Getting to MQL: 10 Tips for Successful Lead Nurture

Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost.

Sometimes the right customer converts on your site at the wrong time.

Indeed, up to 50% of eligible contacts convert on your site as pre-MQLs – or contacts who are not yet ready to buy.

However, the steps to recover this value are obvious, right? Nurture your leads to get more of them down the funnel, converting qualified contacts into MQLs who are ready-to-buy.

Indeed, the benefits of nurture efforts are well documented. Forrester Research found companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost.

But for any marketer who’s ever implemented a lead nurture strategy, you know it’s not always as straightforward as that — particularly if you’re dealing with a notoriously skeptical audience, or if you operate in an industry with long sales cycles, such as software or SaaS.

With skeptical audiences, you have to work harder to prove the value of your offering, and you have to do it in an honest, transparent way.  In this post, I’ll share tips to help you move niche contacts through your buying-cycle, fast.

Tip 1: Segment on Acquisition Channel

All leads are not equal. So, it would be clumsy to bucket them all into one campaign that feeds into the top of your funnel. To successfully nurture contacts through the stages of your buying cycle, you must first identify where they are in the cycle already. The acquisition channel can hold the key to this. Did they download a middle-of-the-funnel asset? If so, don’t start them at the top of the funnel, start them in the middle! Were they referred from a media partner? Use the nature of the referral to predict where they are in the cycle.

Tip 2: Email is Good, but It Probably Isn’t Enough

While email is far from dead, engagement rates have been slipping steadily. Indeed, four out of five marketers reported average email open rates below 20% according to Oracle’s State of B2B Lead Nurturing Survey. Given this trend, adding other channels to your nurture track, such as paid re-targeting, dynamic content integration on your website, social media advertising, and outreach from sales can provide additional coverage.

Tip 3: Complete at Least 10 Marketing Touchpoints

The average B2B sale takes more than 10 marketing touch points from the top of funnel to a closed-won deal, according to Aberdeen’s Marketing Lead Management Report. To avoid turning off prospects, vary these touchpoints and ensure they’re relevant to where the contact is in your buying cycle. Touchpoints could include: blog posts, emails, whitepapers, quizzes, calculators, games, and social media competitions.

Tip 4: Avoid Information Overload, or Worse, Spamming Leads

We’re all familiar with the overzealous marketer scenario. We fill out one form to download an ebook and all of a sudden, we’ve got four emails, a LinkedIn connection request, two missed calls, and a voicemail all from Cindy at ABC Software Company.

Not cool.

This is an extreme example, and most professional marketers don’t do this intentionally. But it occasionally happens by mistake if you’re not monitoring your automation programs. Regularly check any automation or trigger campaigns you have in place to ensure you’re not engaging contacts more than 1-2 times per week.

Tip 5: Whenever Possible, Use Only Targeted, Relevant Content

Relevant emails drive 18 times more revenue than broadcast emails, according to Jupiter Research. But for organizations without deep pockets for content creation, creating quality content at scale is a challenge. Start by focusing on top-performing content and building out supporting pieces around this.

Tip 6: Use Automation to Ensure Timely First Contact

According to insidesales.com, up to 50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first. Yet, the average first response time of B2B companies to new leads is 42 hours (Harvard Business Review). By implementing an automated, first touchpoint for new leads, you guarantee your product will be on the radar, even if your sales team can’t respond immediately. You can achieve this by creating a trigger email to send when a lead submits a form.

Tip 7: Use Triggers and Segmentation to Move Contacts Between Campaigns and Optimize Funnel Alignment

With a little clever manipulation of contact segments, even the most basic marketing automation platform can be used to create highly dynamic and timely campaigns.

For example, by setting up a contact segment to populate based on visits to a particular URL on your site, you can create email automation that feels way more sophisticated than it is.

Here’s how I’ve used it:

  • The classic: If a contact visits a specific blog post, follow-up via email with a related piece of content to drive them back to your site. 
  • The helpful voyeur: If a known contact visits a landing page and doesn’t complete the form, send them an email with a PDF link to the asset. For skeptical audiences, it’s generally best to be transparent with this touchpoint, including phrasing like, “I noticed you were checking out this ebook, so here’s a free download!” or “Hope you don’t mind the intrusion, but I saw you had some interest in this ebook, and I don’t want you to miss out. So, here’s a link.”
  • The “we miss you” message: When a known contact has been inactive for a set amount of time, send them a “we miss you” email. While this is hardly a unique concept in marketing, it can be a particularly powerful gesture when engaging with suspicious audiences. It demonstrates that you’re prioritizing their interests above your own. If they take no action, or if they actively ask to be removed from your list, be sure to comply immediately to retain brand trust.

Tip 8: Track Campaign Metrics to ID Top-Performing Acquisition Channels

Building performance indicators into every stage of your buying cycle will help you identify top-performing channels earlier in the nurture process. Given that the average sales cycle for SaaS and software businesses can range from 3-18 months, failing to implement stage-by-stage performance metrics could cost you in the long-run. If leads attained from one acquisition channel are underperforming early on in the buying-cycle, continue to nurture the leads, but move future budget onto a more profitable acquisition channel.

The first step here is to make sure you’re tracking your lead sources. Next, use autogenerated reports for better visibility of contact movement between your nurture campaigns and between stages of the buying cycle. Every company has different patterns, so it’s important to compare your success against historical performance of your company.

Tip 9: Use Autogenerated Reports to Identify Campaign Bottlenecks

Once your nurture flow has been active for a few weeks, you may begin to notice that you’re losing a disproportionate number of leads at a specific point in your cycle. Engagement trends are in constant flux. Tactics that worked a year or six months ago, may be holding you back now. To gain visibility of touchpoint performance, set up a weekly report of disengagement behaviors and look for patterns. Possible disengagement factors could be:

  1. Unsubscribes: Ensure the lead lands on an “unsubscribe” landing page asking them for the reason they’ve unsubscribed.
  2. Stagnant lead score: A stagnant lead score is generally a trustworthy indication a lead may have lost interest in your solution. There are many viable reasons that a lead may stop progressing through your funnel, but if you’re seeing an increase in stagnation, it’s worth investigating your nurture strategy.

Tip 10: Ace the Handover to Sales

Eight-nine percent of companies that aligned sales and marketing lead generation reported an increase in the number of leads that turned into opportunities (Velocify’s Sales Performance optimization Study). The key to a successful lead handover is alignment. Make sure that your sales team understands the context of each lead. What is the lead interested in? What was the journey that landed them on your sales team’s call list?

If your company has a mature marketing strategy, much of the lead journey may have been documented in your CRM system. If so, make sure to flag this to your sale team. For those with smaller lead volume or a less sophisticated CRM strategy, the lead journey can be handed over via email. For high-value prospects, a weekly meeting with sales might be more appropriate. Furthermore, a weekly sales and marketing meeting is a great first step in keeping your sales team informed on upcoming campaigns and winning buy-in from them. 

TL;DR

Use these ten tips to create a lead nurturing engine for your company

  1. Track nurture campaign metrics to ID top-performing acquisition channels.
  2. Segment based on acquisition channel.
  3. Email is good, but it probably isn’t enough.
  4. Complete at least 10 marketing touchpoints.
  5. Avoid information overload, or worse, spamming leads.
  6. Whenever possible, use only targeted, relevant content.
  7. Use automation to ensure timely first contact.
  8. Use triggers and segmentation to move contacts between campaigns and optimize funnel alignment.
  9. Use autogenerated reports to identify campaign bottlenecks.

Ace the handover to sales.

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