Are Your Marketing Messages Worth Your Prospects’ Time?

With no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? But on the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

On the one hand, with no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? On the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

In other words, attention is even more valuable, so you’d better be sure that your messaging is worth the time you’re asking your prospects to invest. Here are a few ways you can help your prospects see why it’s worth it to engage with you.

Advise and Connect

Forget the hard sell. Gain trust and attention by offering help in your marketing messages. What advice can you offer your prospects that they will find value in? What questions do you know prospects are asking as they begin their buying journey? What questions are they asking later in the process?

Those are the questions you need to answer. The trick is in answering them not only in a way that helps prospects solve their business problems, but also in a way that positions you as an expert and helps engender trust.

All without giving away your secret sauce.

Probably not something you can whip up off the top of your head, but most definitely something that will pay great dividends. Create content that matters and resonates, and you will connect with your desired decision makers.

Another Kind of Connection

Beyond the connection you want to make with your prospects, you can also make connections for your prospects. Are there colleagues you work with you can stand behind that will make your prospects’ business lives better? Make the connection and you’ll a happy prospect and a happy colleague.

Obviously, this doesn’t scale and isn’t appropriate for early funnel prospects, but it can be a great way to remain in contact with prospects as you nurture them over time.

Demonstrate Through Your Marketing Messages

Finally, create opportunities to demonstrate that you have the experience and expertise to make a difference in their business. Case studies and testimonials are great, as are interviews and presentaiotnsr with clients who you have helped succeed.

So forget the “just checking in” phone calls and “we’re new and improved” emails. Provide value in your marketing messages and they will be greeted warmly more often, and your prospects’ doors will more frequently be open.

8 Ways to Increase Digital Ad Revenue by 50% or More

Companies need to take a serious look at their digital ad programs, make needed adjustments, and prepare sales teams for success. From fixing inventory and pricing to launching programmatic audience extension, here are eight tactics worth considering.

I recently received a fantastic email from a single title B2B publication that I work with: “As of today, we are on track for $452,380 in digital revenue alone. This is a 66% increase over last year’s digital revenues of $271,798!”

How did they do it?

We took a serious look at how the team was approaching digital ad sales, removed programs that weren’t working, reworked their products, delivered more value to their advertisers, and simplified the program. The publisher, editorial, and sales staff got behind the changes and their advertisers obviously responded positively.

Now they’re getting ready to launch some new digital products for next year.

With the fall sales season coming up quickly, now is also the time for you to take a serious look at your digital ad programs, make needed adjustments, and get your staff ready. Here are eight tactics that you should consider.

1. Simplify Your Digital Advertising Program

When I look at most publishers’ digital ad programs, they’re too complicated and have too many products. Ask your ad reps to give you a quick recap of your digital program. If they can’t quickly and easily do this, then you’ve got a problem.

A good rule of thumb is that if you’re not selling out any specific product 70% of the time, you should consider eliminating it. Use that inventory to bolster the value of other digital products. Or get rid of it altogether to reduce site clutter and the number of emails you send – and to improve the performance and value of your other products.

Simplification of your digital products is the best way to help your ad reps sell more and to deliver more value to advertisers, making them want to buy from you again and again.

2. Fix Your Inventory and Pricing

When your advertising program is simple, you can ensure that each product has enough inventory to provide excellent value to your advertiser. This is absolutely critical. If you don’t provide true value, you may sell an advertiser once, but you won’t sell them again.

And when you put enough value into each digital product, you can then adjust your rates accordingly. If you do it right, your base digital ad product should roughly sell for the same price as a full-page ad in your print magazine and deliver comparable value.

Adjusting inventory and pricing also allows you to control supply and demand. If you have too many products that aren’t selling out, there is no urgency on the part of the advertiser. But if you consolidate and simplify your products, you can charge more, deliver more value, and create urgency among advertisers to get access to your limited opportunities.

3. Get Rid of the Frequency Rate Card

Frequency rate cards are a legacy of the print-only era. They were designed to give advertisers a discount if they spent more money with you. But today, we sell print and digital (and more). All the frequency rate card does is silo print and disincentivize advertisers from buying digital.

Consider ditching the rate card and replace it with an overall spend discount. Have a base, 1x rate for everything print and digital. Then, give tiered discounts based upon total advertiser spend instead of just on the number of print ads they buy.

This incents advertisers to spend more money with you regardless of the medium.

