Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why Lead Nurturing Needs a Human Touch

It's now clear that nurturing leads is critical for companies with long sales cycles. Several research studies from a couple of years ago revealed that only about 25% of new sales leads were ready to have a meaningful sales conversation. I suspect the percentage is even lower today. Several studies have also found that most of these prospects will eventually buy. Lead nurturing is the mechanism for maintaining a relationship with these "lukewarm" leads until they are ready to buy.

Until recently, most B2B companies relied on salespeople to handle lead nurturing. They expected their sales reps to manage prospects through the entire buying process. The problem is, this approach no longer works very well because today's buyers are self-educating, and they are avoiding interactions with salespeople until later in the buying process.

As a result of these changes in buyer behavior, many companies have shifted the responsibility for lead nurturing from salespeople to the marketing department. Many companies have also implemented B2B marketing automation/lead management technology solutions to automate the execution of lead nurturing programs.

I agree that marketing should have the primary responsibility for managing the lead nurturing process, and I recognize that B2B marketing automation technologies can enable highly sophisticated lead nurturing programs. However, I also believe that lead nurturing needs a human touch to achieve maximum results.

Marketing automation systems provide an impressive set of communication capabilities, but there is no real substitute for human-to-human communications. When you have a personal conversation with a prospect, you have the potential for a richer exchange of information. A personal conversation with a prospect provides three distinct advantages over automated lead nurturing communications.
  • It enables you to accurately assess how interested a prospect is in your product or service and where the prospect is in the buying process. This produces more accurate prospect qualification than automated lead scoring systems can deliver on their own.
  • It allows you to discover and then explore issues or topics that arise unexpectedly, and these unanticipated discussions can often provide insights that enable you to help the prospect move forward in the buying process in a more expedited fashion.
  • It enables the seller's representative to establish a personal "connection" with the potential buyer and begin the human-to-human relationship that will be needed to produce a sale.
So, how do you add a human touch to your lead nurturing programs? The simple answer is, you design it in. When you map out your lead nurturing program, include an appropriate number of outreach calls by a designated outside salesperson or inside sales rep/business development person. Many marketing automation software systems enable you to include "non-automated" activities in your lead nurturing programs, so including outreach calls is not usually a major issue.

Automated lead nurturing programs are powerful marketing tools, but the best lead nurturing programs also include person-to-person communications that enable you to leverage human insight and human judgment.

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