In sales, you have a finite number of hours in a day. Most of those hours are spent on the immediate sales opportunities in your pipeline—those buyers who have a need they are looking address and a timeline to act. These buyers receive the majority of your time and attention, and rightfully so.
But what about the buyer you met at a conference or have had an initial sales call with that was "interesting" and "valuable" but goes nowhere? Or the buyer who downloads something from your website but is just "seeing what's out there?" What do you do with buyers who are a perfect fit for your company, but don't have an immediate need?
This is where lead nurturing comes into play.
Too often, sellers let these buyers slip through the cracks—they don't have time to nurture long-term relationships when they are busy trying to reach this month's quota.
Let me share a story with you.
We recently won a large engagement with a major global manufacturing company. When do you think the buyer first started interacting with us? 9 months ago? 1 year ago?
They first started interacting with us 5 years ago.
The buyer initially downloaded a white paper from our website in May of 2012. Over the years, they've had several conversations with us, visited our website hundreds of times, downloaded a dozen other white papers, read blog posts, received hundreds of emails, and joined the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research Panel.
It's been years of regular touches, and when their need arose 9 months ago, we were well-positioned to be among the few in the consideration set.
Had we not nurtured the buyer in this way, I'm confident we would not have been as well-positioned to 1) be considered for the business, and 2) ultimately win the sale.
What Lead Nurturing Looks Like
Lead nurturing needs to be a combined effort between marketing and sales. Marketing delivers the one-to-many, general communications like newsletters, blog posts, webinars, and other valuable content. It's up to sales, however, to initiate one-to-one communications. Buyers want to know they are special and that you are there for them, and they want content to be tailored to their specific needs. In our research on Top Performance in Sales Prospecting, 67% of buyers report "content 100% customized to our specific situation" strongly influences whether or not they accept a meeting or connect with a seller.
As a seller, you should, at a minimum, have quarterly and monthly outreach lists. These are not calls, emails, and LinkedIn notes to be sent to buyers in your immediate pipeline. These are calls and messages to buyers you are nurturing long-term. This list should include:
- Past prospects: Just because they didn't buy yet doesn't mean they won't buy in the future. Even if they chose a competitor, it's good to check in to see how the project is going. There may be opportunities to support the project, or to uncover new and other opportunities. Your contact may also switch jobs and move to another company where she's able to bring in you and your team.
- Clients: There's no better buyer than one who's already bought from you. Too often sellers think that if they've worked with someone in the past, buyers will know to come back to them in the future. One of the biggest untapped opportunities we see is growing existing accounts. Opportunities abound with your current and past clients, but it's up to you to find them.
- Key targets: These are buyers who fit the perfect profile for your company. Whether you met them at a conference, they've downloaded something from your website, you've had an initial conversation with them, or they're a part of your network, you need to have a long-term nurturing strategy to stay top-of-mind.
It's up to you foster and build relationships not just with buyers already in your pipeline, but with potential buyers too.
Always Provide Value
Every outreach you make should contain value for the buyer. Buyers don't want to hear about your new product features, how you've expanded into the APAC market, or how you have a new CEO. They don't care.
Buyers care about how you can help them reach their business goals. Use this filter for every communication you have with your prospects:
How is this going to help the buyer reach her specific business or personal goals?
To do this, you first need to know what those goals are. Only then can you tailor your conversations and the content you share with the buyer and provide the most value.
Here are a few ideas of what to share with buyers when reaching out:
- Primary or secondary research that relates to their business or role
- Best practices you've gleaned from working in their industry
- A new white paper from your company with highlighted sections you think they'd find of interest
- An invitation to an event your company is hosting
- A blog post that addresses the same challenges this buyer faces
The key is to make the content relevant to the buyer and to personalize it as much as possible. Remember, marketing is responsible for the one-to-many, general messages. You are responsible for taking those messages and making them relevant to individual buyers.
When to Let Prospects Go
Not all buyers are created equal. You need to choose where to invest your time and effort wisely. You are not going to nurture every buyer you have a conversation with. This is where targeting comes in. You need to know your ideal customer profile and adjust your nurturing plan based on the opportunity potential. If the company isn't a good fit, let them go. This allows you to give more attention to and provide greater customization for higher potential opportunities.
If you feel the prospect has gone cold and is not responding, always try one last reverse-direction outreach before giving up completely.
It took 5 years for our sale to come to fruition, but it's important to remember that not all sales will or should take this long. If you continue to work the pipeline with your active prospects and have a lead-nurturing process, you'll naturally build a steady flow of new leads over time. When the time of need arises for these buyers, you'll be well-positioned to not only be considered for the business, but also win it.