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Guest Post – 4 Steps to Lead Nurturing: Walking the Buying Path with Your Customers

- May 19, 2009 - 3 Comments

imageThe following is a guest post from Brian Carroll. Brian is CEO of InTouch Inc. and author of the popular book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and the B2B Lead Generation Blog. Brian just spoke to our Cisco partner community on how to develop effective lead generation and nurturing campaigns. Read his post below for more insights and actions you can take today to build your nurturing programs.Get out your walking shoes. This ain’t no walk in the park. Lead generation can take you on a long hike. The one thing I can guarantee you about the journey is that more is not better if you don’t know how to nurture. I define lead nurturing as that consistent and meaningful communication with viable prospects (those that are “a fit” for your solution) regardless of their timing to buy. It’s NOT “following-up” every few months to find out if a prospect is “ready to buy yet.” True nurturing involves a sometimes long and circuitous path but along the way you you’ll be building long, meaningful and trust-filled relationships with the right people. A recent study of business-to-business buyers shows that sales people who become trusted advisors and understand the needs of economic buyers are 69% more likely to come away with a sale! So, the first step on that path to success is to start thinking like a customer.Step 1: Walk IN your potential customers’ shoes. Consider the questions that customers have in mind before they make a buying decision: • How will this product/service help my company? • We’re doing okay, why do we need it? • Is there another company out there that is better? • Will their solution really work? Can they prove it? • Is the company credible? • Can we afford it? Help prospects find the answers to these questions, and you’ll remind them of the benefits of working with you. You’re creating value by giving them useful information in digestible, bite sized chunks. Step 2: Plan your pathHere’s what a typical lead nurturing program should include: a series of letters, emails, voicemails, case studies, success stories, articles, events, white papers, and web events that are meaningful to your potential customers. Through the combination of all these, you’re providing relevant educational or thought-leading content. Worth noting:• The tactics employed and the frequency of touches will depend on the solutions being sold and the buying cycle of the prospect. • You need to create different lead nurturing tracks based on demographic criteria such as size, industry, role in the buying process and more.Step 3: Now, walk the path WITH your customer Your only job is to make certain that you nourish them along the way and guide them with a meaningful compass toward the right and best decision for their needs. Think of your marketing team as the trail guides who will need to point out all the sights along the way that are useful in the decision-making process. Slow down and walk at the customer’s pace, even if that means taking the long route with them when it comes to buying your service or product. If you hurry them along you might end up with an exhausted customer who doesn’t feel good about the journey and won’t turn to you to continue the path to purchase.“How you sell me is how you will serve me.”Most economic buyers subscribe to the notion that how you sell me indicates how you will serve me. Here’s where that little stat I started off with comes in. Sales people who become trusted advisors and understand the needs of economic buyers are 69% more likely to come away with a sale. The complex sale requires that:• Your prospect must be familiar with you and your company and with what you and your company do. • Your prospect must perceive you and your company to be expert in your field. • Your prospect must believe that you and your company understand his or her specific issues and can solve them. • Your prospect likes you and your company enough to want to work with you. • Trust therefore becomes the theme for a new type of marketing. Building trust:By providing valuable education and information to prospects up front, you become a trusted advisor. You are then perceived to be an expert. You don’t sell, you don’t make pitches. Instead, you provide insights and solutions all within the realm of your expertise, and become the first company they turn to when there’s a need. Make your marketing program’s single point of focus that of developing trust, and your business will become more profitable and less reliant on competing on price; selling per se is reduced in the interest of more open and honest conversations with prospects; you win more business on a sole-source basis, and more new business referrals come your way. Step 4: Keep marching Startling as it may seem, recent research (and even studies from ten years ago) shows that longer-term leads (future opportunities), often ignored by salespeople, represent almost 40% to 70% of potential sales.Sales lead expert, Mac McIntosh, notes an in-depth study for Cahners Business Information of 40,000 inquiries generated by ads and press releases in magazines serving the manufacturing marketplace found that six months after inquiring, 23% of the subjects had bought the product or service, from the promoter or from a competitor. An additional 67% indicated that they still intended to buy. It was further revealed that of those from earlier inquiries who bought, 11% purchased within three months of inquiring, 17% purchased within four to six months and 25% purchased within seven to 12 months. And 47% bought in a year or more. If inquiries are simply passed on to sales people, reps, dealers or distributors for follow-up, beware. You may be leaving as many as eight out of ten sales prospects on the sales path for your competitors. Now get your compasses out and begin the long yet fruitful walk toward an effective lead nurturing program. You’ll be surprised how many potential customers you will find who want to join you along the way.

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  1. Great post. I'm still processing it all. Curious as to your take on this particular question point: • Is there another company out there that is better? If the answer is yes, are you ready to point them to that other company? My take is yes, but I'm curious to know how that flies in a place like Cisco. Not that your products aren't often a great fit from my experience. They are. : )

  2. Thanks for the comment Chris and your very interesting question. This reminds me of the movie, Miracle on 34th Street"", where Santa Claus refers Macy's customers to other stores generating loads of good publicity and customer goodwill. The real question is would a strategy like that work for a complex technology sale? And what does ""better"" actually mean in that context?Cisco products and solutions are some of the best out there (and yes, I may be biased. I work at Cisco after all). Does that mean we can address every aspect of every target customers' network architecture needs. Probably not. There are some things we just don't do - think server virtualization, storage etc. In these cases we have strategic relationships with some of the best providers of these technologies. So, in some sense, we do a little of this today through bringing these third-parties into discussions with customers. Now if you're simply talking about a router to router comparison, that may be a different story. :)"

  3. Can we afford it?""Personally speaking I find that the return on investment is key to this question. A number of my Clients still seem hung up on cost and can't get their head around the return on the marketing investment."