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.

Have Whitepapers Lost Their Strategic Purpose?

As the strategy of using whitepapers has become more common, too many marketers have missed (or forgotten!) their strategic purpose.

White PapersI first encountered the concept of a “whitepaper” in the late ‘80’s while working on a B-to-B technology client at Ogilvy & Mather Direct. Our strategy was to run a full page ad in several prominent technology print publications and offer a free copy of a scientifically-based study — one in which our client’s product performance had been proven to be superior when tested against its competitors.

To help ensure the credibility and integrity of the report, the client hired a third-party research firm to conduct the study, and an outside technical writer had crafted the document with a blind eye towards trying to slant the copy in any direction other than factual reporting. The paper provided some compelling and helpful facts and figures on metrics that we knew would interest our target audience, and it concluded that the client’s product was, indeed, superior.

The paper itself was completely non-branded — it looked and felt like the scientific research paper that it was, and therefore was entirely credible. Thus the term “whitepaper” — as it was an unbiased view based on fact.

As the strategy of using whitepapers has become more common, too many marketers have missed (or forgotten!) their strategic purpose. In fact the pendulum has swung in the exact opposite direction as brochure-ware is now mislabeled as a whitepaper.

Stop calling it a whitepaper. It’s a brochure.

Giant client logos now dominate the document from the first page to the last. Some have gone so far as to take the first three or four pages of the report to provide information on the brand — who they are, what they do, why their products are superior, or profiles of key executives. This defeats the entire whitepaper strategy, and instead of providing credible support to the brand, it is a thinly disguised brochure … and one that isn’t even helpful because it’s lost all its perceived objectivity.

Face it: We all know the drill. An email is blasted to a prospect list offering a free “whitepaper” download on a topic of interest. We click and hit a landing page where we have to fill out a form. (Don’t get me started on the inane questions like “How soon do you plan to make a purchase?” or “How much budget have you allocated?” knowing that if I click on the drop-down menu choices of “In the next 30 days” and “$50 – $100,000” I’ll get a phone call before I’ve even had a chance to download the paper.)

As business buyers, we’re all seeking unbiased information to help us make a purchase decision. We research online, read articles, ask colleagues and peers for their point of view and experiences; we seek out product reviews from industry publications or associations, and try to build a business case for the purchase if we need to get final approval from others.

As marketers, our job is to help those prospects in their journey by providing helpful and timely information that can support the decision to purchase our product. If you can claim your product can deliver “speed that is 3x faster,” then why not pull that scientific evidence together into a real whitepaper?

If your brand conducted product testing in a lab, then why not publish those results in an unbiased manner? What are you afraid of?

Do you fear the reader won’t be smart enough to recognize there is a clear winner? Are you concerned that your product didn’t score 150 percent on every metric? That’s okay — in fact it actually adds credibility to your story.

So for all you marketers who agonize over the creation of valuable content, instead of writing fluff pieces that don’t buy you much of anything but a few eyeballs, try digging a little deeper into your organization to find the real meat for your message. Try crafting a real whitepaper based on scientific fact, and then watch your target actually move your brand into the “consideration” phase of their buy cycle.

Slapping Lipstick on It Doesn’t Mean It’s Content

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.” In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. Not only does it allow us to take a spur of the moment picture, but it feeds into society’s obsession with “look-at-me-now!” social media. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.”

In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

In the strictest sense of the word, content is the subject or topic covered in a book, document, website, blog, video or webinar. And Content Marketing is the new black.

Just a few years ago, you could generate attention with a few media placements and a well-crafted message. But now consumers, especially in the B-to-B space, want more—more insight into how your product/service will make a difference in their business, more case studies that demonstrate how others have leveraged your product/service to increase ROI, more proof of concept.

The trouble is, many B-to-B marketers (and B-to-C for that matter) haven’t figured out what makes good content. And since the content-to-noise ratio is increasing daily, it’s important that marketers get a clear view of what defines great and valuable content, and why.

