Until recently, the world of online marketing largely consisted of longshot odds and slightly less-than-educated guesses. Think back to the strategies employed as recently as five years ago. Unfortunately, very few opportunities existed to gain critical feedback to help marketers understand who among the thousands of potential online audience members was actually interested in what they were selling and who was ready to buy.
Fiscal budgets allocated for online marketing have soared over the past decade, and yet the all-important measure of impact and effectiveness, ROI, has remained stagnant. B2B heavyweights are allocating substantial financial resources to generic targeting campaigns online which, in the best scenarios, produce a fractional conversion rate.
Is there a better solution out there? Of course there is. Savvy B2B marketers have explored new avenues to place their products or services in front of potential buyers as the scope and potential of online sales has grown over the years. Pushing the edge of the envelope in online B2B advertising doesn’t require some elusive, mysterious resource.
In fact, today’s most successful B2B marketers are looking back to the era of face-to-face interactions and the ‘handshake seals the deal’ mentality as much as they are investing in new technology. Ultimately, the methodology these marketers use to improve online ROI is to develop a compelling narrative specifically designed for high priority leads. Winning B2B marketers aren’t cold-calling workhorses – they are masterful storytellers.
Setting the Stage: An Introduction to Lead Nurturing
What is lead nurturing? Simply put, lead nurturing can be defined as a series of automated emails that encourage prospects to interact directly with your brand. No matter how compelling or exciting a product or service may be, a message shouted to the world at large will be silenced by the myriad of competing messages. B2B marketers must become storytellers in a theater to tell that story. Very much like a theater, lead nurturing provides a receptive environment where interested audience members actively immerse themselves in a story. Those who are interested become a select group of contacts who are deemed qualified prospects. A profile is developed based on their interests, behaviors and other measurable parameters.
Studies show that 50% of leads that businesses generate are qualified, meaning it matches the profile of a likely buyer who hasn’t reached a buying decision. Yet, no number of flashy emails sent to these qualified prospects that attempt to persuade them to buy your product or service can make them take that next step to purchase. They just aren’t ready.
As a B2B marketer, you have two possible choices:
Scenario A: Continue sending the same message repeatedly hoping that you will inevitably catch the B2B buyer at the perfect moment.
Outcome: In this scenario, B2B marketers are attempting to fit themselves into a timeline established by the qualified lead. If a qualified lead does indeed become a buyer, this is a product of luck as opposed to strategy.
Scenario B: Produce an engaging story or sales narrative, recognizing that each qualified lead may choose to move through a sales funnel at their own pace. Instead of repeated attempts to contact the buyer when you think they are ready to make a buying decision, you can nurture the lead from the top, through the middle and at the bottom of the sales funnel when they are ready to buy.
Outcome: B2B marketers remain relevant, respectful and present from the perspective of the B2B buyer. Conversion rates increase dramatically.
Did You Say “Nurture”?
No, this isn’t a term reserved for early childhood education or gardens. Simply put, nurturing a lead can be defined as a series of interactions with prospective B2B buyers which serve to educate, assist and engage.
Let’s go back to the analogy of the storyteller for a minute. Now that we have a theater with a seated audience, it would be naïve for us to believe they will immediately appreciate our story without a bit of background knowledge. If you’ve ever been to a play, you were given a program outlining the particulars of the performance. Nurturing your lead is no different than giving them a program. It helps the buyer understand the features, advantages and benefits of your product or service. Don’t just barrage them with direct-sales ads. Instead, help them understand the full extent to which your offering can improve their workflow.
So, how can this be accomplished? Take a look at this hypothetical scenario below. This 5-stage process represents the general path many buyers follow during the decision-making process:
With this information on hand, it is then possible to craft a narrative and a series of responses to support the B2B buyer throughout their journey. You can provide resources along that journey that will ultimately lead them to a buying decision.
Five Steps to Success:
One of the most common questions B2B marketers have after exploring lead nurturing for the first time is not “Where do I begin?”, but rather, “What do I do next?” Here is a five-step planning guide that explains a winning approach to lead nurturing.
Step #1: Attract and Educate
Develop a professional web presence and engage visitors through ‘un-gated’ materials, such as white papers that do not require an exchange of contact information to be downloaded. This material can be thought of as an augmented online business card that will introduce them to your products and services
Meanwhile, customers who have visited the company’s website and downloaded free materials will be tagged as qualified leads. At this point, the prospective buyer will begin to see retargeted online ads promoting the product or service. (for more information on retargeting, check out our previous blog post!).
Step #2: Capturing Interest and Providing Solutions
At this stage, it is quite likely that the prospective buyer will begin to research your competitors, but the savvy B2B marketer can send retargeted ads to the prospective buyer featuring case studies and solution overviews to stay top of mind with the buyer.
Step #3: Nurture the Lead
At this point, the prospective buyer may return to the B2B marketer’s company website and provide their email in exchange for additional information. The B2B marketer uses this contact information to deliver ads that are specifically related to the buyer’s business interests or industry.
Step #4: Convert
Based on a customer profile, marketers have a sense of when a prospect will make a buying decision. Knowing this, the marketer sends a series of retargeted ads featuring positive client testimonials and attractive data points.
Step #5: Expand – Post-Purchase Behavior Responses
Now that the customer has purchased the product or service, the content and tone of the retargeted ads immediately changes to encourage implementation of the new purchase. Education resources and training opportunities can be featured in these ads.
The potential of lead nurturing far exceeds that of the more conventional ad blitz that so many marketers continue to pour money into. Taking time to develop a comprehensive lead nurturing program will ensure that your marketing pitch remains content-rich, engaging and most importantly, relevant. When combined with a powerful ad retargeting campaign, there is virtually no limit to the number of meaningful and productive relationships that can be formed with buyers. Good luck!