Marketers have content-based lead generation tactics down pretty well. They have become adept at using gated offerings such as white papers, eBooks, and webinars to inspire enough opt-ins to fill their sales funnel through. But their mastery of lead generation has brought with it a new challenge: lead conversion.
There have been increasing instances among marketers of internal dissatisfaction with their close rates, according to feedback from hundreds of marketers at a recent ON24 road show. This trend is something their sales teams conveniently, but not always accurately, blame on lead quality.
The truth is the vast majority of sales leads generated through content-based methods are generally not sales ready. This is not because the leads don't have potential. It’s because content downloads tend to occur during the research phase of a prospect’s buying cycle. Prospects know they have a need, but they’re not usually sold on a single approach or company yet. They are attending webinars and events sponsored by companies that may or may not be potential vendors, and downloading content written by thought leaders they believe will offer insight on their problems.
However they have arrived at the content, prospects are usually not looking to buy immediately. Conflicts arise when these leads are quickly put into the hands of sales people and are contacted for sales meetings. All these prospects have indicated is that they are ready to learn.
This learning mindset should be the defining factor in designing follow-up communication. It is why successful companies are developing content-based lead nurturing programs which draw on a prospect's explicitly stated preferences, implied preferences (such as web site behavior) and overlaid corporate information. These programs teach and gain trust from prospects prior to receiving a direct sales pitch.
Leads should be followed up with relevant content that builds trust and affinity, as opposed to material that jumps to a sales pitch. Such content can include research, case studies, and objective advice tailored to the lead, all of which helps prospects move through the buying process.
Furthermore, the content should be specific to the prospects industry and job function. According to MarketingSherpa, prospects overwhelming feel content targeted to the prospect’s specific industry is more valuable than generic content. A smaller amount – but still a majority – prize content targeted to their job function.
Marketers have a valuable weapon when designing content for a lead nurturing campaign: Storytelling. Since childhood, peoples' brains are wired to understand and assimilate information and complex ideas through the use of stories. Storytelling is an engaging and immersive was of understanding content that creates an emotional connection.
In the business community, narratives such as case studies or customer success case studies allow prospects to participate in the story, and make them more open to internalizing a marketer's messages. Prospects who hear stories place themselves in the process and project the outcome to their situations.
Does this work? As it happens, top performers invest more heavily in lead nurturing. Fifty percent of successful companies had six or more touches, according to Forrester’s 2011 North American B2B Technology Marketing Tactics and Benchmark Online Survey. That pays off in conversion factors of 4-5 percentage points higher at each of the more advanced stages of the sales cycle.
Furthermore, companies that engage in lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads than companies that don’t, according to Marketo's "Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing." Marketo also found the cost per lead is 33% lower for companies using a strong nurturing program. This, the company claims, is due to nurtured prospects having shorter sales cycles, buying more, and requiring less discounting—all logical outcomes from a prospect making a more-considered purchase.
Although one might think a longer lead-nurturing cycle would increase the sales cycle length, Market2Lead, a marketing automation firm owned by Oracle, claims that the overall sales cycle is 23% shorter for companies that do more up-front handholding. And finally, a study from Genuis.com reveals that less than 10% of customers have ever bought from a cold call.
Gordon Plutsky is the director of marketing and research at King Fish Media.