4. Consider the Digital Sponsorship Model

I’ve covered the digital sponsorship model before, but it’s worth reiterating here. In the sponsorship model, you take all (or most) of your web and email inventory, package it together in a single price, and limit the number of sponsorships you sell.

You bring a ton of value to your advertisers, can charge a premium, and completely change the nature of discussions with advertisers and agencies. Instead of you competing for limited ad budgets, your advertisers compete for the limited sponsorship opportunities on your site.

It isn’t for everyone, but I’ve seen many publishers (especially in niche B2B markets) increase digital revenue by 50-200% after implementing this model.

5. Develop an Inbound Marketing / Lead Nurturing Business

Lead generation is something that most publishers already have in their arsenal. But very few publishers take it to the next level and develop a true inbound marketing/lead nurturing business. Yet this is where advertisers are moving their budgets.

In a lead nurturing business, the publisher leverages its content expertise to help the advertiser develop a very compelling lead magnet. They use their own website, email, and social channels to market the lead magnet, but also remarket to their audience on programmatic networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc) to drive even more people to the lead magnet.

And you don’t stop after the initial registration. You then upsell people into requesting direct contact with the advertiser through an email drip sequence and other methods. This help turns “prospects” who access the lead magnet into qualified, sales-ready leads … a huge difference!

As a publisher, you either become the best inbound agency in your market or be prepared to watch other ad agencies or competitive publications take market share away from you.

6. Launch Programmatic Audience Extension

Your advertisers are already running programmatic advertising on Google/YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, and other networks. They’re just not doing it with you. But with programmatic audience extension advertising, you can position yourself to recapture a good portion of this business.

The concept is relatively simple. Use your website visitors, social media followers, and email subscribers to create remarketing audiences on various programmatic networks. You then sell programmatic campaigns to your audience targeting your specific audience on those networks.

For advertisers, this is a much more targeted demographic than they could otherwise get. They also get the added benefit of leveraging your brand equity.

For publishers, this taps into new budgets and opens up new inventory that you don’t have on your own website. I have seen programmatic audience extension add hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for publishers, often at 70% margins or higher.

7. Educate and Communicate with Your Advertisers

As I’ve written about previously, it’s critical that you align the advertiser’s objective, creative, and success metrics before, during, and after their campaign. Doing this on a regular basis helps set proper expectations and improve repeat business.

I often see advertisers who want clicks or leads but give the publisher a branding creative. They’re then upset when they don’t get enough clicks. Or the advertiser will say they want a branding objective but are still upset about not getting enough clicks.

As a publisher, you must align the client’s campaign objective, the tactics used in their creative, and the metrics they’ll use to evaluate the campaign. This happens at three critical points: when making the sale, when they deliver ad creative to you, and after the campaign.

Some publishers even do a webinar for their advertisers to help reinforce the importance of direct response versus branding campaigns and aligning campaign objective, creative, and success criteria.

8. Keep Digital in Front of Your Sellers Regularly

Finally, keep your digital products in front of your sellers on a regular basis. Every month dedicate a portion of one of your sales team meetings to review how well products are selling and inventory that is still open.

Talk openly about financial performance and key metrics. Discuss what’s working, what’s not, and what you’re hearing from your advertisers. This helps answer several questions:

  • Do my sellers need more training on certain aspects of our digital business?
  • Do I need to better educate my advertisers and their agencies?
  • Do I need to eliminate or modify our digital deliverables or pricing?
  • Do I need to restructure my sales team to better sell under-performing products?
  • How can I help my sellers better overcome advertiser objections?

Talking about digital sales openly and bluntly also keeps digital at the forefront of your sales team’s mind. It’s a level of accountability and keeps your digital products from accidentally “falling off the radar.”

I hope these ideas were useful. If you have any questions about them or how to implement them in your market, please feel free to contact me and let’s chat about your specific situation.

Analyze Your Target’s Buying Process for Greater Marketing Efficiency

B2B selling is a complicated affair, but you can simplify your marketing strategies dramatically with buying process analysis. This means that you lay out your prospect’s buying process, stage by stage, and then develop a selling process that maps to it. Voila. Your marketing investments will become much more efficient,

B2B selling is a complicated affair, but you can simplify your marketing strategies dramatically with buying process analysis. This means that you lay out your prospect’s buying process, stage by stage, and then develop a selling process that maps to it. Voila. Your marketing investments will become much more efficient, being applied to their best use. And you’ll also be more effective, since each element is targeted to a specific goal. Let’s look at how this works.

