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Lead Nurturing Steps

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This is the second in a series of blog posts about Lead Nurturing, the essential marketing process for turning leads into sales-ready prospects.

Your Lead Nurturing Program

In the first blog post in this series, “Lead Nurturing Revisited“, we discussed the emergence of lead nurturing as an essential marketing process going forward.

Next up: designing your own successful lead nurturing program. This blog post outlines the steps involved. In subsequent posts, we’ll cover the steps in more detail.

Lead Nurtruing

Step 1: Get the tools.

Marketing Automation: As its name suggests, this tool automates the entire process of:

  • conducting email campaigns to prospects, tracking their responses, and initiating follow-up promotional activities based on those responses
  • tracking and reporting all visitor activity on your website
  • capturing key demographic information about your website visitors
  • administering web landing pages and downloadable content with online forms for capturing prospect information
  • drip marketing: the timed release of sequential email offers of valuable content (white papers, webinars, articles, etc.) to prospects, as part of campaigns or triggered by specific actions taken by leads on your website
  • scoring and grading leads to determine when they are ready to be qualified for sales activity (see Step 4 below)

A Marketing Automation tool allows you to do all of the above and more with minimal effort. Conversely, it would literally be impossible to effectively do these things without Marketing Automation. All of these functions are essential to a successful lead nurturing program. To get a more comprehensive overview of Marketing Automation, please consult our previous blog posts: “Automation Magic” and “Marketing Automation“.

CRM: Tools like Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Microsoft Dynamics help your sales team manage all of their sales opportunities, accounts and contacts. A CRM tool is a central repository for all information relating to the status of opportunities, the opportunity pipelines of individual sales people, and the overall sales pipeline for your company. At a glance, sales people and management can gauge progress to goals. A CRM tool is indispensable to today’s sales teams. For our purposes, the CRM tool is Marketing’s link to Sales. The leads that are nurtured, tracked, graded and scored by your Marketing Automation tool will ultimately be qualified and handed off to the sales team to be further managed in the CRM tool until opportunities are won or lost. In fact, nearly all Marketing Automation tools today sync seamlessly with the major CRM tools mentioned above, giving your sales team instant visibility to the lead nurturing history of all leads on their journey through the Marketing Funnel to Sales.

Step 2: Define your Lead Funnel

The Lead Funnel (as we’re defining it, also referred to as a marketing funnel, marketing/sales funnel and demand funnel, among other names) is a visual representation of the stages a lead goes through as you nurture that lead. Leads start out simply as Names – people who visit your site for the first time or come from a marketing list you’ve purchased. As leads start to show interest in your company, they become Suspects – leads that could turn into something more down the line. If Suspects show enough interest (demonstrated by the actions they take on your website – see Step 4 below) and have the right demographic profile, they turn into Prospects – leads that show considerable promise. At this point, your marketing team can qualify these leads with personal emails and phone calls to see if they are Sales Ready – that is, ready to present to sales as Marketing Qualified Leads.

Each step in the life of a lead – Name, Suspect & Prospect – requires criteria for defining the leads, the actions the leads might take at each step, and how your lead nurturing process will engage the leads at each step on the path to sales readiness.

We’ll devote an entire post to this.

Step 3: Map Content to Buyers and Their Buying Process

As marketers, we intuitively understand that we must know our target customers intimately in order to effectively market to them. In this step, we go through the process of understanding precisely who the various target buyers are and what makes them tick. Keeping in mind that there may be several types of buyers involved in the purchase decision (particularly in B2B situations, less so in B2C), understanding your buyers requires building detailed Buyer Personas. Buyer Personas are comprehensive descriptions of each buyer as a person – a human being with wants, needs, pain points, motivations, attitudes, inspirations and specific demographic characteristics. Understanding each buyer in such detail will help you craft messaging and content that appeal directly and powerfully to each buyer.

While buyers may differ, the Buying Process is pretty standard. The process  consists of the sequential stages buyers go through from pain awareness to purchase of a product or service to relieve this pain. While many models have been created to illustrate the process, here is a simple one which has stood the test of time:

Awareness » Interest » Desire » Action (A.I.D.A.)

