Lead nurturing is not only a nice to have, but a need to succeed. In fact, a new report premiering this week from Aberdeen Group titled "Lead Nurturing: The Secret to Successful Lead Generation," goes so far as to identify lead nurturing as the difference between a successful company and a mediocre company.
"Lead nurturing is a way of extending the sales cycle to make sure a particular product or service remains top of mind until a prospect is ready to purchase," says Ian Michiels, Senior Analyst with Aberdeen Group and author of the report. “As a result, repeated communication with prospects is essential."
The Aberdeen report found that 16% of the total leads that are deemed a "sales opportunity" actually close. The other 84% of the opportunities define success and failure not only for the lead gen program, but for the company in general, Michiels says. The report also highlights the progress mature organizations are making in the area of lead nurturing, including these findings:
➢ 65% allow sales to send formerly qualified leads back to marketing for further nurturing;
➢ 77% collaboratively worked to define a qualified lead, the buying cycle, and the sales cycle between marketing and sales functions.
In the new study isolates of 213 organizations, over half (56%) of all respondents indicated that they currently lack a formal lead nurturing program to support and nurture long-term opportunities.
A bright spot of the research came in measuring sales follow ups, with the results showing 28% of marketing qualified leads are not followed up on by sales, a significant decrease from a 2005 Aberdeen report that showed the lack of unattended leads at 60-70%. Michiels attributes this decrease to the growing maturity of lead management solutions and the strategic shift from sales performance to sales effectiveness. "There's just more focus on waste reduction across all elements of business," he says.
While the report found that only 43% of respondents actually leverage a formal lead nurturing program, superior performing organizations are 2x more likely than their peers to leverage lead nurturing programs.
Part of the guidance from the Aberdeen report spotlighted the need to align lead nurturing programs with the prospect's buying cycle. Best-in-Class (BIC) companies are delivering the right message at the right time through the right medium. Each phase of the buying cycle requires unique content designed to support the prospect's buying decision, Michiels points out.
"[Tailoring messaging to each phase] is the difference between success and failure-- strong companies find the time and resources to do the initiatives that make them more effective," Michiels says. "Weak companies will continue to look for excuses for why they can't nurture leads and eventually, they will choke on the dust of their competitors."
Lead Nurturing Best Practices
The report isolates the lead nurturing tactics and strategies which have made the BIC companies successful.
- Process- In order to stop revenue leakage at the top of the funnel, sales reps need to understand what to do with prospects that are partially qualified leads, but not yet ready to purchase. BIC are 3x more likely to have this process in place.
- Organization- Sales and marketing alignment is critical to lead nurturing success. It starts with a formal understanding of the customer buying cycle and sales cycle. 77% of BIC indicated all members of sales and marketing functions share a common understanding of these cycles.
- Knowledge Management- Internal feedback from both sales ad marketing is critical to identifying deficiencies in the lead nurturing process. 54% of BIC organizations collect and leverage feedback from sales to help optimize lead management efforts.
- Technology- The top three channels for distributing lead nurturing campaigns include email, phone and direct mail. "Technology will be the catalyst for lead nurturing programs in the future," according to Michiels. "Automation and relevancy are key to nurturing. Once the content is produced, marketing needs automated technologies to execute effectively...Landing pages and microsites are the core to effective nurturing because in the final strategies, they can help capture budget, authority, need and time line and content information prior to delivering the lead to sales."
"The very effective campaigns keep it simple," notes Michiels. "Deliver value and move on; prospects don't want a complicated newsletter to weed through. Just send a few sentences and a white paper, or deliver a text message over email every month with helpful tips-- these result in the highest engagements."