InTouch - Lead Generation For The Complex Sale™

Lead Nurturing - Ripening the Right Bananas
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The Author

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is founder and CEO of InTouch, a B2B marketing firm and one of the first companies to provide lead generation services for the complex sale. Brian is a recognized expert in lead generation and author of the popular book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale (McGraw Hill, 2006). 

Brian's been profiled and regularly quoted in numerous publications and he speaks to thousands of people a year on improving sales effectiveness, marketing and lead generation strategies. His acclaimed, B2B Lead Generation blog , was named the Best B-to-B Marketing Blog by MarketingSherpa readers and is read by thousands each week. Follow Brian Carroll via Twitter

Imagine your marketplace is like a field of banana trees.  Your marketing people are those who nurture and pick the bananas.  Bananas are harvested when they are green, and they turn yellow as they ripen.  Check out Chris Coleman's book, "The Green Banana Papers".

Fully 95% of your leads are like harvested green bananas, and, off the top, your sales team needs only the other 5%, those that are ripe.  I'm going to show you how to ripen all those green bananas.

Good, sound, effective lead generation is more often than not acknowledged to be the biggest single issue for contemporary business-to-business marketers today.  It has also been pointed out, however, that up-to 80% of marketing expenditures on lead generation and collateral go to waste for lack of commitment and discipline, ending up in the scrap heap because the sales department doesnít know what to do with them.

The secret to successful lead generation, and in turn marketing, in the business-to-business space today is process.  This process, that converts more inquiries into qualified leads and qualified leads into sales, is called lead nurturing.

Lead nurturing is all about having consistent and meaningful dialog with viable prospects regardless of their timing to buy.  Itís about building trusted relationships with the right people.  In the end, itís the act of maintaining mind share and building solid relationships with economic buyers.  Itís not a sales person calling up every few months to find out if a prospect is ďready to buy yet.Ē

ďHow you sell me is how you will serve me."

Most economic buyers subscribe to the notion that how you sell me indicates how you will serve me.  A recent study of business-to-business buyers shows that sales people who become trusted advisors and understand the needs of economic buyers are 69% more likely to come away with a sale.  The complex sale requires that:

  • Your prospect must be familiar with you and your company and with what you and your company do.
  • Your prospect must perceive you and your company to be expert in your field.
  • Your prospect must believe that you and your company understand his or her specific issues and can solve them.
  • Your prospect likes you and your company enough to want to work with you.

Trust therefore becomes the theme for a new type of marketing.

Lead nurturing inspires trust.

A key aspect of lead nurturing is the ability to provide valuable education and information to prospects up front, to become a trusted advisor.  You are then perceived to be an expert.  You donít sell, you donít make pitches.  Instead, you provide insights and solutions, all within the realm of your expertise and thus become the first they call when thereís a need.

When your marketing program has that single point of focus of developing trust, your time is freed up for other things; your business will become more profitable and less reliant on competing on price; selling per se is reduced in the interest of more open and honest conversations with prospects; you win more business on a sole-source basis, and more new business referrals come your way.  Above all, you feel good about what you have to offer.

Whatís it worth to you?

Despite the fact that more and more companies recognize the need for and actively seek better lead generation, a ton of leads doesnít guarantee increased sales.  In the complex sale that dominates business-to-business marketing, the actual selling occurs when the sales person isnít even present. 

Startling as it may seem, research shows that longer-term leads (future opportunities), often ignored by salespeople, represent 77% of potential sales.  

Most inquirers don't buy right away but they do buy.  Sales lead expert, Mac McIntosh, notes an in-depth study for Cahners Business Information of 40,000 inquiries generated by ads and press releases in magazines serving the manufacturing marketplace found that six months after inquiring, 23% of the subjects had bought the product or service, from the promoter or from a competitor.  An additional 67% indicated that they still intended to buy. 

It was further revealed that of those from earlier inquiries who bought, 11% purchased within three months of inquiring, 17% purchased within four to six months and 25% purchased within seven to 12 months.  And 47% bought in a year or more.

McIntosh states, "despite the high number expressed interests that eventually convert to sales, many sales people believe that advertising inquires are not worth following up. Why?  Probably because a majority are likely from longer-term prospects, and salespeople generally need more immediate sales in order to meet monthly or quarterly quotas and earn commissions."

If inquiries are simply passed on to sales people, reps, dealers or distributors for follow-up, beware.  You may be leaving as many as eight out of ten sales prospects on the table for your competitors..

Walking in their shoes.

Consider what goes through a potential customerís mind as he or she makes a buying decision: 

- How will this product or service help my company?
- Weíre doing okay so why do we need it?
- Is there another resource out there thatís better?
- Will this solution really work?  Can that be proved?
- Is the resource credible?
- Can we afford this?

Lead nurturing makes for easier answers to these questions and,. Of course, youíre the source to come to.  Over time, you have instilled the sense of value from the trust built by bite-sized chunks. 

How does it work?

Typically, a lead nurturing program includes meaningful letters, emails, voicemails, case studies, success stories, articles, events, white papers and webcasts. 

These may be:

  • Lead nurturing contests
  • Third-party articles
  • By-line articles
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Research reports
  • Events
  • Webinars
  • Trade shows
  • Live seminars
  • Executive briefings
  • Workshops
  • Conferences
  • Speaking engagements
  • Collateral materials
  • Website content
  • Weblogs
  • Personal letter templates
  • Email templates

Method and frequency of a lead nurturing program will depend on the solution being sold and the buying cycle.  Long lead-times generally require spacing out the campaign for a longer duration.  Rule of thumb:  Sales people should be brought in about six months before the targeted purchase time.  Also relevant is whatís being sold and how the particular market might get its information... by phone, for instance, or direct mail, events or email, vis-ŗ-vis:

An effective plan might be:

-Day 1     Introductory phone call and follow-up email.
-Day 28   E-newsletter with voicemail alert that itís there.
-Day 42   Email recent customer success story, in related industry if possible.
-Day 60   Personal invitation from sales person to forthcoming seminar.
-Day 80   Mail case study and personalized letter of transmittal.
-Day 100 Email recent article of interest on Internet.
-Day 120 Email "touching base" note.
-Day 140 Mail follow-up letter with free report.
-Day 160 Prospect calls you: now a qualified lead!

The Harvest.

Lead nurturing programs completed for our clients have yielded anywhere from 15% to 200% in additional, new qualified leads   Close ratios are higher.  Sales pipelines open up and are stronger.  Average sales cycles are shorter.  One company determined that its nurtured prospects bought from 100% to 250% more than those that were not nurtured.  The nurtured prospects cited greater overall positive impression of the company.  Another company saw client retention improve by 50% from its program.

So, how are your sales leads like bananas?  Well, they are rated by quality, they start from seed, they are consumable, thereís a wide variety.  And they are perishable.

Watch our archived lead nurturing webcast or read about our lead nurturing services.

Can InTouch help you with your lead nurturing needs?  Give us a call at 1-800-810-7710, send us an e-mail, or use our contact us form. 

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