When you think of famous battles, you think of the North vs. the South; West Side Story’s rival gangs of the Sharks vs. the Jets; East Side vs. West Side in rap; and sales vs. marketing, right? Wait, what was that last one again? Yes, most people do think that sales and marketing folks are always butting heads, but they’re wrong. Maybe in some companies, they do, but sales and marketing work best together. Seriously.

It makes sense because marketing works to generate potential leads to pass off to sales. But, those leads can’t just be found and passed off because those leads aren’t ready yet for sales. In fact, 50% of your leads are qualified but just not ready. They are top of funnel leads that need to move along the sales cycle until they reach the point where they are indeed ready to pass along to sales. Doing so before that point would be like creating Civil War 2: Sales vs. Marketing – and no one wants that.

So, how can marketing help to move those potential leads along the sales cycle to get them ready for sales? Welcome to lead nurturing.

Can’t Touch This

It’s pretty well-known in the marketing industry that it takes 7 to 8 touches to motivate a person to take action and become a qualified sales lead. Some even say it can take 7 to 13+ touches. What does that mean? A “touch” is a way that your company interacts with a potential lead be it through a call or an email. Now, please do not read this and decide that means you need to call each potential lead 7 to 8 times in order to get them to make a purchase. That’s not what that means. It also doesn’t mean that you should send 7 to 8 emails to a potential lead in one day or even in one week. Again, don’t. If you did either of these, you’re going to annoy that potential lead to no end and he/she is going to run screaming straight into the open arms of your competitor.

A Non-Vicious Cycle

What you want to do is to “nurture” each potential lead, which means that you will slowly guide them along each stage of the buying cycle — from the very top of the funnel (which looks like an upside down triangle) at the “Awareness” stage onto each stage down from there: “Research”; “Preference” “Evaluation”, and then “Purchase”, which is the desired end result.

While moving through the stages of the buying cycle, the potential leads are also moving along the following stages of qualifications:

  • Inquiry. Someone who expressed a vague interest by filling out a form on your site or visiting your booth at a tradeshow.
  • Suspect. This person has downloaded two or three resources from your site and interacts with your emails.
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). Marketing considers this person to be a qualified lead to be passed along to Sales, based on the number of actions they’ve taken/resources they have downloaded.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). This person has been received by Sales from Marketing and has been deemed someone that Sales finds worthy (not to bring up “We’re not worthy!” memories from Wayne’s World) to contact.
  • Sales Accepted Lead (SAL). Sales sometimes passes over this step in a rush to get to the purchasing stage, and they shouldn’t. Vetting someone as an SAL means that someone on the Sales team thinks this person is a strong lead AND that there is an action plan and timeframe in place to make contact with that SAL.
  • Customer. Success!! This potential lead has made a purchase and is now a customer. Congratulations.

Terms like “SQL” and “SAL” are quite enterprise-y, and for a small business, you might have a simplified version of the stages of the buying cycle that you hopefully already have set up in your customer relationship management (CRM) system.  It could look something like this:

  • Lead
  • Prospect
  • Opportunity
  • Customer

Express Yourself

To get a potential lead from “Awareness” to “Purchase” or “Inquiry” to “Customer”, you need to have a lead nurturing plan/drip campaign in place, which consists of at least 7 to 8 emails. Consider the plan for these emails carefully as you want each one to flow into the next and you definitely don’t want to send out a case study as your first email as that’s best much further down the sales cycle.

As an example, consider the following email flow for a lead nurturing campaign:

  1. Awareness Cycle: Go light here with a Checklist or an Infographic that focuses on a problem your customer may be facing and how to solve it.
  2. Awareness Cycle: An informative and short Video that focuses on trends in the industry.
  3. Research Solutions: A Research Report that focuses on trends in the industry and/or problem solving.
  4. Research Solutions: A Whitepaper that discusses an issue or problem, but does not talk on and on about your product.
  5. Preference: Since potential leads at this stage are creating short lists of options, a Research Report about the solutions on the market (for instance, a favorable comparison on a third party site, like G2Crowd’s marketing automation grid) is great here.
  6. Evaluation: Here is where you can send that Case Study about how your product has served to help others.
  7. Evaluation: Have a Demo of your product? Send a link to it or offer an in-person demo here.
  8. Purchase: If you hit this stage correctly, sending an Email featuring a discount coupon will pay off.

To make the drip campaign/lead nurturing plan as smooth as possible, set up the drip calendar in your Marketing Automation system. The average length of your sales process may impact the spacing of your nurturing campaign. For instance, if you’re sales cycle is typcially 30 days, you can send emails closer together. But, if your sales cycle is 12 months, you’ll want to space out communication so your prospects don’t get burnt out on hearing from you. Here’s an example:

  • Email 1: Goes out
  • Email 2: Sent two days after Email 1
  • Email 3: Sent nine to ten days after Email 2
  • Email 4: Sent two days after Email 3
  • Email 5: Sent three days after Email 4
  • Email 6: Sent eight days after Email 5
  • Email 7: Sent two days after Email 6
  • Email 8: Sent three days after Email 7

NOTE: Talk to your Sales team before setting up the nurture calendar to ensure that this timeframe works for them and doesn’t interfere with any of their own email patterns.

Go forth and nurture those potential leads to create more and more purchasing customers!