Here’s a typical B-to-B large enterprise buying process, broken down into its logical stages.

Buying Process StagesThe stages are pretty obvious —any marketer can create such a list on the back of a cocktail napkin. But you may find that the buying process will vary by segment, so you may need more than one.

The next step is to clarify your marketing objective at each stage. Simply put, your objective is to help move the prospect along his buying journey, stage by stage, in your favor. But you can get more granular. At the stage when the prospect begins researching solutions, your objective is to be among the consideration set. At the next stage, you want to be selected for the short list. When they are soliciting proposals, you want to submit a winning bid. And so on.

Now, your marketing activities can be directed toward supporting this process. Consider which media make the most sense at each stage. When you are trying to become known to researchers, media relations and trade shows can be the most effective tools. When the prospect is reviewing proposals, you may decide that a webinar is a good method for educating them on your capabilities. Once you’ve won the business and they are beginning to use your product or service, you might invite them to a user group.

The same thinking can be applied to other areas of the marketing communications mix. What content do you need to move the prospect from one stage to the next? What data elements are required at each stage? What motivational offers will be most effective?

I am fond of this approach to B-to-B marketing, especially in the account-based marketing context, because it helps us get very focused, and reduces what you might call random acts of marketing communication.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Using Content to Nurture Leads

The difference between just publishing a blog and content marketing is less about what you create than it is about how you use what you create. In other words, it’s what happens after you click the Publish button that determines whether you’re really a content marketer. An example of this can be found in using your content marketing as part of your lead nurturing efforts.

The difference between just publishing a blog and content marketing is less about what you create than it is about how you use what you create. In other words, it’s what happens after you click the Publish button that determines whether you’re really a content marketer. An example of this can be found in using your content to nurture leads.

Helping smooth the path from discovery to purchase for prospects typically starts with great content, so I don’t want to underplay the importance of generating truly useful information for your audience. But making the leap from “free publisher” to effective content marketer depends on the rest of your plan.

Using Content to Nurture Leads

The first step of that plan must be promoting your content to get it in front of your audience. This is a topic worthy of lengthier discussion; for the moment, I’ll just say that email, social media, and just about any regular point of contact you have with clients and prospects should be part of your promotion efforts.

As you’re promoting your content, you must also be aware of when your content will be most useful to prospects. That is, at what point in their buying process will they find what you’ve written most valuable?

This means not only having a knowledge of what a typical prospect’s buying process looks like when he or she is buying your product or service, but also having content that addresses the questions and concerns that are raised at each step.

Once you have that matrix of content built, it’s time to integrate other tools into your content marketing program. Key among these will be email. Following up regularly over time is a key part of successful marketing of any kind. We all know that our first contact with a prospect isn’t necessarily going to be at a time when that prospect is ready to move forward toward a decision. A drip marketing campaign, as it’s sometimes called, is key to maintaining a presence without being intrusive. The goal is to stay recognized and useful until your solution is most relevant to the prospect.

Prospective Profiling

Prospective profiling is the next step you should consider. In a nutshell, prospective profiling is the use of tech tools to customize the calls to action and content on your website based on the past behavior of site visitors.

The goal is to make use of what you already know about a prospect to a) avoid annoying him or her with redundant questions, and b) to ensure that you continue to offer useful information. Few things are more annoying than returning to a website to be greeted by a pop-up window offering the same white paper you downloaded yesterday — and requiring you to fill in the same form fields to get it!

Prospective profiling allows you to offer the next logical piece of content (from the prospect’s perspective) while asking for more information about them and their needs. For example, if you already have their name, email and company, perhaps you now ask for their title, their budget, or their expected timeframe for making a decision.

You wouldn’t ask for all of these things at once — the drop-off in conversion would be too steep, particularly if you don’t have an established relationship with the prospect — but asked over time, the questions are less intrusive. And you still are able to build a much more complete picture.

Closing the CRM Loop

This all gives you the ability to feed data into a lead scoring system tied into your CRM tools. Unless you’re still working from spreadsheets, you’ll want to work closely with both your website developer and your CRM consultant to implement a strong progressive profiling program. With you driving the process from a marketing perspective, you’ll be able to build a system that uses your content to nurture leads consistently from first content through conversion.

