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How To Convert More Sales Leads with Lead Nurturing

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Lead Nurturing

Are you converting enough of your sales leads to customers?  A study by the CMO Council estimated that companies waste up to 80% of sales leads because they don’t follow them up effectively.  Sales teams do a good job pursuing hotter leads that look like they will buy in the next quarter.  But a lot of other contacts are lost, ignored or discarded.

Lead Nurturing” is a way to automate your follow-up so that more of your sales leads become customers.  You can convert an extra 20% to 30% of your leads by automating your follow-up this way, and it has other benefits too, like more efficient use of your sales team’s time.

In this post I’ll look at how to get your first Lead Nurturing program up and running.

What Is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing means automating communications, usually via email, with your sales leads. The goal is to keep your company ‘front of mind’ with prospects until they are ready to engage with your sales team. You define a chain of communications you want to send out to leads and specify the time intervals between each email or call. Then you automate the sequence using a marketing automation tool or your CRM (if it supports nurturing).

Lead Nurture Track example

Goals and Principles

The main goal of lead nurturing is to convert more leads to sales by being consistent in the way you follow-up. I think it is also useful to set out some principles before you start lead nurturing for your company, spelling out what you want to achieve:

1. Ensure we respond to all leads (i.e. that none of them go un-contacted).

2. Make sure this response happens faster than at present (e.g. minutes or hours rather than days).

3. Ensure we respond to all leads consistently.

4. Ensure this response is based on information we have about the lead (who they are and what they show interest in).

5. Ensure that our lead nurturing communications convert leads to customers – that each communication increases their engagement, not decreases it.

6. Record sufficient information about how we manage leads so that we can analyze our activities and draw accurate conclusions about how to improve our approach.

Getting Started – Lead Capture

The first step is to make sure you capture leads from your website and blog. (This is because four of the five top sources of sales leads are online, according to research from DemandBase and Focus.com). You set up lead capture using registration forms next to “calls to action” on your web pages. For example, you can ask visitors to register their email address in exchange for a white paper or video. When they register you automatically record their details.

Landing page example

Score Your Leads

Some leads are more likely to convert than others. For example, you may find that leads from particular industries or countries are better quality. A lead score is a number you use to represent how ‘hot’ you think the lead is. You base the score on a mixture of information you can gather about the person (such as their job title and company) and on their subsequent behaviour (such as repeat website visits and response to emails). A lot of this information can be gathered automatically.

Lead Scoring Example

Categorize the Leads as “Personas”

You can categorize your leads into different “Buyer Personas”. A persona is a simplified description of your target buyers. For example, one of your target personas could be “IT Managers at Engineering firms”, or “Finance Directors at mid-size software firms”. Different personas will have different interests. When a new lead is created, you decide what kind of persona matches that lead. This helps you choose what kind of information they will be interested in during your follow-up.

Lead nurturing and personas

Choose What Kind of Content to Use for Lead Nurturing

Content is just another word for information that your buyers use when they are researching a product or service. Content includes case studies, white papers, presentations and videos. Your sales leads will be interested in different kinds of content depending on their role, their business and their stage in investigating a product or service. Typically prospective customers move from “awareness”, “interest” and “evaluation” through to “decision”. As they learn more they require different types of information. For example, at an early stage a general overview of a product might be useful. As someone gets closer to making a purchase decision they may want to see technical specifications and pricing information.

Use a ‘Content Table’ to map out the kinds of content you think will appeal to the Personas you are targeting as they move through the buying process.

Content Matrix

Setting Up Your First “Nurture Tracks”

A Nurture Track is a sequence of emails and phone calls executed to a pre-defined schedule. For each persona map out which emails and content you want to send and specify the delay between mails. For instance, for a “Sales Director” persona you can start with a ‘Thank You’ email, followed by sending them a link to a white paper. Then a week later you could send out a link to a blog post or case study.

Lead Nurture Track example

You can automate these follow-up steps using a marketing automation system. Now as people register on your website the system automatically scores them and allocates them to a nurture track, and they receive a predefined sequence of emails. Where a phone call is required the system will notify your sales or marketing staff who they have to call and when.

Monitoring Progress

Once you get up and running you can check how your leads respond to your nurture. For example, are they opening the emails and responding to your offers? If they respond positively e.g. by visiting your website and downloading more content then you can automatically increase their lead score. Your goal is to get them to a point where they become “sales ready” i.e. they fit your target profile, they have shown serious engagement with your emails and website and they have given some indication that they are in a buying process.