Since I’ve not been impressed with many attempts at content marketing, I want to share a few “what NOT to do” examples:

  • Content is different from advertisement. Recently, Boston Private Bank Trust Company was running a leaderboard banner ad with a stock image of a family, in front of an American flag, and a huge headline: “Watch our new video >”. Shaking my head at the banality of the message, I went ahead and clicked just to see if maybe the problem was with the packaging of the content. It took me to the home page of their website, where the video dominated my screen. I started to watch and discovered it was merely a 90 second advertisement. Although it was beautifully shot and artfully directed, it only took 12 seconds for the announcer to start talking about the benefits of banking with Boston. Scanning the rest of the home page (very difficult since the top 2/3 were covered with the video and “Look how great we are!” messaging), I didn’t see one case study, whitepaper/POV document on managing wealth that might help me feel, “Hey, I like what these guys are saying; I’d like to talk to someone at Boston about my needs.”
  • Heavily gated content just irritates me. I understand the strategy: Create content, offer it up to your targets, require they “register” before they can get access so you can fill your lead funnel. But, often, landing pages that require so much information are a deterrent to completion. Sometimes, I’ll provide “Mickey Mouse” types of answers, just so I can complete the process and get to the paper. Do you really need me to answer six questions beyond name and email address so you can pre-qualify me and make sure your sales guy isn’t wasting his time following up? Good content marketing strategies look at a longer term contact strategy, not a one-and-done process. If I download the article, then try dripping on me with more emails with more content. If I keep downloading, chances are I might be a solid lead, so reach out to me via email and, if qualifying me by company size or # of employees is critical, then do a little homework. A few clicks of the mouse will probably find that information for you.
  • Understand the difference between whitepapers and case studies. A whitepaper is called a whitepaper for a reason—it’s supposed to be an independent point of view around a topic. Too many whitepapers are either platforms for self-aggrandizement or poorly disguised sales pitches. Well-written whitepapers are informative, insightful and topical. It takes professional writing skill to add nuances that paint your product/service in a positive light—and not as a thump to the head with a frying pan. Case Studies, on the other hand, are an opportunity to let one of your customers formally endorse your brand. They should include the situation/problem and how it was solved, and, if possible, a quote attributed to a name/title at the buyers organization.

Designing your content so it is attractive, easy to read, and a combination of text, graphs and images, is a given. But don’t, for a minute, think you can take your advertising (video or otherwise), market it as content and check the box for content marketing off on your list.

Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

On July 10, 2013, Cyndie Shafstall (Founder and CEM of Spider Trainers) and I spoke at our second “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” webcast—this time we focused on the topic of Content Marketing. While you can still listen to the webcast, the event triggered many questions from participants, and I thought it might be helpful to address the most popular topics in this column.

On July 10, 2013, Cyndie Shafstall (Founder and CEM of Spider Trainers) and I spoke at our second “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” webcast—this time we focused on the topic of Content Marketing. While you can still listen to the webcast, the event triggered many questions from participants, and I thought it might be helpful to address the most popular topics in this column.

Q: How do you keep regularly scheduled content fresh (and keep me, the marketing director, from burning out)?

A: Commitment to regularly publishing content can be a daunting assignment for any business—large or small. To be perceived as an expert, you need to publish expert content.

Sit in a room with three or four others in your company (ideally the sales folks), and stand at the whiteboard and ask for ideas on any relevant topic to your industry. To get the conversation going, ask the sales folks the top 5 questions they each get asked during the sales process. While each question may not be fodder for content, you’ll quickly see a few themes emerging. I usually sit with clients and after a 30-minute discussion have over 100 topics on our whiteboard!

Then organize those topics into the most logical groupings: Topics that will have fairly short answers/discussion are probably most appropriate for a blog, while topics that require a lot of background, and supporting charts/graphs, are best used in a whitepaper. If your first meeting only yields 10 topics, hold the meeting every quarter and ask your team to keep their eye out on what topics interest them—and probe them for their areas of expertise. You’ll quickly discover that there are many possible topics available; you just have to use your journalistic instincts to ferret them out of staffers.