7 Outrageous Lead Management Errors and How to Fix Them

In last month’s blog post we introduced the five core marketing processes essential to effective and efficient marketing operations. This month we will delve into the first, and most important of these processes, the lead management process.

Stop LightIn last month’s blog post, we introduced the five core marketing processes essential to effective and efficient marketing operations. This month we will delve into the first, and most important of these processes, the lead management process.

I believe it is the most important because, if poorly designed and executed, marketing cannot accurately determine how many quality leads it is passing to the sales channels, and how much influence its activities are having on revenue. What could be more important than that?

List of Ingredients for an Effective Lead Management Process

The lead management process outlines the steps for tracking and reporting on leads as they are created and move through a funnel. During this process leads become qualified or disqualified, and eventually pass on to a lead development team and finally onto sales or channel partners.

A typical lead management process includes the following six components:

  • Definition of a sales ready lead
  • Definition of the various lead statuses in the CRM defined funnel
  • Design of the lead processing, routing, and related notifications
  • Design of the lead scoring algorithm
  • Development and agreement on a service level agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing
  • Establishment of funnel metrics

In the process of adding more detail behind each of these, I will include examples of these 7 egregious errors in each, and how to avoid them.

  1. Failure to involve sales in defining a sales ready lead
  2. Failure to add lead status values for purchased list imports
  3. Inclusion of call dispositions as lead status values
  4. Failing to create and use a contact status field
  5. Failing to periodically review and refresh the lead scoring algorithm
  6. Failure to measure and enforce the sales and marketing SLA
  7. Funnel metrics that fail to account for unusual lead flow patterns

Definition of a Sales Ready Lead

Simply put, if you are in demand generation, your output is largely sales ready leads that have the potential to become opportunities for the sales channel. As such, you absolutely require an agreement between sales and marketing as to what constitutes a sales ready lead. And the error too many firms make is allowing marketing to decide what constitutes a sales ready lead all by themselves.

The result is that junk leads from events and the website are tossed over the fence to sales, who quickly recognize them for what they are, and learn to ignore leads from marketing.

It is very important to get sales people and sales management in the room with marketing and knock out a definition that both can live with. Marketing may not be able to get the B.A.N.T. criteria (budget, authority, need, time frame) without the help of lead development reps (LDRs). So what info can marketing solicit through forms, data appending, firmagraphics and observed behavioral data? What info does a LDR have to add? All of this info will inform the lead scoring algorithm discussed below.

Definition of Lead Statuses

Ah yes, you might think this one is easy, take the standard set of values including Inquiry, MQL, SAL, SQL, and Disqualified, and we’re done … right? Wrong. There are a couple of errors here that I see too often.

Donald Trump Gets the Why Behind the Buy

Ted Cruz still doesn’t know what hit him. Neither do most of the Republican party establishment, and large segments of the non-Republican electorate. But Carolyn Goodman has a pretty good idea: “Trump really understands the why behind the buy.”

Last night, a beleaguered Ted Cruz suspended his campaign after yet another loss to Donald Trump on the Republican primary campaign trail. After another drubbing in a state that was supposed to reject Trump’s big city conservative populism, Cruz said, “It appears that path has been foreclosed.”

Ted Cruz still doesn’t know what hit him. Neither do most of the Republican party establishment, and large segments of the non-Republican electorate. But Carolyn Goodman has a pretty good idea.

“Trump really understands the why behind the buy,” said Carolyn, president and creative director of Goodman Marketing Partners, during yesterday’s webinar on optimizing lead nurturing.

Pain Point Research > Persona Research

Carolyn’s answer was in response to an audience member’s question during the webinar Q&A: “Do Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders demonstrate that emotion drives more than facts?”

And it tied into something Carolyn said earlier in the webinar: Know the why behind the buy.

What that means is, for anyone asking people to choose their brand — whether it’s at the store, in an email or on the campaign trail — understanding why customers are in the market and why they choose your brand over another is the most important factor to turning a lead into a sale.

In fact, she said doing research on the pain points that lead customers to choose you, and marketing to those pain points, is far more important to successful lead nurturing and long-term sales than marketing to personas.

In effect, what you know about why they buy is more important than what you know about their demographics, niche and theoretical wants. And Donald Trump’s campaign is a perfect example of this, according to Goodman.

Donald Trump’s Marketing Epiphany

While the rest of the Republican field developed messaging around the grooved talking points of GOP politics today, Trump identified the why behind the buy (or vote).