As you monitor your nurture tracks you will find that some emails work and others don’t. Identify emails or content that get a good response and eliminate emails that don’t get opened.

Automate Your Follow-Up to Convert More Leads

Lead Nurturing is a straightforward way to convert more sales leads. By defining your target buyers, identifying content that interests them and then running a series of automated emails, you can increase sales conversions by 20% to 30%. Getting started now could give you an edge over your competition.

What are “Inside Sales” and Sales Development Representatives?

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What Is A Sales Development Rep

Inside Sales” is a rapidly growing model for business-to-business (B2B) sales.  Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) are a key part of that model and there is a big increase in hiring SDRs, especially among technology companies.  This post provides a simple explanation of ‘Inside sales’ and describes what a Sales Development Representative does as part of the sales team.

In the Beginning There Was Field Sales

20 years ago, most sales people in business-to-business companies worked in “Field Sales”. They spent a lot of their time on the road meeting with prospects and clients.  They did a lot of their own sales prospecting or else worked with a lead generation team. Those lead generation teams (often known as ‘telesales’) worked their way through cold calling lists, trying to identify potential prospects. But the model was centred around the concept of sales teams identifying and pursuing customers in person, face-to-face.

So What is Inside Sales?

Inside Sales can be defined as sales where leads are mostly generated, pursued and closed using the web and phone. Inside sales teams originally focused mostly on generating sales leads, but now they can demonstrate products and close sales too, usually for products in a price range of $5,000 to $100,000. Field sales are still used in a lot of industries, and for higher value deals, but Inside Sales teams are growing across almost all sectors.

The Rise of Inside Sales

Sales has changed in the past decade, both in the way sales teams sell and the way buyers buy. Where most of the process used to be face-to-face, now a lot of it happens over the phone and online. This has happened for a few reasons:

Buyers do more research online – where people used to rely on vendors to supply product and market information, they can now gather this information themselves.  Even in more traditional sectors buyers are becoming more comfortable using the web and social media when looking for solutions or products. This is illustrated by research from the Savvo Group that found between 58% to 70% of the buying process is completed before talking to a vendor.

B2B Buyers do more research online

Sellers are looking for more efficient ways to sell – there are huge savings for companies if they can close most sales over the phone and web versus in-person sales calls. This diagram from David Skok of Matrix Partners highlights the relative cost of moving from an online sales model to a high-touch face-to-face model.

Cost of Customer Acquisition by Sale Type

Sales Role Specialisationsales teams that break the sales process into separate, specialized functions are more effective. So teams now allocate functions such as lead generation, lead qualification and subsequent lead management to different roles in a sales team. The Sales Development Rep is a good example of that new specialized type of role.

There are better tools – 10 years ago tools for web based selling were limited – for example video web conferencing was relatively expensive and pretty flaky. Today a sales person can easily demonstrate a product over the web to a customer, have a video call, chat directly with them on live chat or connect via social media. The tools are better, faster and lower cost and it’s possible to get close to a ‘virtual’ face-to-face experience.

How are Inside Sales Teams structured?

Inside Sales teams are structured in an assembly line layout, with lead generation at one end and sales qualification and follow-up at the other.

Inside Sales Team Structure

The process starts with lead generation. There are usually two flows for lead generation – outbound and inbound.

Inbound lead generation starts with web marketing execs who drive traffic to the company website to generate leads and inquiries. They review these enquiries before passing ‘sales quality’ inbound leads to an Inbound Sales Development Rep.  (Leads that aren’t ‘sales quality’ can be sent to a ‘Lead Nurturing’ workflow to keep in contact, or else rejected). The Inbound SDR’s role is to establish contact with the lead they received from marketing, confirm there is an opportunity and schedule an initial call or demo, before passing that lead to an Account Executive (AE).

Outbound lead generation starts within the Inside Sales Team, with the Outbound Sales Development Representative preparing lists of potential prospects through online research. The reps then make contact with these prospects, starting usually with initial outbound ‘cold emails’ followed up by phone calls with prospects who respond positively. Again, the SDR will try to confirm there is a real opportunity before passing the qualified leads to an Account Executive.

Follow-up and closing belongs to Account Executives, who manage the qualified leads until they are ready to become paying customers.  For B2B companies this may involve multiple interactions over weeks and months until a sale is agreed.

