Ideas for Nurturing “Sales-Accepted Leads” (SALs) without Breaking Your Neck

Back in my training days at Eloqua I remember the sparkle in people’s eyes when we used to describe the concept of “lead nurturing.” Perhaps it was my own naiveté, but a lot of time has passed since then and today it’s clear that lead nurturing programs have moved into the mainstream.  Marketers everywhere are using automation to send out a series of targeted “triple touch” (or similar) emails to prospects after their first inquiry.  It’s also common to find marketers using lead scoring and other methods to qualify their leads prior to sending them over to sales for follow-up.

Getting this far is a terrific accomplishment, given the state of sales-and-marketing alignment in most companies.  But if you’ve just realized this milestone yourself, you may want to hold off on popping the champagne until you have a chance to check your lead flow results. A common problem arises when the bulk of incoming leads continue to receive inadequate follow-on communications beyond the initial nurture program.  In one situation we studied, only 10-20% of the marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) passed to sales received any follow-up activity.  Some further investigation revealed that the balance of inquiries were discarded for various reasons:  The organization was deemed a poor fit by the sales rep; the individual was employed in a target account, but in a role deemed to be outside the buying center, or the individuals were simply unable to connect by phone, or unreceptive to taking cold calls from a sales rep they had not yet come to trust.  All of these factors contribute to reduced conversion from our lead pool and ultimately, lower revenue potential.

One simple option is to add more emails to your nurture program, but then you end up dealing with new tradeoffs:  Is the next email in the series still going to be as relevant to that person, after so much time has passed?  What if their buying situation has changed?  This is especially important when you consider the consequences of sending “stock” nurture emails to sales-accepted leads (SALs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs).  Marketers can make better use of the sophisticated software features at their disposal to make their communications more relevant to this key “downstream” audience.

There are some clues in your data to help you identify the subset of leads who are downstream within the overall nurture audience.  Companies operating their marketing database with CRM integration can enhance their integration beyond contacts and companies, to pull back information on sales opportunities. This allows marketers to identify customers and active prospects among the new leads.  The linkage opens up better possibilities for downstream nurturing, for example nurturing to product owners, nurturing to customers who are in renewal cycles, or targeted messages to prospects who are in open sales opportunities. Figure 1: Downstream Nurture in Lead Flow Pipeline illustrates the emerging practice within nurture as a visual workflow.

Figure 1: Downstream Nurture in Lead Flow Pipeline (click to expand)

Once you have the audience identified and tagged, you can enhance your nurture programming to put the downstream nurture tactics in place.

Some ideas to consider for effective downstream nurturing:

Progressively check to see if the buyer situation has changed. Configure nurture workflow with safeguards to continuously check the status of each nurture member before sending follow-on emails. Also, consider the benefits of adjusting the program to suppress or “hold” emails so they do not “collide” with other campaigns that may be in play. Another popular technique is to adjust the program to send the next email based on responsiveness to the previous email.

Downstream messages should reflect your evolving relationship.  Newly welcomed audiences generally receive follow-on content and offers that reinforce your unique capabilities and expertise in the market. You can also provide third-party perspective with industry reports and syndicated sources where these are available.  Other popular goals include encouraging referrals and merchandising social media channels.  The content for downstream nurture emails does not need to change that much from generic nurture, but the opening sentence can certainly reflect the buying stage of that prospect and how the content can help them in that context.

Personalize by sales rep. Companies with a direct selling model can benefit from sending their nurture emails using signature personalization, with sales reps appearing as the sender. Well-crafted emails with relevant content help position the sales rep as trusted advisors (just make sure that sales reps are being responsive to those replies!).

Thank you from the CEO.  A single, timely, handwritten text message from a top executive can have a powerful effect on buyers.  I’ve personally seen it work best on prospects in mid-stage opportunities.  This type of email can be fully autuomated using a careful recipe of CRM integration, program workflow and signature personalization.

Have you had success with these tactics?  Are there any others you would like to share?


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