Q: What’s the difference (and how do you leverage) a blog vs. a whitepaper vs. other marketing content? And how should you decide which method to use when?

A: This is probably the question I get asked the most. So let me try to address each channel:

  • Blogs: Not every company needs (or should have) a blog; If you don’t have an industry thought leader in your organization (or somebody you can position as a thought leader who will let you put words in their mouth), you may want to hold off creating a blog in the first place. If you do, post blog topics that are timely and relative to your industry. Read trade publications and identify the “hot topic” du jour, and blog thoughts about that topic. Attend industry conferences, gather information from other speakers’ presentations and blog about what you liked and didn’t like about what they were saying. If you run a travel company, you can certainly blog about “hot” travel destinations—but even better, blog about “how to” at the destination … like “How to throw a wedding in Thailand” or “Best surfing vacations in Mexico.” You need to think like a journalist who is writing a story that others will want to read.
  • Whitepapers or Educational Primers: You can expand a blog topic into a more robust whitepaper or primer (a whitepaper provides a strategic point of view on a topic; a primer educates by taking the reader through the basics of a topic). Whitepapers should include quotes from outside sources to give it credibility and value. Primers can be simply “How to” guides that teach your audience the ABC’s. But be careful NOT to chest pound within your content. A whitepaper is supposed to be just that—a document, written by a 3rd party, on a particular topic of interest to readers in your space. It is NOT an advertorial for your product or service.

I carry around a notebook, and when I see/read/think about an idea for my blog, I jot it down so, when the time comes to sit down and write, I have a number of ideas to stimulate my thinking. Since I’m committed to Target Marketing to write this blog every 2 weeks, I’ve already got a notebook full of ideas!

Marketing: It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

I love the new AT&T television campaign with the cute guy talking to the group of first graders. The guy poses a simple question to the kids, like “What’s better? Doing two things at once or just one?” The kids pause for a moment, consider their options, and then all shout out “TWO! TWO!” with some thrusting two fingers into his face. “You sure?” he asks innocently to one little girl. “I am absolutely positive,” she states decisively, flattening her hands on the table for emphasis. Finally one little boy says “I can do two things … I can wave my head …” while he starts waggling it from side to side, “and wave my arm …” It makes me dizzy just to watch him.

I love the new AT&T television campaign with the cute guy talking to the group of first graders. If you’ve been living under a rock and missed them, the guy poses a simple question to the kids like, “What’s better? Doing two things at once or just one?”

The kids pause for a moment, consider their options, and then all shout out “TWO! TWO!” with some thrusting two fingers into his face. “You sure?” he asks innocently to one little girl. I am absolutely positive,” she states decisively, flattening her hands on the table for emphasis.

Finally one little boy says “I can do two things … I can wave my head …” while he starts waggling it from side to side, “and wave my arm …” It makes me dizzy just to watch him.

I always laugh out loud at these spots because it reminds me of so many of the focus groups I’ve witnessed over the years, and the commercial’s message, “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” could be the lesson for many marketers these days.

There are plenty of large, complex brands out there that require lots of intricate strategies and tactics against many different audiences. But many smaller brands have yet to heed the old KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) message that we learned in marketing class many moons ago.

I recently received a direct mail package that directed me to a URL to download a whitepaper. Since I was interested in the topic, I visited the URL. But when I arrived, I couldn’t find any mention of the whitepaper, even though I scoured the home page.

Yesterday I clicked on a link in an email to download another whitepaper and it took me to a dedicated registration page that asked four or five simple questions before I could download. So far, so good.

But after completing the form, I ended up on another, differently designed page, asking for most of the same information before I could complete the download. Huh?

Last week I got a phone call from a sales rep telling me he was following up on the package he sent me. When I told him I had no memory of receiving it, he mumbled something that sounded like “damn marketing people” and then said he’d have to call me back. Wha—?