What are the key tasks for a Sales Development Representative?

The goal of the SDR is to identify and qualify as many candidate customers as possible in as short a time as possible. You measure their success by monitoring how many qualified appointments and/or demos they schedule for your account executives.  Breaking this down a little, their main tasks are:

Understand the ‘Ideal Customer Profile’ – the SDR needs to be clear on who he or she is trying to target. This means target industry, role, company size, geography, region etc.  There is good information on how to create your ideal customer profile in the books “Predictable Revenue”, by Aaron Ross, and “Lead Generation for the Complex Sale” by Brian Carroll.

Create prospect lists: once they know who to target, the key task of an SDR is to research online and build lists of contacts that fit the profile.  This can be through a combination of web searches, LinkedIn searches, association membership lists, 3rd party database providers like Jigsaw, and purchased lists from list providers.  The SDR can use tools to improve the accuracy of their lists to ensure the names and contact details are correct.

Run outbound emails and calls: once they are fully up-and-running, SDRs can be contacting 30 to 60 people per day, in a controlled process.  These initial contacts are brief and exploratory – the SDR is trying to establish if there is a potential interest and requirement for your solution, not actually trying to sell it.

Handover to Account Execs: when an SDR is sure that one of her contacts is worth pursuing, they capture all relevant details and then do a controlled handover to one of their Account Exec colleagues.  This handover can include confirmation by the Account Exec that the new lead meets all the necessary criteria for them to pursue.

Make use of technology at each step:  there are tools available to help SDRs do their job better and faster.  From prospect databases, email verification, outbound email automation and CRM systems, SDRs should use tools at each step to identify prospects, contact them and record their interactions, and to measure their overall progress.

What makes a good Sales Development Representative?

This person needs to be (a) good at written communication, (b) great at phone communication, (c) efficient in researching lists, (d) rigorous in the use of tools and (e) disciplined in managing their time and monitoring results.

For example, your SDRs will be emailing and calling senior executives at target companies – you need to be comfortable that they can represent you professionally. They need to be able to give an online demonstration of your product where necessary, and they should use your CRM and other automation systems effectively so they can automate as much of their work as possible.

Beyond these skills, the SDR should have certain characteristics.  They’ll be working as part of a team and need to have good interaction and collaboration skills.  They are going to be trying to investigate whether a prospect has a business problem you can solve, so they need to be curious and good at probing for useful information.

Perhaps the most important characteristics are optimism and persistence.  By the nature of the job, they are going to hear ‘no’ a lot of the time from people they contact, so they need to be determined, focused and optimistic.

What is Lead Nurturing?

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Lead Nurturing refers to building regular, automated interactions with sales leads in order to develop a relationship and encourage a purchase. This guide explains what Lead Nurturing is, and the benefits you can obtain such as converting an extra 20% of leads to sales. We also describe step-by-step how to setup your first lead nurturing program.

Written by Michael White

Michael White is co-founder and Managing Director of Motarme, the Marketing Automation vendor. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

What is Marketing Automation?

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Marketing Automation is potentially a big deal for B2B companies – one analyst firm estimates that automating marketing processes can increase revenue by 20% andreduce marketing costs by 25%.  But when I’m out meeting clients a lot of senior managers are not familiar with the term or what it means. So I’ve prepared a set of slides that provide an introduction to Marketing Automation for senior managers.

Read More

The future of sales and marketing?

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Marketing will become more technical, sales teams won’t be on the road so much, and there’s going to be more overlap and, hopefully, alignment.

The web, online advertising and online marketing are having a big impact on how Business-to-business (B2B) companies sell.  But in some ways this just reflects the fact that B2B buyers now buy things differently too. Ten years ago, buyers started their selection process by talking to vendor sales people, often at industry tradeshows. And there were fewer people involved in the buying decision on the customer’s side.  Today buyers do much more initial research online, so they know much more about a vendor before that vendor becomes aware of them and before direct contact is made.  Who initiates the research and who participates in the buying decision is more complex, with more people involved even for deals in the $5k to $50k range.

This means that to be successful, companies need to meet the research and information needs of prospective customers at as early a stage in the buying process as possible.  They need to be easily found online by the various people who contribute to a customer buying decision, and when they are found they need to provide compelling information that addresses the specific questions of each type of buyer or  influencer. Read More

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