While it can be easy to get prospects through the door and into the top of your conversion funnel, how do you turn those prospects into conversations that lead to sales? Nurturing leads is key.
As Chief Marketer points out, it's important to have an integrated sales funnel and ensure that sales and marketing teams are aligned and coordinated: "Connecting CRM [customer relationship management], marketing automation and customer support is the only way that businesses can hope to fully maximize the value from each."
The pathway to a sale
Getting a prospect's attention is just the first step down a pathway that, with care and a bit of luck, will lead to a sale. That journey has been described as a "sales funnel," a process narrowing from attention and interest to desire and action — AIDA, for short.
At Badger Maps, a company that provides automated sales-route planning, a variation of this acronym drives lead-nurturing activities, says Tim Jernigan, head of product marketing: Awareness, education, evaluation and retention. The top of the conversion funnel, says Jernigan, should focus on prospects' greatest problems and then drive them to educational resources that position your company as an expert. "This gives you an advantage when your prospect reaches the next stage of the decision-making process, evaluating the right solution to buy."
The final step, retention, requires top-notch customer service, he says. "If you're missing any of those elements, you might notice leaks in your funnel."
Not all leads are created equal
Every prospect that comes your way is not equally likely to lead to a sale. For communicators, that means taking steps to evaluate or "score" leads, says David Balzen, an independent consultant based in the Houston area. You have to separate qualified leads from unqualified ones.
"It's a good idea to collaborate with your colleagues in the sales department to align with their lead-qualification definitions," he says. "Lead conversion of landing page form-fills, email marketing replies, content download forms, etc. can be best directed by the following scoring system," according to Balzen:
- Marketing qualified lead — or MQL — 1: Prospect requested a meeting or contact by phone
- MQL2: Prospect asked a question concerning the company, product/solution or price
- MQL3: Prospect referred a "right party contact" within their organization and provided their contact information
- MQL4: Prospect requested a long-term follow-up
Similar scoring definitions can be applied to automation qualified leads (AQLs) and teleprospecting qualified leads (TQLs). Since leads can quickly go cold, time is of the essence. At levels 1 and 2, says Balzen, response time must be immediate — every hour counts!
Some leads may go through a sales process, while others may go through a marketing process. Some, of course, may go through both. For example, a prospect could request information on a website and contact the company through a sales call. Consequently, coordination to ensure consistency and seamless handoffs is critical.
The role of automation
The process of nurturing leads can be automated within a CRM system, says Balzen, and might look like this:
- Touch 1: Email message follow-up containing product/solution highlights
- Touch 2: Downloadable content delivered via email
- Touch 3: Outbound call
- Touch 4: Prospecting-style email message
Balzen recommends repeating this cadence in four-to-eight-week cycles, with each touch one to two weeks apart. Again, automation ensures that follow-up steps take place. In addition, automated processes can help track and report on outcomes, providing communication, marketing and sales staff with insights into what works best for nursing leads — and what doesn't — at every step in the process. Automated systems also allow you to set filters that will send automated emails with customized messages based on user actions (or inaction).
Nurturing leads strategically is the key to an effective — and cost-effective — conversion process.