As AT&T states, “It’s not complicated”—so why are so many marketing efforts such a chocolate mess?

Here are the 2 marketing rules I always try to live by:

  • Make It Easy: Think about your target and what you want them to do. Then make it easy for them to do it. That includes forms (I once challenged an insurance client on the # of questions required on an app for a quote and was able to reduce it from 26 to 6).
  • Demand Quality: Always proof (don’t get me started) and impose a rigid QC process. For example, test blast your emails and check all the links before you launch the program to your customer/prospect base. If I get one more email addressed to “Dear (Client)” or “Dear Marc,” I’m going to scream.

If you make sure you incorporate those principles into your marketing workflow, you might be surprised at the difference it can make.

And as my Dad used to say “Just use the ol’ noggin’…”

How to Convert LinkedIn Contacts into Qualified Leads

Answering your customers’ most commonly asked questions opens the door for discovery … and for brands to make relevant suggestions. You can offer prospects a friendly tip or useful trick or, if appropriate, outline benefits of taking a trial, downloading a whitepaper or attending your webinar.

Turning LinkedIn contacts or LinkedIn Group members into leads rarely happens using what I call passive engagement. It takes something more than occupying prospects’ time. You’ve got to convince them to sign up for your webinar or download your whitepaper.

Luckily, converting LinkedIn contacts to leads is easy. Just start by solving your target market’s problems in ways they find irresistible. Then plan engagement—carefully map it out to connect your target customers’ questions to the answers your content marketing devices (webinars, whitepaper) deliver.

The Engagement Myth
If you’re like most B-to-B marketers, you’re struggling to turn LinkedIn contacts and group members into leads. But getting it done is easier than you think. After a year of interviewing B-to-B and business to consumer businesses experiencing remarkable success using social media I found the common success principle: Ditching passive engagement—and giving contacts, friends, followers and such a reason to offer more than a “like” or merely consume content.

Many LinkedIn gurus claim awareness, reach and influence leads to conversion. They say, “regular online participation in LinkedIn Groups and with followers on other social platforms can convert them from followers into leads and on to customers.”

Yes, it can but this belief isn’t much different than the “reach and frequency” promise of advertising. Namely, if we beat the drum loud enough (reach) and often enough (frequency) it will cause people to perform an action—register, attend, download. As Dr. Phil likes to say, “and how’s that working for ya?” This is what I call passive engagement.

But there is a better way: Designing engagement to produce actions by solving customers’ problems in places where questions often get asked—like LinkedIn Groups.

Solve Customers’ Problems
You’ve probably heard that posting a certain number of times, on certain subjects, on certain days inside LinkedIn Groups where your target market congregates is the key that unlocks success with LinkedIn. Or maybe you’ve heard that frequent posting of blogs you’ve written in LinkedIn Groups will generate leads. These ideas don’t work. The key to success is solving customers’ problems in provocative ways.

For instance, use LinkedIn to generate questions among customers that your webinar or whitepaper gives answers to. Creatively bait customers to communicate or complain about problems (in LinkedIn Groups) that your content marketing device provides solutions for. Next, provoke actions—exploit those complaints by enticing, “ethically bribing” prospects to register for a webinar, download or perform an action that helps you qualify them as leads. It’s a snap.

Scratch Customers’ Itches in LinkedIn Groups
For instance, grocery store Harris-Teeter pays customers to ask its dietician health-related questions on Facebook. Why would a grocer—or you—do that? Because helping customers put out a fire or scratch a bothersome itch is powerful. It can be done on any social platform where your target audience is engaging, like LinkedIn.

Answering your customers’ most commonly asked questions opens the door for discovery … and for brands to make relevant suggestions. You can offer prospects a friendly tip or useful trick or, if appropriate, outline benefits of taking a trial, downloading a whitepaper or attending your webinar.

Always beware: leads don’t “just happen” passively using LinkedIn. You need to solve problems with a plan in mind. That said, using a question-and-answer technique takes much of the work out of the process. It can even be fun. What do you think about giving this a try?