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

Back in my days at Eloqua I remember the sparkle in people’s eyes when we used to describe the concept of “lead nurturing.” 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 for most businesses, 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 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 trade-offs:  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?

Are Marketers Doing Enough to Prevent Data Breach?

Finally, at long last, you have reached your marketing automation nirvana. Your web site visitors are being tracked, inquiries are scored and sent over to sales, you are getting great feedback from sales on lead quality. Your teammates in marketing are also seeing good results from their campaign efforts. Time to kick back and relax knowing the business is enjoying the benefits of marketing automation.

Or is it?

If there was ever a topic to raise the ire of marketers, it’s software security. It’s got to be the “un-sexiest” area of marketing effectiveness and in my travels I find that virtually no marketing executive will ever make this an active priority (beyond vague platitudes); some would seemingly rather take a head-in-the-sand approach. Since companies tend to fund and configure their marketing automation platform without any direct involvement from IT, these systems are typically not held to the same level of scrutiny as CRM, SCM, ERP and other mission-critical systems.

Yet in the news headlines we bear witness to data thefts and other security breaches among the world’s most prominent companies and the ensuing negative publicity and loss of goodwill from customers.

Lately it seems the shift in thinking is finally underway in marketing departments and among marketing automation vendors alike, to take system security more seriously. These innovators are using the same project and security management approaches used by IT to keep their marketing platforms running safely.

Consider for a moment the kinds of actions that everyday users of your marketing software can perform right now. You would never suspect any nefarious behavior from Mary down the hall, but she might have the ability to download the entire worldwide database of personal information to her hard drive. Bill, our latest hire, couldn’t hurt a fly, but he could certainly email everyone in the database tonight if he wanted to. Imagine the consequences of either of these actions on your brand, reputation and legal liability. Imagine the drama for you personally, as you deliver testimony to senior officials on the question: “Did you take reasonable measures to secure this data?” It’s certainly in everyone’s best interests to secure your systems.

Okay, so you’ve heard the idea before. How well does your operation stack up on these four initiatives below?

Tighten up end-user access. This starts with centralizing control over end-user permissions, and making critical areas of the software off-limits to everyone except the administrators themselves. Take advantage of the native security features in your software and create custom security groups if the default options don’t provide enough control.

Disable access for terminated employees. Simple as it sounds, most administrators I meet do not have a formal provision in place to disable access to the marketing databases upon employee termination. Adding this simple checkpoint to the HR off-boarding process can go a long way to curb the risk of data theft or other breach.

Date-stamp leads when they are sent to sales. A less evident but still critical factor for compliance, you must have a clear understanding when personal information passes from one system to another. If you have not done so already, consider amending your CRM integration program to date-stamp all leads as they enter and exit the sync program. Along with improving your information compliance, this simple enhancement comes in very handy to troubleshoot “missing” leads or correcting other sync errors.

Document the main data model. Marketing automation in most companies is a distributed system that involves several software applications sharing the same data, and therefore the entire system has many fail points. The “openness” of these applications makes it far too easy for mystery fields, custom objects and bogus data to creep in, diluting the marketing team’s ability to develop effective targeting. While documenting the entire system may be “overkill,” certainly every company should maintain a list of its primary data fields, pick-list values, integration field mappings, and other core objects and compile these into a Data Definitions (DD) document for internal circulation. This living document becomes the go-to reference guide for control over any future system-level changes.

If you have only 1 or 2 of these items covered, consider performing a formal security audit with some outside help from your software vendor or partner. If you scored 3 or 4, you can get back to relaxing.

If you have other tips to share with readers on how to improve their marketing automation security, feel free to leave comments below.