This time, many Republican voters are making the buy based on frustration with what they see as stifling political correctness and a coddling bureaucracy that they don’t think can protect the country from a host of threats. And the only thing they want to vote for is change, to get “bought” career politicians out of office.

That’s the why behind their buy, and Donald Trump gets that.

If Trump hears voters saying the other candidates aren’t willing to tell what they see as a “truth” about immigrants, Muslims, tariffs or any other topic, he embraces that “truth” and speaks it as often as he can. If the other candidates say something might not be achievable, or affordable, Trump tells voters it is and he’ll make sure it’s paid for.

If voters are frustrated about politicians not doing something, Trump promises to do it. If they’re frustrated that something’s not being said, he says it.

Trump’s not over-analyzing the demographics or overthinking the personas of his voters. Instead he’s just listening to his likely voters’ pain points and addressing them.

Trump gets the why behind his customers’ buys.

Do you get the why behind yours?

Turn Leads Into Prospects by Nurturing

“We need more leads.” That’s the rallying cry from most sales-driven organizations. If you ask the sales team what defines a lead, they’ll tell you “high quality.” That translates to “ready to buy decision-makers who have a budget in place”. Sure, piece of cake — let me snap my fingers.

Nurture“We need more leads.” That’s the rallying cry from most sales-driven organizations.

If you ask the sales team what defines a lead, they’ll tell you “high quality.” That translates to “ready to buy decision-makers who have a budget in place”. Sure, piece of cake — let me snap my fingers.

If you ask the marketing team what defines a lead, they’ll tell you “high volume.” They want to deliver enough leads to sales so they will stop whining.

The challenge, of course, is these two objectives are at odds. Yet, when working with many marketers, they have not budgeted to take the extra time and expense necessary to help cull down leads from simply being aware of the product/service to actually be sales-ready — ready for a conversation about the possibility of making a purchase.

That missing link is called lead nurturing, and it’s why so many companies are failing at converting leads into warm prospects.

Lead Nurturing: The Holy Grail
According to a 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review, 23 percent of firms never follow up on leads at all. A more recent 2012 study published in Forbes showed that 73 percent of leads never get contacted. But, why not?

Marketing Sherpa claims a whopping 68 percent of B-to-B organizations have not even identified their sales funnel — the buying process that companies use to lead prospects from awareness to interest, interest to desire and desire to purchase.

Lead nurturing is an art and more often than not, companies get it all wrong.

When an individual downloads a whitepaper, it’s signaling an interest in a topic. If that whitepaper is based on good old fashioned research, it addresses a pain point that’s common in the industry.

The first challenge is too many whitepapers are written as either self-serving brochures or are plastered with marketing hype so the reader is turned off immediately. For some insight into what makes a good whitepaper, read my previous blog, “Have Whitepapers Lost Their Strategic Purpose.”

But, after the document is downloaded, then what? Please, I beg you, don’t call. Your prospect is not ready to have a conversation. They are probably at the start of their buying journey — they are in information gathering mode. And your job is to help them get educated so that they ultimately reach the right conclusion — your product or service may be the answer.

To get them to that point, you need to nurture them. Follow up with an email and a link to an additional asset — another whitepaper, a helpful video or an executive briefing. But, definitely don’t send a brochure.

Today’s B-to-B Marketing: It’s a Lot Like Shark Tank

As a marketer, I understand the challenge of reaching business decision makers like me in a fresh and meaningful way, but I will tell you that as a focus group of one, I despise the direction marketers seem to be headed:

As a marketer, I understand the challenge of reaching business decision makers like me in a fresh and meaningful way, but I will tell you that as a focus group of one, I despise the direction marketers seem to be headed:

  • My LinkedIn inbox is now overflowing with invitations to connect to people I don’t know and now choose NOT to connect to because I know they’re going to simply try and sell me something based on their job description/profile.
  • To download a whitepaper of interest requires me to complete a form that includes my phone number, which means dealing with unwanted calls from a bored sales rep.
  • My regular inbox is stuffed with offers from strangers that want to set up meetings, desperate attempts to sell me data from unknown sources, demands that I click links to view the video about revolutionary new technology that will “change the way I do business.”
  • If I express any interest at all in a product (attend a webinar, visit a tradeshow booth, download a spec sheet), I am relentlessly mobbed by emails and phone calls.

I get that sales folks have a job to do, so what’s the answer?

