Is Lead Nurturing Over-Rated?

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Lead nurturing is on every CEO and marketer’s ‘must do’ list. And for good reason as the objective of lead nurturing is pretty clear: Identify high potential, qualified leads that are not ready to purchase and build a trusted relationship by “enabling” their purchase journey.

Championed by a wide assortment of marketing technology vendors as best practice, companies frequently point to it as one of the key differences in their success. Yet the amount of resources focused on lead nurturing relative to the results the average company achieves is reason for pause. Are we over enamored with a marketing tactic? Is lead nurturing over-rated?

Lead nurturing can make a difference in revenue growth but like most things in life, it’s not that simple.

Nurturing is often misunderstood and misapplied. It becomes a ‘bucket’ for all sorts of contacts, leads sales disqualifies, returns to marketing, opportunities that don’t close, or that never really “score” high enough. Sales and marketing (and everyone else, for that matter) avidly believe these leads will eventually purchase if they are only marketed to differently. Yet, what constitutes “being marketed to differently” varies little from lead generation campaigns.

The result is that lead nurturing shifts from being a strategy to build persistent engagement to becoming the core of marketing strategies. A dangerous and costly miscalculation.

Where is the disconnect?

The heavy investment that many companies make in nurture campaigns does not motivate the lead to purchase faster; rather they likely have the opposite effect. A recent study on sales and marketing alignment by Peter Strohkorb found that successful companies (in terms of profit and growth) de-prioritize lead nurturing. They invest the bulk of their time and resources on customer retention and developing a steady pipeline of new leads.

The adage is “a customer will buy when they’re ready to buy”.

The key to nurturing is knowing with whom and when to invest that result in conversion. For many companies that step is hard.

In my client work, I’ve frequently found that lead nurturing campaigns ran counter to buyers’ journeys. In other words, campaign engagement, calls-to-actions, and content do not align with what buyers valued, sought and used to achieve their target outcome. Once nurturing was aligned with journey maps, three root causes became apparent:

  1. Campaigns were not attracting the right high value buyers (HVB)
  2. Marketing and Sales were not outcome focused, and
  3. Campaigns were not enabling buyers along their journeys.

The lack of deep “outside-in” understanding of customers, their journeys, and behavior contributes to the belief that every lead will buy if only they are nurtured correctly.

Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, a CRM vendor, believes that part of the problem is all the marketing technology. According to Augustin, “People need a system that integrates all customer information, regardless of where it sits, into a complete seamless view.” Companies need help in spotting the right leads to nurture and “a visual dashboard of workflow, task management, and project management that gets everyone on the same page, organized around the customer managing the whole customer lifecycle,’ shares Augustin.

Raghu Raghavan, CEO of Act-On Software, a marketing automation and email marketing vendor, believes that “Marketers lack clear metrics to help them understand how to guide buyers.” For Act-On the key to lead conversion lies in the “sequence of buyer behavior.” Based on big data analytics, Act-On sees itself as the “holder of engagement data” and operationalizes it in an easy to use timeline format.

Understanding customer behaviour is the decoder ring to successful nurturing. Lost in all the noise and hype is the criticality of deeply understanding the customer, through their own eyes.

Christopher Faust, Chief Marketing Officer of Qvidian, shares that “lead nurturing may be overrated but it depends on how you use it. That, and it depends on the actual lead, nurturing can target those, and offer the necessary value, to specifically help them get to their next step in the buyer journey.”

In short, to improve lead nurturing focus on interaction patterns:

1. Clearly define your high value buyers (HVB).

2. Document the buyers’ journey for key target markets.

3. Define scoring algorithms based on longitudinal buyer behaviours

4. Microsegment HVB based on where they are in their journey

5. Define relevant ‘in the moment’ nurture campaigns that enable HVBs to their ‘next’ journey step.

6. Hyper-personalize interactions to build trusted relationships that enable buyers to achieve desired outcomes.

Faust sums up the lead nurturing challenge well, “Marketing in general to me, and especially with nurturing, is just that – tease, not sell, and get buyer to next step forward. But personalization is the key component.”

5 COMMENTS

  1. Christine, great post as usual and I agree completely with your point that lead nurturing is often misunderstood and misapplied. But when practiced correctly, it is also a vital discipline that can dramatically lower a B2B company’s cost of customer acquisition and improve another half dozen key metrics. As you suggest, it is essential that the lead nurturing strategy/process align as closely as possible to the buyer’s journey (not the seller’s funnel).

    Chris Ryan

  2. It depends – in part on whether the prospect failed to buy last time around because there really wasn’t really an actionable need in the first place or the need existed and still exists – it just wasn’t a high enough priority to fix.

    You need to market differently to those two scenarios. Lead nurturing has a place, and works best when it is tightly segmented according to what you now about the prospect and their previous buying journey.

    If you think of it as a generalised undifferentiated tactic to be applied to all you’re probably wasting your time.

  3. As a result of our service, we output leads, pipeline, nurtures, no-response and not-qualified accounts. I use a formula I call RING to highlight the importance of each disposition. Revenue – Inbound – Nurture = THE GAP. Ignore nurturing and the gap becomes larger. Only about 25 out of 100 (25%) of prospects should qualify for nurturing. Each nurture candidate will require individualized attention (based on their situation or technical environment). Ignore nurturing at your peril. Approaching 12% of total revenue could come from effective nurture programs at a cost that is significantly lower than digging deeper into the gap.

  4. Much as I’ve seen the term ‘lead nurturing,’ I am still not clear about what it means.

    Techtopia defines it as “a marketing term for building relationships with potential clients even if they are not currently looking to buy a product or service.” That seems a fancy way of saying “stay in touch” – which I don’t think of as a bad idea. The concept is certainly not new, even if the term ‘lead nurturing’ is.

    I’m not sure about the ‘heavy investment’ part – it would be interesting to see some stats comparing investment to results. As a sales strategist, it doesn’t worry me a lot that staying in touch with prospects doesn’t needle them into buying faster; I’m more concerned with being remembered when they do decide to buy. So if ‘lead nurturing’ demonstrates efficacy there, then I’m pretty gung ho about investing. But as a practical matter, if you buy into the idea that lead nurturing is another way of saying ‘stay in touch,’ I don’t know how Marketing can segregate customer retention costs and pipeline development costs from ‘lead nurturing’ costs.

  5. We also see that lead nurturing is something that needs to be treated with great care. I like Andrew’s plain English interpretation of ‘stay in touch’ as that is exactly what is required, rather than ‘keep bugging me’.

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