A business can’t go very far, for very long, without having sales. But finding customers is often easier said than done.
Generating leads is a key part of most companies efforts to keep their sales funnel active. It’s an often frustrating and expensive process in terms of time, money and resources. But, hey, if it were easy everyone would be doing it, right?
The thing is, all sales leads aren’t created equal – which is why many sales teams ‘rank’ incoming leads by how likely it is that they’ll buy within a prescribed timeframe. Usually this takes the form of some kind of “30/60/90” forecast, outlining the sales that are likely to drop in the next 30, 60, and 90 days. Salespeople, since they’re usually a) up against a sales target and b) paid on commission, inevitably focus on the “hot” leads emerging from the sales funnel. The ones that, based upon their assessment, will result in a sale in the shortest space of time.
That’s all great, super, and wonderful. But while that’s going on, who’s looking after the other leads?
Sales Lead Nurturing: Keeping Them On The Boil
One of the great things about the internet is that buyers can engage with sellers earlier in their buying process. However the other side of the coin is that, for many companies, new sales leads are often not ready to engage from Day One – even if they may be ready in the medium to long term.
This could create a problem for the sales team. If they’re concentrating on keeping the “90 day and over” leads on side, they’re potentially letting more opportune leads slip past.
So what do you do? Hope that the lead will contact you again when they’re ready to buy? Perhaps risk them getting lost or ignored in the sales funnel – or scooped-up by the competition? That’s where Lead Nurturing comes in.
Lead nurturing is the process of building and maintaining a relationship with a qualified sales prospect – regardless of their buying timeline – to help ensure that their business comes to you rather than goes to someone else. It’s a very different animal from Lead Generation, which is about feeding (usually) the Sales department qualified leads that wish to buy within a specified timeframe.
Both functions are equally important. However, in most companies these two distinctly separate roles are handled by the same department: Sales. And that’s wrong.
Why? Because salespeople don’t want to nurture. Salespeople want to sell. Salespeople want to take over when the prospect’s ready to buy – because when they buy is when the salespeople gets paid. However, since the process of buying has changed (forever), the issue of who’s responsible with managing the “warm” leads – ones that may be only just in the sales funnel – is only going to get more important.
Buyers are doing more of their research on their own – using search, social media, etc. Part of this change means that, while they can be engaging with brands earlier than ever, they’re not in a position – or are even willing – to be “sold” to. This changes many of the fundamental tenets that most company marketing departments were built upon (and, unfortunately, haven’t changed ever since).
Buying Isn’t What It Used To Be.
But Then, Neither Is Selling.
Marketing used to be about generating leads to pass to Sales. Today, however, it needs to be a more synchronized initiative that follows and enhances the lead’s buying experience and helps them make their decision, providing contextually-relevant content that is seen as having value.
When I say “having value”, I mean value to them. Not to you. Lead nurturing may be many things, but it’s not:
- Blasting everyone who’s ever contacted the company about anything ever with a email newsletter talking about how great the company thinks it is;
- Emails/phone calls every now and again to see “how they’re doing” and if they’re any nearer to a purchasing decision;
- “Like Us on Facebook / Follow Us On Twitter” outreaches that link to an account that isn’t regularly updated and shows no audience engagement;
- Providing content that talks all about the company, its products/services, its people, etc. without taking into account the prospect’s interests, needs, or buying decision criteria.
Most research suggests that this “internet-empowered” customer (who, you’ll remember, is doing all the legwork themselves because they trust their own networks more than they trust you) only expects to get in front of a salesperson once they’ve made it two-thirds down the sales funnel. To get to that point, a certain amount of knowledge transfer needs to happen (quite a lot, in the case of complex sales).
The question that you need to consider is whether they’re getting that information from you, or someone else?