It’s called Lead Nurturing.

An organized and systematic way of building a relationship that will, over time, help turn a cold prospect into a warm prospect… and from a warm prospect into a hot prospect… and ultimately to a sale.

But excellence in lead nurturing seems to be a lost art form as I haven’t been exposed to many companies that are doing it—let alone doing it well.

Best practices suggest that the marketer try to ask just a few questions at the outset of the relationship to try and determine the prospects pain point (the reason for their download or visit to your website or tradeshow booth), and the role the individual plays in the purchase process (influencer, part of a decision making team, final decision maker).

Based on the answers to these and perhaps one or two other pertinent questions that would help you define your lead nurturing strategy (for example, industry or job title/function), leads should be scored and placed into an appropriate lead nurturing system that will help the marketer deliver ongoing content that will be most relevant to that prospect.

Best practices do NOT include asking questions about intent to purchase timeframes (God forbid you answer “in the near future” as that will guarantee an instant follow up call), budget size (really? Do you think I’ll reveal that I have earmarked$100K on a form?).

Lead nurturing programs should include:

  • Additional assets that can be distributed via email: Content can include a competitive review, an article that’s relevant to the prospects vertical industry, research findings, videos that demonstrate how a product works, etc. These should NOT be sales literature but rather help the company position itself as an expert in their field. This in turn, helps build credibility and trust (key components in a B-to-B purchase).
  • Invitations to webinars where a particular topic is explored. Webinars should include speakers from OUTSIDE the sponsoring organization to give the topic value and ensure the attendee isn’t just signing up for a sales pitch.
  • Invitations to breakfast or luncheon roundtable discussions: Bring in a speaker of interest and discuss a topic that is most relevant to your audience (especially if it’s industry specific).

Over the course of time, you’ll be able to ask additional questions / gain additional insights into your prospect pool that will help you become more familiar with them and the problem they’re trying to solve.

After all, don’t we all want to do business with people we know and like? The reality is, it is highly unlikely that I’m ready to buy after one simple download, so stop treating me like a piece of meat that has fallen into a tank full of hungry sharks.

Death of the Salesman

There’s no question that the Willy Lomans of this world have been dying a slow, agonizing death—only instead of losing the fight to travel exhaustion, the opponent is the Internet … And marketing

There’s no question that the Willy Lomans of this world have been dying a slow, agonizing death—only instead of losing the fight to travel exhaustion, the opponent is the Internet.

According to a recent CEB article in the Harvard Business Review, 57 percent of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier, and Gartner Research predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human. That shouldn’t surprise anyone since we spend much of our days tapping on keyboards or flicking our fingers across tiny screens.

In Willy’s day, the lead generation process would have consisted of making a phone call, setting up an appointment, hopping a plane to the prospect’s office, and dragging a sample case through the airport. In the 1980’s, that sample case turned into an overhead projector, then a slide projector and a laptop, and finally a mini projector linked to a mobile device or thumb drive. In 2014, salespeople are lucky if they can connect to a prospect on a video conferencing call.

Clearly the days of gathering in a conference room for the sales pitch are long gone. We’ve always known that sales people talk too much and buyers, who’ve never had the patience to listen, now have the tools to avoid them altogether: websites, whitepapers, case studies, videos, LinkedIn groups, webcasts—virtually anything and everything to avoid talking to sales.

As a result, the sales function has now been placed squarely in the hands of the content strategists and creators. And yes, that means that the sales function is now in the hands of marketing.

Now a different problem exists. Most marketing folks don’t know how to help the buyer along their journey because that’s not how they’ve been trained. They have no idea how different types of buyers think, or how they search for information, or make decisions, so they don’t know how to create nor position content in a meaningful and relevant way—and that’s long been the complaint of sales. In their opinion, all marketing does is churn out “fluff” that is irrelevant to a serious buyer.

Now marketers must step up and really understand how to optimize marketing tools in order to help that buyer reach the right brand decision at the end of their journey. That’s really why content has become the marketing buzz word.

And just like we despised the salesman who talked too much, potential buyers despise content that is full of sales-speak. While a product brochure has a purpose, it is not strategic content. Similarly, a webinar in which most of the supporting slides are simply advertising for the product, turns off participants who quickly express their displeasure via online chat tools to the host and by logging out of the event.

