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.

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.