Zen and the Art of Lead Nurturing
Written by: Ryan Flannagan
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Chapter 15: Zen and the Art of Lead Nurturing 

“Okay,” I said. “It’s time to talk about lead nurturing.”

Carole smiled. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what I think it means.”

“That’s probably so, but why don’t you tell me what you think it means?”

Chuck stepped in, saying “It’s like raising a child. Leads start unready to buy, and really unready to make the decisions around buying. You nurture leads, raise them, teach them what they need to know, until they’re ready to become clients.”

“Yup,” I said.

“Excellent,” said Carole. “So, we can go home now?”

“Only if you want to lose leads.”

“Go on.”

“As you say, lead nurturing has been a thing for a long time, but 21st-century lead nurturing needs an automated system for qualifying, grooming, and educating potential buyers.  It’s no longer a thing your sales team uses to get leads ready. It’s a whole different department that’s as necessary as sales and production.”

“And you’re going to tell me how that works?”

“As you wish.”

“All men are created equal” … but some leads are more equal than others. Up to 75% of your incoming leads will not be worth the time you’ll spend following up on them. They’re not seriously interested, or they’re interested but can’t afford you, or they’re not ready or authorized to make a buying decision.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore that 75%. More on that later, but let’s start with how to separate qualified and serious buyers from the rest of the pack.

What Are Qualified Leads?

Qualified leads are worth all the sales attention your resources allow. The trick is figuring out which leads are actually qualified. Our research department has identified five key questions to ask of incoming leads that prequalifies them early in your sales process.

  • Is this person the decision maker for the company? If you’re not talking to somebody capable of giving a “yes,” you’ll only ever get a “no.” Either establish contact with the decision maker or politely educate the minion so you’ll have an advocate in that camp.
  • Are they happy with their current solution to the problem they have? If they are, your sales will take much more effort, often more than would be cost-effective. Your job with these leads is to slowly but inexorably feed them information to make them progressively less happy with what they’re doing now.
  • Are they able to switch to what you offer? Contracts, family ties, and strategic alliances can all bind a company to a solution they’re not entirely happy with…but all of those situations can end with time. Your lead nurturing system lets them know you’re there without acting like a poacher.
  • Can they afford what you sell? And are they willing to pay it? A “no” here makes the deal a non-starter…for now. They might be able to later, and they probably know somebody who can.
  • Is your solution honestly better that what they’re currently doing? Remember the part about being an honest and helpful advisor, and not a sales flack? If you can’t make the lead’s life better, never make money off making it worse. That kind of honesty means the lead will recommend you to people who you can help.

Anybody who answers “yes” to all five questions goes on your “hot list” of leads to be touched base with regularly by living, human sales representatives. All others go into your “drip system” to keep you on their minds until they can give the five yeses you need for a fully qualified buyer.

Automated Lead Nurturing via Your Drip System

Automated lead nurturing offers you the best of both worlds. You don’t waste your time on people who aren’t ready to be qualified leads, but you don’t lose their potential.

Multiple studies have found that 50% of B2B sales go to vendors who respond first. Automated lead nurturing can respond within seconds, no matter what time of day leads express interest.

A robust lead nurturing system also gets 4 to 10 times the response rate of single email blasts, making it one of the most effective marketing initiatives your business can adopt. Further, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

Segmented communications get 50% more click-throughs than generic email programs. Run all those numbers together and you can see the massive potential of a well-designed lead nurturing system.

But the key is a well-designed system. The types of emails that are useful for that system are as varied as the types of businesses in the world, and the types of potential buyers. That said, they do fall into a few broad categories that work well in almost any lead nurturing campaign.

  • Demos or trial offers where readers can click through to get a free, time-sensitive sample of what you offer.
  • Resource lists that mimic the popular” X Things that Y” format. These are easy attention-grabbers that people tend to remember and talk about later.
  • Personal emails keyed to information your campaign has gathered that invites readers to ask specific questions of real people.

You are probably already on a dozen or more lead-nurturing email systems right now. Over the next week, open a few more than you usually do and see how many fall into one of the above conceptual buckets. Like alcohol and oil changes, they’re popular because they work.

But How Do I Make Them Work?

I’ve seen a lot of bad automated lead nurturing over the past decade, but I’ve seen and built a lot of good ones, too. The best share a handful of common traits.

They divide and conquer. A smart email nurturing program puts the education and qualification portions of the sales discussion in the hands of marketing departments. This lets sales focus solely on the most interested and qualified leads, and puts specialists in charge of converting casual inquiries.

They provide massive value. The average business worker opens maybe 10% of the lead nurturing emails they receive each day. This is because they don’t trust them to be worth the two minutes it takes to open and skim them. A working lead nurturing system provides emails readers can’t wait to open. One of the best examples of this that is operating today is Tim Ferris’s 5- Bullet Friday newsletter. It arrives weekly, promises to be short, fulfills that promise, and directly delivers on-point information of interest to the people who might buy his books.

They analyze, recalibrate, and try again. This analysis begins with knowing your industry: the average open rates, click-through rates, subscription rates, and similar basic rates for what you offer. Compare the results for each email sent against both industry averages and performance from other content within your system. There is no other way to accurately assess how valuable your lead nurturing system is.

They focus energy on the title. Titles and subtitles are visible before the email gets opened. When these pop, your email gets opened. If not, they don’t. The most brilliant and effective email does you no good if it goes directly into the spam box.

They are timed carefully. Different client bases have different “golden hours” when decision makers are (a) online and (b) not too busy to read your email. Different segments of your mailing list will be in different time zones, thus shifting when their golden hours are relative to your location. Plan your email schedule accordingly to maximize who opens them.

One last thing about lead nurturing: It’s a good idea to touch on other areas for highly qualified leads. Handwritten cards. LinkedIn connections. Grab a beer. Multiple points of contact for high-valued leads.

Now, go nurture those leads.

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