Cultivating Ripe Sales Leads: Lead Nurturing Strategies for Small Business Jessica Lunk Maybe you’ve over-watered a perfectly good tomato plant and watched it shrivel up and drown. Or maybe an overdose of fertilizer has burnt up your yard. Whether it’s water or plant food, too much of a good thing can be, well, bad. See, in nature (and in sales), there’s a fine line between nurturing and smothering. A little TLC can create a flourishing environment, while too much fuss can stifle growth. Not all of your sales leads are ripe enough to convert to customers right now – but someday, a lot of them will be ready to be harvested (according to Gleanster Research, that number is around 50%) Will your business be poised to reap the benefits? With a balanced lead nurturing strategy, you can. Lead nurturing engages contacts with relevant, personalized content over a period of time until they are ready to buy. By sending digestible nuggets of information that strike a chord with their needs, you’ll build credibility over time. But just like too much fertilizer will burn up a plant, dumping too much knowledge on your contacts can cause information overload, spurring potential leads to pull the plug on your relationship. The Old School Sales Process – A Lead Landfill In a lot of businesses, marketing acquires leads from sources like list rentals, pay-per-click campaigns, tradeshows and other sources, then tosses them right over the fence to sales. Sales picks out the choice leads to try to close. Though many leads will be well qualified to buy, a good portion of them might not be educated about the product or service, or the timing may not be right. Sales will be able to close some of these leads, but for the rest, it’s like scorching a delicate begonia in the sun – it’s too much of a pitch too soon in the buying journey. The leads that don’t close just become waste, and marketing starts from scratch to deliver a fresh batch of leads again. It’s an inefficient cycle that uses a lot of unnecessary energy: Leads that aren’t ready to buy get tossed Marketing is always starting from zero to generate the next batch of leads Sales experiences volatility as they churn up leads Modern Sales and Marketing – A Greener Approach In lead nurturing, marketing consistently cultivates new sales-ready leads, turning sales volatility into systematic, predictable revenue. Instead of tossing every lead over fence to sales, marketing acquires leads, then nurtures them with a series of touchpoints until the leads indicate that they are ready to make a purchase. There are lots of advantages to this evergreen approach: Forming Relationships: By connecting with leads over time, they get to know you. You earn their trust along the way and when it’s time to buy, your business is already on their short list. Optimizing the Sales Cycle: As you keep in touch with your contacts, you can educate them along the way. Instead of waiting for leads to discover their pain-points and search for your solution, you have the power to inform them, shortening the sales cycle. Reduces Waste: With lead nurturing, you aren’t burning up your lead list every month. Hot prospects are handed off to sales while marketing cultivates the next batch into sales ready leads. Encourages Growth: As you nurture contacts through email and social touchpoints, your list actually grows organically through peer-to-peer referrals and brand awareness. Lead Nurturing Strategies Leads need the right mix of attention and education to grow into hot prospects. Lead Scoring: The purpose of each touch point with a lead is to move them closer to the sale. As you email your contacts, make sure they can take an action to indicate their level of interest. Actions such as visiting a link, watching a video, or filling out a form impact lead score so that marketing can systematically determine when a lead is ripe to send to the sales team. Timing: How often you should connect with contacts depends on the length of your sales cycle and their level of interest in your brand. If your sales cycle is 6 months, it’s probably more appropriate to send an email every two weeks, rather than twice a week. Also, contacts who engage with your emails are telling you, “we want more!” and can be communicated to more often. Segmentation: Create unique nurturing campaigns that deliver content based on your leads’ unique interests to maximize your yield of sales-ready leads. Lead nurturing is all about showing your leads the proper care and attention they need to become ripe for sales.