to address, and what attitudes they have about the brand.

      Engagement analytics can help to accelerate the buying cycle through the use of relevant messaging. The end result should be interactions that the customer initiates because of a trigger event or communication — and that the marketer stimulates through a series of continued touches designed to uncover the buying intent, buying stage and other emotional and attitudinal measures.

  3. DIGITAL CAPABILITIES

    B-to-b customers in all categories flock to the Web to determine how their peers evaluate products and services, and to contribute to the conversation themselves. This suggests a change in focus as marketers prepare to adopt digital nurturing.

    • Content — Each communication must be relevant and timely, and provide value in a way that goes beyond selling. Content should consist of thought leadership pieces that can be used to sell and which can also stand alone. Consider repurposing existing digital assets — widgets, games, online apps and benchmarking and assessment tools — as content pieces.

    • Community — B-to-b buying decisions are greatly influenced by community, and in the online space this is hotter than ever. Companies are creating ways to put themselves in front of prospective customers in the places in which they form opinions.

      As such, communities can be an important part of the nurturing process. Using targeted and stimulating conversation in communities can help supercharge direct nurturing efforts. Remember that communication helps create trust and credibility.

    • Conversion — Digital communication allows marketers to gather information that helps tailor messaging to convert prospects into customers faster. Using online engagement in the nurturing process can be a more efficient, more relevant way to communicate with prospects.

      You can also leverage digital to quickly identify the hand raisers entering the nurturing process, thereby speeding up the sales cycle. That said, offline channels still have a role to play — the key is to integrate offline with online efforts.

    • Social media — Using social media in the nurturing process requires specific capabilities. You need to be able to listen to what customers and prospects are saying about your company and leverage your content marketing programs accordingly.

      Social also requires the ability to promote event and content offers to targeted groups of people in the network and to ask prospects if and how they use social media, collecting this data at every point of interaction.

  4. TOOLS AND MEASUREMENT

    Given the capabilities discussed, you will need certain systems in place for a productive lead nurturing 2.0 program. For one, you must be able to drive segmentation into campaigns.

As marketers begin to model and score prospects and customers, the database will need to accommodate the data. A merchant’s ability to capture and use self-reported, company profile and behavioral insight will affect the way it will target, prioritize and communicate to its nurturing groups.

You also need the ability to watch engagement so that you can change messaging quickly and efficiently. This will require appropriate layers of Web analytics and engagement monitoring to determine how and when people respond, and what drives that response.

Merchants also should be able to score leads by blending self-reported data, behavioral data and value or propensity modeling. Software should accommodate the use of points systems that allow for flexible scoring and reporting.

Finally, you should be able to measure and report effectively through dashboards. Buyers, decision makers and influencers have different needs, so you need the tools that allow for measurement and reporting at every level.

Lead nurturing 2.0 is moving to the forefront of preferred b-to-b nurturing strategies. Putting all the pieces in place requires securing and developing the right talent, insight and segmentation, digital expertise, tools and measurement techniques.

The effort is well worth it if you want to convert prospects into customers for the long term.

Kevin Kerner (kevin_kerner@harte-hanks.com) is the U.S. managing director of technology marketing agency Mason Zimbler, a Harte-Hanks company.