Playing the long game in lead generation

If you're a marketer feeling the relentless pressure to turn on the tap and deliver a continuous stream of leads, or a sales professional expecting marketing to serve ready-to-close leads on a silver platter, this article is for you.

The changing landscape of lead nurturing

How many times have you agreed to connect with someone you’ve not met before on Linkedin, only to have them immediately try to sell you something?

And have you ever had the experience of requesting a white paper or guide to something you’d like to know more about, only to receive an immediate phone call asking for a meeting?

It’s really bloody annoying.

It’s like walking into a shoe shop and being asked what we’re looking for. “I’m looking for shoes aren’t I, you idiot – this is a bloody shoe shop isn’t it?”

I might just want to browse, to see what they’ve got. I might see something I like and have a think about it. I might even wander to another shoe shop to see if they’ve got anything better, and then come back later.

But I’m not coming back if I feel pressured.

Today’s customers are savvy and resourceful. They spend time researching, comparing options, and seeking recommendations before they make a purchase.

No one wants a pushy salesperson.

We all need to move away from selling to nurturing. It’s no longer about delivering hot leads overnight. Instead, it’s about building relationships over time, strengthening brand salience, warming up our leads to the possibility of doing business and making it easier to sell when the time comes.

HubSpot offers a pretty good example

We’ve probably all heard of HubSpot, a successful developer of software and tools to support customer relationship management, social media marketing and a bunch of other stuff relating to marketing automation.

Clearly, they have many of the tools needed for lead nurturing at their disposal. It would be weird if they didn’t use their own creations to demonstrate their value. But it’s not the fact that they know how to use the tools that counts, it’s that they understand why they’re using them – leveraging content as a lead nurturing strategy to engage leads at different stages of the sales funnel, following something akin to the AIDA model:

Top of the funnel (Awareness)
HubSpot creates high-quality blog posts, social media content, videos, and more to attract a wide audience. Designed to be informative, interesting, and shareable, the content helps to increase brand visibility and draw people to the website. Topics are broad and relevant to their target audiences but not overtly promotional.

Middle of the funnel (Interest / Consideration)
Once on the site and engaging with the content, HubSpot offers visitors more in-depth materials, like eBooks, webinars, or guides, in exchange for contact information. This content is often gated behind a form – it’s a value exchange, where both parties get something valuable to them. For the visitor, it’s information. For HubSpot, it’s an email address – allowing them to continue the conversation more on their terms, and demonstrate the power of marketing automation – measuring engagement with the content, scoring behaviours and identifying purchase intention signals.

Bottom of the funnel (Decision / Action)
When a lead shows signs of being ready to make a purchase, HubSpot provides relevant content that encourages them to choose HubSpot over the other choices available. Content is personalised based on personas, behaviours and profile information, and can include case studies, product demos, free trials, and other promotions to encourage action.

The quality of the content is everything

So, automation offers the vehicle for effective lead nurturing. An automatic vehicle, if you like. But creative content is the fuel that makes it go.

Does that analogy work? Let’s go with it.

The higher quality the fuel, the better the vehicle will work. Remember the trick is to engage your prospect – if you’re going to engage them you’ve got to say something interesting, and you’ve got to make it accessible and appropriate. Whether it’s blog posts, white papers or video case studies, they need to be relevant at that specific point in the customer journey – providing value to prospects, answering their questions and addressing their concerns, building trust and moving them closer to the buying decision.

There are 3 big things you always need to remember when creating content.

  1. Make it interesting
    There’s just too much information out there for most of us to consume – if you don’t deliver something that makes your audience sit up and listen, then it’s just wallpaper.
  2. Quality not quantity
    Whatever you do, don’t opt for volume over value. You’re communicating with your leads in order to demonstrate and persuade them of the value of what you can do for them. Don’t bombard them and piss them off.
  3. Stay on brand
    Your brand has huge value. Your leads have been attracted by your brand, so stay on message. Ensure every piece of content, every communication remains true to your brand positioning and core narrative – don’t be afraid to repeat your message; it can take repeated exposure for it to really hit home. Remember, every piece of content is an opportunity to remind leads of your brand’s unique value proposition and why they should choose you over competitors.

A quick guide to nurturing leads with creative content

Ok, where to start? Here are some key steps towards harnessing the power of creative content for lead nurturing:

Step 1: Understand your audience
All marketing activity requires a thorough understanding of your target audiences. Personas are a really useful strategic tool – they need to be fully formed and well researched. Focus on their needs, challenges, and goals. Use surveys, interviews, or social listening tools. Talk to customer-facing staff. The richer your personas are the better – their value cannot be understated. We’ve got some tips on personas too.

Step 2: Map out the buyer’s journey
It’s really important to identify the different stages your leads go through on the road to making a purchase decision. Use a tool like Visio or Smartdraw to map it out – following the AIDA model or a derivative of it. This will help you to create appropriate content for your target audiences at each stage of the journey.

Step 3: Create a content strategy
Develop a content strategy based on your understanding of your audience and their journey. Consider what type of content will resonate best with your leads at each stage. Remember, you need to understand your audience before you can do this – you need to always keep in mind that we’re trying to move leads through the funnel. But you don’t always need to force them through – allow them to go at their own pace.

Step 4: Produce engaging content
Create high-quality, creative content that delivers value to your leads and addresses their pain points. Remember it’s quality that counts, not quantity. Have we made that point clear enough?

Step 5: Distribute content effectively
Sounds obvious, and it is. Use appropriate tools to distribute your content. It may be that you only need something simple like Mailchimp, or you may need to integrate with your CRM and website. But try not to be constrained by the tech – think about what your prospects need first, then use the appropriate tools to reach them.

Step 6: Monitor and refine
Continually track the performance of your content, use available analytics tools to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) like engagement rates and conversion rates – understand what’s gaining interest and make adjustments on a regular basis until you’re achieving your target KPIs – and then continue to monitor and refine as appropriate.

Step 7: Identify hot prospects
With the right CRM in place, you’ll be able to score your leads according to their behaviours. Email opened? Give them points. Clicked on a link? Score them higher. Over time, your leads will build a score – identify a score that indicates an appropriate level of interest and hand them off to a salesperson as a hot lead for follow up.

Remember warm sales calls are always easier than cold. The role of lead nurturing is simply to warm up prospects – but to do that you’ve got to give them what they need, when they need it.

Do it effectively and you can really identify when a prospect is most likely to be in the buying window. Combined with the skill of a sales team, lead nurturing has a powerful role to play in delivering more sales.

But it takes time.

Time to build personas and understand their journey and pain points. Time to create a strategy and build your programme using marketing automation tools. Time to produce high quality content that’s genuinely engaging. And it takes time to learn and refine your programme so it operates with maximum efficiency.

Plus, even when you’ve got it all working beautifully, it can take time for leads to work their way through the funnel. So, have patience, let them travel at a pace that suits them and be ready to have a conversation when it looks like they’re ready to talk.