To shorten time to revenues, B2B marketers employ nurturing programs through leading CRM software tools that meet the needs of buyers from status quo through purchase decisions. Creating nurturing programs that purposefully impact buying outcomes is achievable with the incorporation of these ten elements:
I know this sounds like a "duh" way to start, but many nurturing programs are designed based on the company's goals, not their buyers' needs. You can tell this because the content and messaging is all about their product offerings. When your prospects are considering change, they've got a lot of questions. Unless they're late in their buying process, those questions are not about the product.
Your buyers' questions are about clarifying ideas, gaining the knowledge that makes them confident in their choice to move forward and making sure their risk exposure will be minimal. Put your buyers at the center of your nurturing program and design it to be helpful by sharing valuable ideas that establish your company as one who "gets" them and is the expert they need to successfully resolve the issue they're confronting.
If you know your buyers well, you can design your content touch points to work hand in glove with the steps they take during the buying process. Think about one problem-to-solution scenario and determine what your buyers need to know to choose to take action. What questions are they asking? Solving problems usually follows a series of (often internalized) questions and answers.
The first question may be, why should I change? When presented with an answer usually another question will pop up. And so on as they work their way through solving the issue at hand. This is similar to your childhood days when you'd ask Dad a question, he'd give you an answer and you'd respond "Why?" after each one. Think progressively and design your content to match.
Nurturing programs must be designed to motivate response. If your prospects only engage with the email you send each month, your opportunity to move them forward in their decision to buy from you is limited. A complex purchase is not an impulse buy. Just keeping your name in front of them is not the purpose of a nurturing program. A nurturing program should be an active contributor, helping to guide the problem-to-solution process.
Plan your programs to motivate prospects to interact with your company. Maybe they read an article and you follow up with an invitation to view a video on the same topic. They watch that and see there's also a webinar that extends the topic and sign up. They attend the webinar and ask a question. Not only do you answer it during the event, but you follow-up with more information afterward to add even more value just for them. Each of these interactions is part of the prospect dialogue imperative to building a trusted relationship that develops into a customer.
- Pass Along
Complex purchases are not chosen by a single buyer. Even if that person is the only one you ever meet, there are a number of people behind the scenes influencing the decision. When you plan your nurturing programs you must take into account the people who must be persuaded that your company and solution are the best choice. Each of them will have a different interest in the project. They'll have differing concerns and expect specific results.
Your content must be designed to answer not just the needs of the decision makers, but to be helpful enough to be passed along to influencers. Even better, design content specifically for influencers and make it available for the decision maker to pass along. B2B marketers must expand the reach of their nurturing programs to as many members of the buying committee as possible.
Complex purchase decisions are not made in a vacuum. No matter how much great online content you develop, humans must still be involved. From a nurturing perspective this means your conversations should be consistent with the storyline your content is rolling out. It's also important to consider the ways in which conversations evolve today.
A conversation can be engaged in on the phone, through Twitter, via email, in a web conference, and via live chat. The modes of conversation are changing, but the key is that there are humans on both ends. Conversations are not automated, they are real-time (or close) exchanges of relevant information with active participation from all involved. Planning for conversations as a step in designing nurturing programs ensures consistency of experience for your prospects.
Nurturing programs set expectations, make promises and leave impressions. If your content and storyline are fragmented, or your timing erratic, your programs will lack the consistency to create the extended levels of engagement. Nurturing programs are only successful when they get buyers to stick with you throughout their buying process.
That's why the strategic plan is so important. You've got to build higher levels of participation over time to get prospects to take next steps with you. Likewise, if the conversations you start diverge from what your prospects expect based on past experiences, you create confusion and doubt about your company's expertise and ability to add the critical value that will deliver a successful outcome.
The point of creating nurturing programs is to drive revenue. Staying in touch is nice, but if your nurturing programs are not designed progressively, then your buyers may not take the next steps to move forward in consideration. By focusing your nurturing programs on buyers, the storylines that engage them and the dialogues and conversations that build trust in your expertise, you can help your prospects eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of their purchase decision.
This takes planning. It doesn't just happen because you send out an email once a month. You must continuously guide your prospects to take the next step while building their confidence to do so with your company. Simplify their effort to engage with you, tell them why and show them how and your prospects will move forward. Pipeline strength is driven by prospect momentum.
The buying process is dependent upon transitions. One of the most important ones is the hand off from marketing to sales. Your buyers could care less if they're engaging with marketing or sales, what they care about is the fluidity of the process and the value of the interaction. Marketers who provide their sales teams with the information they need to step seamlessly into the conversation at the hand off will see deals continue to move forward. Those who don't are likely to see stalls when sales comes in blind and starts over like it's the initial introduction.
It's kind of like the amnesia experience. The buyer thought they knew your company and had established a relationship, but the salesperson acts like they've never met them before. This type of experience can damage the confidence of the buyer who found value from your company up to this point. It's like a hard stop. Considering that research by Sirius Decisions finds that up to 96% of a company's marketing-qualified leads fail to make it to closure, ensuring your transition process is fluid could produce a dramatic impact.
Creating nurturing programs that accelerate buying is nearly impossible to do without technology. Since so much of buying is now controlled by your buyers, and happens online, you've got to have the tools that expand your visibility into your prospects' behavior in response to your content and communications. You've also got to know when they take matters into their own hands and search out more of your content on their own.
Without marketing automation, CRM systems and feedback loops there's no way to gauge or measure progress reliably. Nurturing is a holistic process. It requires continual refinements as you learn more about what's working and what's not and shift your marketing assets accordingly. Following a prospect end-to-end throughout the buying process isn't likely without technology. Learning what salespeople are doing to close deals—or why they're losing out—doesn't happen without feedback loops and prioritizing which prospects are followed up with based on propensity to buy isn't as likely without CRM. Technology is the enabler for nurturing programs that drive sales.
In order to facilitate continuous improvement, we must measure the outcomes of nurturing programs. This requires that we look farther than opens and clicks in emails. Marketers need to look at the interactions they drive with outbound messaging as well as the inbound interactions prospects take of their own volition. We've got to get smarter about what factors actually indicate sales readiness and we've got to learn to measure both long-term and short-term achievements that lead to revenue.
Engagement needs to be thought about as how much time and activity a prospect is willing to devote to your company over the course of their buying process. By designing nurturing programs across problem-to-solution scenarios, you'll begin to see patterns of activity develop that help you create more momentum in your pipelines. As this happens, marketers can establish benchmarks and performance improvements that continue to shorten buying cycles because nurturing programs are finely tuned to meet the needs of buyers—every step of the way.
These ten elements for successful nurturing programs are covered extensively in my book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. Suffice it to say that nurturing programs have a lot of moving parts. By integrating them strategically, B2B marketers can play a critical—and quantifiable—role in the production of revenues for their companies.