By learning to successfully nurture interested prospects that haven’t yet committed to buy, both B2B and B2C companies can increase campaign response rates, maximize lead conversion rates and increase the number of closed sales for a significant improvement in revenue. Sirius Decisions stated that ~80% of interested B2B prospects will purchase the product and not necessarily from the same provider within a two-year time frame (even if it isn’t immediately). So how do we ensure that we stay “top of mind” for them? Nurture. Some companies call this drip marketing or lead maturation.

Despite the above statistic, most companies today don’t have a lead nurturing strategy in place — or if they do, they are not making the most of their efforts: B2B marketers have low contact rates, ending their efforts to contact a potentially interested prospect after just three to five attempts and having reached only 20 percent to 50 percent of their leads. The leads are often not highly qualified, and they are all treated the same, no matter what level of qualification they have.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Over the course of the next month, I will be outlining in detail an automated response and lead nurturing program over five to six posts that companies can implement themselves in order to increase the number of closed sales that are generated from leads. I’ll give specific tactics on how to increase relevance and conversion through personalization and profile-based content. I’ll also give you plenty of examples of what to do — and what not to do.

You’ll learn to better connect with your customers, based on their behavior and their needs. You’ll learn to use what you know about their demographics in order to better target your communications. And you’ll learn how to integrate different types of communication – including automated telephony, email, and direct mail – into your strategy.

Strategy for lead nurturing and response

So first, let’s talk about an overall strategy. Bear in mind that this strategy is equally useful for B2B marketers as well as B2C marketers, especially for those whose B2C sale is a more expensive considered purchase (a car or a plasma TV) rather than an impulse purchase.

At its heart, a strategy for lead nurturing and response is simple, and it’s based on five elements. Lead nurturing communications must be:

  1. Personalized
  2. Relevant
  3. Well-Timed
  4. Thorough
  5. Automated

1. Personalized — the message comes from a specific person and goes to a specific person

A lot of companies use the impersonal “Eddie Bauer” or “Costco” or “CDW” as the signature and “from” address in their emails instead of a named person. At Omniture, we have tested personalized signatures, and have discovered that when emails come from an actual person, conversion rates are better – now we don’t do this 100% of the time, only if the lead score achieves a specific threshold so as to not inundate our sales teams with volumes of leads that may not be qualified.

Whenever possible, you also want there to be a phone number on the email that goes to the person whose signature is on the email.

At a previous B2C company, the marketing department went so far as to actually test using imaginary people — the name “Sally” vs. “Susan,” for example — and found that conversion rates can be higher depending on which name you choose. Of course, you have to balance that with the fact that you’re being somewhat disingenuous by using fake people.

2. Relevant — it is based on a particular behavior, or on your profile of the lead

It’s easy to monitor behavior online: if a consumer enters into the checkout process to purchase a stereo system, and then bails from the shopping cart process before completion, you can re-market to them based on your knowledge of that individual’s behvior.

You might, for example, send an email asking the customer to return to complete the purchase for the same stereo, and offer a 20 percent discount.

If you work for a B2B company, your visitors might fill out lead-generation forms on the Web site and answer questions about their interests. You can then choose to communicate with them based on the answers to those questions. For example, if someone comes to the Omniture site and says that they’re a retail consumer site, it wouldn’t make sense for me to remarket to them offering B2B-specific guides. I would message to them specifically about online retail marketing and possibly send them reports on how to increase shopping cart conversion rates, etc.

You can also ask more questions to further qualify the leads, which will help in future communications with them.

If they’ve registered with the site, you know their name, perhaps some demographic information, perhaps the types of products that interest them by what they’ve clicked on or have previously purchased. From that information, you can offer relevant communications.

3. Well-timed — communication comes quickly following a particular behavior or event (after achieving a lead score threshold), and it is well-spaced thereafter

In a B2B scenario, how often is your inside sales team able to communicate with a lead who had expressed an interest at a specific point in time? If they wait more than five minutes from the initial point of interest, chances are they are generally not very successful in reaching the lead. The same goes for B2C examples where leads are generated and then followed up by a call center. We did a straw poll and found that out of 10 leads, less than 1 was able to be contacted, even if the leads were followed up within 48 hours.

Research shows that the first contact attempt should come within five minutes. (let’s link to the specific study here if possible.) Let’s think about this intuitively, if you’re at work and download some information or fill out a web inquiry form, chances are that you’re in a meeting or focused on your next project within an hour. Your download or request form information after an hour is now out of your mind. When I receive calls from someone following up with me within two to three days and I actually take them, I have to go through a “remind me” ritual for them to even connect they’re reason for calling with my previous behavior. We’re most likely to reach a person within 5 minutes while they’re still at their desk in a B2B example or at home in a B2C example and upon reaching them, I guarantee they’ll remember what their behavior was to possibly elicit a call.

During the “response” period (the first two weeks after you get an online lead), it is most effective to have attempted to call up to 5 times within the first 24 hours, and to have left one voice mail message.

If no contact is made after one to three hours, an email should be sent, with three or four more sent throughout the first two weeks (that may be too many; these are things you’ll want to test).

Throughout the first two weeks, a good follow-up strategy includes three dial attempts per day, with a voice mail every three days or so.

During the nurturing period (after the first two weeks), consider one email per month and one voice mail per month.

4. Thorough — attempts to penetrate thoroughly and then back off

Good response and lead nurturing means attempting to reach your potential customer with the optimal frequency quickly after an exhibited behavior with a relevant offer, but then not pestering them if they don’t respond. Then you will continue to target them with personalized, relevant contacts over a prolonged period of time as mentioned above, perhaps once per month after the two week response period (see Nos. 1 and 2).

5. Automated

When you have a comprehensive response and nurturing system all in place comprised of : 1) a measurement system (discussed in the first posts around B2B measurement), your auto-dialer, CRM system, and email/ direct mail system are all synced, so that you’re not trying to do any of this manually, you’ll be more thorough, your communications will be well-timed, you’ll be able to be relevant and personal, and you will waste less time.

Typically, sales does not wring the most value from leads because they do not contact the lead often enough (3 to 5 attempts rather than 26 or so in the first two weeks), they have low contact rates (20% to 50%) and their communications are not personalized and relevant.

Worse, email communications following a sales lead are often, frankly, horrendous.

Have you ever gotten emails like these? Images are broken, there’s no personalization, formatting is wacky and the offer is irrelevant.

In my next post, I’ll offer a better solution to the typical autoresponder email, with samples for both B2B and B2C companies.

2 comments
Joao
Joao

Thank for the post, an automated marketing software really makes a difference. It not only helps you get the lead ready to buy, it also saves time on the menial tasks so that you can spend time on what really counts.

Darin Dixon
Darin Dixon

Excellent point on lead response time. Some people think that aging the lead a little helps, but just as you have stated, we have seen that calling leads within 5 minutes dramatically increases contact rates.