Great content should seek to:

  • Be authentic: What you say needs to sound genuine and ring true—no one believes you are the only solution to a problem. On the contrary, the discovery process is all about evaluating your options (the pros and the cons). Avoiding a question because your answer may reveal the flaws of your product or service only shines a spotlight on the issue. Honesty is always the best policy.
  • Be relevant: Share insightful information that leverages your expertise and experience; help the buyer connect the dots. “How to” articles are popular, as are comparison charts—if you’re not going to do it, the prospect will be doing it for themselves anyway, so why not help by pointing out comparison points (that benefit your product) they might not have previously considered?
  • Be timely: To get a leg up in the marketplace, you need to be prepared to add value when the timing is ripe. It’s highly unlikely that your marketplace hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. Help show buyers how your product/service is relevant in today’s marketplace—how it deals with challenges you know they’re facing or are going to face tomorrow.

Smart marketers have a lead nurturing strategy in place—an organized and logical method of sharing relevant content along the buy cycle. And that content is well written and segmented by type of decision maker. The CFO has a different set of evaluation criteria from the CEO and the CTO. Business owners look at purchase decisions through a completely different lens than a corporate manager.

Depending on the industry, business buyers have different problems they’re trying to solve, so generic content has less relevance than content that addresses specific issues in an industry segment. Those in healthcare, for example, perceive a problem from a different perspective than those in transportation.

The new name of the selling game is “Educate the Buyer—but in a helpful and relevant way.” And while Willy Loman may continue to sit at his desk making cold calls or sending out prospecting emails, the reality is nobody has the patience or interest to listen to his sales pitch any more. So marketers need to step up and accept responsibility for lead generation, lead nurturing and, in many instances, closing the sale.

B-to-B Marketers Still Struggle With Lead Nurturing

I thought it was widely understood by now that staying in touch with a prospect who has shown some interest in your product or service can triple, even quadruple, lead-to-sales conversion rates. But a new study from Bizo and Oracle Marketing Cloud suggests that business marketers are still struggling to get the most value from lead nurturing programs. Disappointing, since the value of lead nurturing was clearly demonstrated years ago…

I thought it was widely understood by now that staying in touch with a prospect who has shown some interest in your product or service can triple, even quadruple, lead-to-sales conversion rates. But a new study from Bizo and Oracle Marketing Cloud suggests that business marketers are still struggling to get the most value from lead nurturing programs. Disappointing, since the value of lead nurturing was clearly demonstrated years ago, when James Obermayer coined the Rule of 45, which says 45 percent of business inquirers will eventually buy in that category, so if you don’t stay in touch, you’ll likely lose the sale to your competition.

The Bizo study reveals some intriguing issues for marketers today. I was struck by the mere 35 percent of responders who say nurturing is essential to their businesses. The majority (53 percent) said “It’s somewhat important; we have a few nurturing campaigns running.” Granted, these words were put in their mouths by Bizo researchers, but it’s troubling that the power of lead nurturing still seems to be under appreciated.

Further, marketers seem to be using little other than email as their nurturing medium. This is a mistake. Worse, these emails are simply not getting through: Nurturing email open rates are less than 20 percent, according to most (79 percent) of the 500 marketers surveyed.

So let me offer some success factors in lead nurturing, which I hope will help marketers up their nurturing game:

  • Set up a triggered sequence of nurturing messages, using a variety of media channels, with the objective of keeping in touch with inquirers until they meet your qualification criteria and are ready to be handed to your sales team. See the chart in the media player at right for an example. The point here is that a nurture program needs to be continuous, steady and responsive.
  • Tailor the nurturing stream to key variables in the prospect’s profile, like buying role, job description, industry and company size.
  • The tone of the messaging needs to be informative and helpful, instead of sales-y. Your objective is to deepen the relationship and move prospects along the buying journey, not hit them over the head.
  • Use a wide variety of media and messaging types to keep the recipient interested. Adding to the mix options like an event invitation, press release, tweets, infographic, podcast, a survey or questionnaire, video, a newsletter—the possibilities go on. Bizo itself is offering a retargeting program that permits cookie-based nurturing of prospects whose email has not yet been collected.
  • Get creative, for example, with a peer-to-peer letter from a counterpart executive in your company, or a birthday card.
  • Ask for a response to collect additional information and feedback, always moving toward that qualification stage. Create dedicated landing pages, where you can pose profiling questions and continue the educational content.

It’s all about staying in touch with prospects to deepen the relationship and increase the chance of converting them to customers.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.