  • Awareness: the buyer becomes aware that he/she has a problem to solve, a pain to relieve, or a desire to fulfill
  • Interest: the buyer researches information, typically online, to become educated about how to meet his/her needs. This is the stage when lead nurturing happens. Your job is provide content that helps the buyer get the information he/she needs and to help him/her feel confident in your company as a supplier and solution provider
  • Desire: the buyer looks at specific alternatives (products, services) which can meet her needs, including yours. This is the culmination of your lead nurturing process, leading (we hope!) to a successful hand off of the buyer to one of your sales team members. At this point, the buyer enters the sales process, seriously considers your offering, and is justifies purchasing it based on ROI considerations
  • Action: the buyer chooses a vendor and makes the purchase

At each stage of the process, you’ll want to provide content that matches each buyer’s role and stage in the Buying Process outlined above. This is called Content Mapping, and forms the basis of your Content Marketing strategy. This is the content you’ll use in your lead nurturing program to build a trusted relationship with your buyers.

We’ll cover Content Mapping and the Buying Process in detail in a subsequent post.

Step 4: Create Your Lead Scoring System

In order to know when a lead might be a good prospect to qualify for sales, you need a system to score interest and demographics for each lead in your Marketing Funnel (described in Step 2 above). What exactly are these?

Interest: Leads accumulate points based on the actions they perform on your website, indicating their level of interest. Some activities are more interesting to you from a marketing standpoint than others, such as a lead simply viewing a web page versus downloading a white paper. Each action will earn a point score based on how indicative of buyer interest the action is. When a buyer surpasses a certain point score, you’ll be triggered to evaluate that buyer for sales readiness. However, level of interest is only half the information you’ll need for this evaluation. The other half is Grade.

Demographics: Not all leads are the same. Some are demographically in your “sweet spot” – they have the demographic characteristics of the person who will benefit most from your product or service and have the capacity and authority to purchase from you. Other leads are not a demographic fit. So, while you may get leads that rack up very high scores with their cumulative activities on your website, they might never be candidates for your offering because they don’t fit demographically. Examples would be students conducting research, casual visitors who want your content but not your offering, industry analysts and press, and competitors (these folks might be Suspects but will never be Prospects – see Step 2 above). By collecting information about leads through online forms that must be filled out to access content, you can assess demographic fit and and assign a score based on this fit, from “0” for no fit to “100” for perfect fit.

As mentioned above, a Marketing Automation tool will perform all scoring for you, and even alert you when leads are ready to be qualified based on scores, making it very easy for your marketing team to act on those leads that have true sales potential – those that have the demographic qualities of your ideal prospects, and which have shown enough interest for us to know they’re truly seeking a solution.

We’ll devote an entire post to this subject too.

Step 5: Implement Your Drip Marketing Programs

Now that you’ve designed your marketing funnel, defined your buyers, mapped content to the buying process and created your scoring system, it’s time to design the actual campaigns you’ll conduct with the help of your Marketing Automation tool. This includes setting up Drip Marketing programs – timed release schedules of promotions of content based on actions taken by buyers, with content appropriate to each buyer’s role and stage in his/her buying process. In a subsequent blog post, we’ll show you how to design the workflows to implement this. For a sneak peak, you can view a sample workflow in our previous blog post, Automation Magic.

Step 6: Analytics – Measuring Lead Nurturing ROI

Everything, and we mean everything, you do must be measured for effectiveness. You may have heard this quote, attributed to John Wanamaker, who in 1874 was the first retailer ever to place a half-page newspaper ad, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” That’s why this step is all-important. How are your lead nurturing efforts working? Metrics for gauging the effectiveness of your program include:

  • conversion rate of Suspects to Prospects
  • conversion rate of Prospects to Maketing Qualified Leads
  • percentage of Marketing Qualified Leads accepted by your sales team to pursue as opportunities, known as Sales Accepted Leads
  • conversion rate of Sales Accepted Leads to Won Opportunities
  • cost per closed lead of your lead nurturing program
  • revenue per closed lead
  • ROI: net profit per closed lead divided by lead nurturing cost per closed lead

In addition to tracking these metrics numerically, it’s a good idea to create visual representations, presented in a “dashboard,” to help your management team see at a glance how well your lead nurturing efforts are paying off.

We’ll cover analytics in more depth in the final post of this series.

Great Resources

We’ve scoured the Internet and other places to find informative resources on lead nurturing and demand generation. Here are three of the best, which we are drawing from, as well as our own direct experience, to author this blog post series. We highly recommend consulting these resources in addition to this blog post series as you implement your lead nurturing program.


Stay tuned! In the coming weeks, we’ll cover the above steps in more depth.

Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.