Marketing Lead Nurturing: Is ABN The New ABC?

Cathal Finnegan

94% of marketing qualified leads never close. (source: Sirius Decisions)

That is quite a sobering thought to start any marketing conversation. It not the type of return on investment anyone in business would like to pitch as a value proposition: “Look at us—94% of what we do does not work.”

On a positive note, recognising that something is not working as well as it should is the first step on the journey to fixing it. We can take some inspiration from a sales strategy as we begin our journey.

ABC: Always be closing

“Always be closing” (ABC) is one of the cornerstones of sales. It is a mantra. Without closed sales, the economic imperatives of business to grow and create shareholder value would come tumbling down (and on a personal level, they help employees of those businesses pay the bills).

That view of the sale itself being the pinnacle of the seller and buyer relationship is fading fast. The entire buyer’s journey that leads to the sale is full of challenges. Getting a prospective customer from being unaware of why they need your product or service to actively considering it is challenge number one. Challenge number two is getting the customer to buy. Then comes challenge number three: keeping the customer happy,  having the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell, and reaching the nirvana in which the customer becomes a strong advocate for your company.

Today we will focus on challenge number one: moving the buyer from being untroubled or unaware to actively considering your product or service. To give you an idea of how massive this challenge actually is, Sirius Decisions tell us that 94% of marketing qualified leads never close.

That is a scary statistic, but at the same time, it is a huge opportunity to make a positive impact. The place to start is to nurture those leads.

ABN: Always be nurturing

Today’s buyers are always educating themselves. The challenge is to know how and when to engage with these buyers. B2B buyers spend between 4 and 6.5 hours a week keeping up with their industry’s technology. That’s a lot of research. No wonder institutions such as Gartner, Forrester, and Sirius Decisions tell us that buyers have already completed 60% to 90% of their buying journey before they engage with sales.

To sell successfully, businesses must provide stakeholders who are involved in or who influence the buying decision with information when they need it—not when you decide to send it.

The way buyers now consume information is starting to mimic the way many of us now consume television entertainment. Think Netflix or box set binge viewing. In the “old days,” you made an appointment to view your favourite program because the TV guide told you it was on every Wednesday at 9 pm. That was the drip feed effect, with the content provider, rather than the viewer, having the power. Today’s viewer now wants to watch a complete series or even multiple series all in one go.

Modern buyers are the same: They binge on research, and if you are not providing the content they need when they need it, you won’t make it to the shortlist!

Nurturing the buyer with valuable, relevant content keeps them interested, engaged, and looking to consume more. Successful marketers who know how to keep potential buyers engaged once that first piece of content has been consumed stand the best chance of capturing the buyers’ interest when it comes to making the buying decision.

Why nurture—what’s in it for you?

  • Better qualified sales-ready leads
  • Increased volume and velocity of qualified leads
  • Closer alignment with the behaviour and preferences of the buyer
  • Builds engagement with the buyer
  • The potential to shorten the sales cycle

How do you make nurturing work?

There is not a simple answer here. It takes work. Getting the attention of a potential buyer is hard. Holding on to that attention and getting that buyer to engage actively in a deep and meaningful way with your content is even harder.

The human attention span is getting shorter. Can your content pass the “two seconds to relevance” test? If not, chances are you’ve already lost the buyer. Sounds harsh, I know, but when you consider the average person sees 5,000 marketing messages per day (according to The Futures Company), the opportunity to catch the buyer’s attention boils down to seconds.

Nurturing do’s and don’ts

  • A “one-size-fits-all” approach will not work – sending offer emails to everyone in your contacts database every Tuesday for six weeks is not nurturing. These emails will probably end up with the other 80% of marketing emails that go unopened.
  • Know the buyer and build a persona. Use customer segmentation, persona-based, industry-and LoB-based information to align with the behaviours and preferences of the buyer.
  • Know the language, challenges, and the behaviours of the buyer. What keeps them awake at night? If your content does not speak to all these, you’ll fail the two seconds to relevance test!
  • Commit to the committed. Use these behavioural triggers to move prospects along different routes depending on how they are engaging, or not engaging, with your content.
  • The content journey must match the buyer’s journey.
  • Engaged prospects will want to educate themselves on your content and consume it at their pace, not yours! So make sure you have the appropriate quantity and quality of content to satisfy their appetite. If you don’t, they will go elsewhere. To use a TV analogy, don’t just build one pilot episode; create a whole series of content pieces. According to the Google Zero Moment of Truth study, buyers need to engage with 10 pieces of content before they make a purchasing decision.
  • True nurturing has two goals: capturing attention and keeping attention. The Holy Grail is to take a prospect’s initial interest and bring it down the road of deeper content engagement.
  • Engagement intensifies as a buyer moves through the content journey. The more time they invest, the more they want to know.
  • “Fish where the fish swim.” Move beyond email. Connect with the buyers on whatever channel they use. Does your buyer use LinkedIn Groups? Are they members of online industry or LoB-focused forums? Do they tweet? Blog? Your prospects’ preferred channels should be part of the persona profile you build.
  • Use nurturing to qualify in prospects, but use it equally to qualify out. Your sales colleagues will thank you, as the quality of marketing qualified leads that pass on to them will be high.
  • Measurement is key with nurturing. Data on buyers’ actual engagement with your content should be measured—for example, what are they reading or watching, and for how long? This all builds into the buyer’s digital profile. You will get a lot of quality data that tells you what content really works for them and how serious they are about purchasing.
  • A “give to get model” is a very good approach to nurturing as it shows there is a real value to your content. It’s only natural that if you do not put a value on something, neither will anyone else. The same holds true for content – give the next piece of content only to those who have actually taken the time to read the last piece. This way you are committing to the committed and building a two-way, value-based relationship.
  • Do not turn your content into spam. Spam is the ultimate relationship killer – it shows that you don’t actually know your buyer. Instead, use the information you have gathered in building the persona of your buyer. By doing this, you will deliver the right content to the right person at the right time. The result? You will reach the promised land of personalisation, where your buyer is center stage.

A final thought to send you on your Always Be Nurturing (ABN) journey: “It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in the Autumn.” — B.C. Forbes

For more strategies that increase customer engagement, see How Customer Profiles Can Boost Your Marketing Success.


Cathal Finnegan

About Cathal Finnegan

Cathal Finnegan is a marketing specialist in Partner Service Delivery organization at SAP. His specialties include digital marketing, sales and business development, marketing planning and strategy, and partner management. Connect with Cathal on LinkedIn and Twitter @CathalFinnegan.