To be “great” in business, to “thrive” in the marketplace, you don’t need to be a great closer.
You don’t even need to be a “people person”. You don’t need sales “tactics” or “training”.Okay, these are nice additions and enhancements to have, most definitely, and they can take your business to the next revenue level.“10x it”, as the cool kids say.But, to succeed in business, you only need a belief in and a thorough understanding of one very simple thing: in 2018, you must recognize this —
We are all, in some way or the other, all day long, 365 days a year, selling others on our plans and ideas.
That’s it. That’s all you need.
It’s a principle that’s at the core of every single thing this guide to lead nurturing in the B2B market is going to challenge you to remember. We’ll break down B2B funnels, we’ll talk about marketing automation, we’ll uncover the stats and we’ll look at examples.
But, as you read this, we challenge you to not allow these nifty morsels to obscure this one simple fact.
Selling is at the core of every human interaction. If you try to convince, persuade, coax, cajole, editorialize, or even explain an opinion, you are, in essence, trying to get someone to see things from your perspective.
Why? Because the moment they “come to your camp”, so to speak, you’ll have more of what you’re looking for: more money, more support, more love, more recognition, more attention, the power of the majority. They’ll do the thing you asked. They’ll buy the thing you’re selling.
No matter your goal — whether you’re requesting your wife to pick up the kids today, or trying to convince a VC to fund your round A, we sell every single day of our lives.
In 2018, however, lead generation and nurturing has become a fine science, a replicable and easy process that takes the “idea” of selling and puts it into real practices for real success.
What kinds of leads exist in the B2B sphere?
Generally speaking, the customer’s journey is pretty much the same in B2B and B2C organizations. Users, timelines, goals and triggers can change but the larger ideas remain intact. Think of a massive, cone-shaped funnel with the largest “rung” at the top and the smallest at the bottom – and you’ll be able to visualize the journey through the funnel.
Leads are the “things” being moved through this funnel, through greater levels of, if not sophistication, then at least increasing levels of likelihood to purchase.
The word “leads” has an invisible precursor: usually, this means qualified leads, those who have self-selected themselves as being interested in the product or service you’re selling, and they actually want to learn more.
In person, this could be someone approaching you to ask a question at a tradeshow.
Online, this could be someone filling out a form to receive a whitepaper opt-in in trade for their email.
“Proactive” is the key here. In other words, they need to make the first move. Only then are they a qualified lead.
Now, B2B marketers love their acronyms so here the next steps to qualified leads :
MQL – Marketing Qualified Leads
Resting nearly at the top, these are prospects, aka “marketing qualified leads” that are in your lead-tracking system through a series of landing pages or pre-populated forms.
They’ve hit your website and they’re your traffic now sitting like a big crop of potentials to examine and harvest.
They’ve essentially expressed interest and curiosity about your product and you could’ve gained them through any number of offers and channels including webinars, banner ads, email marketing, trade shows and the like.
So how do you know if a “lead” is a MQL? That really depends on the parameters your marketing department has set about your ideal buyer persona, or the actions they have to take to indicate this.
SQLs – Sales Qualified Leads
Sometimes also known as SQOs (i.e. Sales Qualified Opportunity), sales qualified leads are two steps removed from MQLs (there’s a middle bridge we’re going to focus on next) but here’s where the “cone” starts to get more narrow and, hence, more exclusive.
The leads get juicier. They’re more likely to buy. They’re getting closer to becoming a real opportunity.
Can you even stand the anticipation? Any true salesperson worth his or her salt knows that the process of nurturing a lead is the key to move from one “rung” of this ladder to the next.
SQLs have been marked as MQLs. They’ve been “nurtured” and followed up with. This is the point at which the account executive in the sales department, not the marketing arm, will begin to make contact.
This should go without saying: do no dilute your standards for an SQL. An SQL has had multiple interactions with the brand. They’ve been educated, acted on micro-offers and commitments.
SAL – Sales Accepted Lead
Before qualified leads can move from being MQLs to being “sales qualified”, they must be shaken, not stirred, through SAL.
Think of this like the glue, the bridge, the ultimate combinator. It’s the plating process chefs should go through before presenting their dish to the diner. Okay, you get it.
SAL is the stage where, technically speaking, you’re assigning numerical values or scores to leads and handing it off. But it’s also where sales and marketing speak the language of success to each other. Not sweet nothings.
This is the point where marketers will advise the “rules” for follow-up actions by sales while agreeing to be flexible enough to adjust these where the data warrants it.
On the surface, this seems to be the one part that’s “simple” enough so that your marketing automation can simply “set it and forget it”. But it’s tricky because so much can go wrong: set it and forget depends on you! Marketing and sales must work together at this point to define what constitutes a win.
BANT is a widely-accepted way to measure at the SAL stage. Budget, authority, need and timeframe are what make up “BANT” (told you, marketers love their acronyms) and these are points of evaluation when marketing and sales are asking themselves if they should be exploring a need.
In other words: “How much effort, time, attention (read: money) should be allocated to this lead?”
Marketing opportunities are leads that have been sales-accepted and are likely to be “closing” in the near-term (i.e. a purchase).
To be an opportunity, leads are usually aware of the timeline to purchase, is aware of the solution and its features/benefits, has an identified and explicit budget, has agreed to do what’s necessary to “close” on their end, and there’s usually also urgency built into this.
Here’s some key food for thought:
- All forms of leads require a tight partnership between sales and marketing.
- Clearly, there are a number of definitions — of buyer personas, triggers, user stories, goals and what qualifies each lead — that depend on the marketing department; plan to spend time setting these benchmarks but be light-footed enough to tweak based on the data coming in.
- Each company must develop their own formula to differentiating between each stage
- Lead scoring is a non-negotiable (and something your chosen marketing automation platform should be offering).
- You should be scoring based on a number of criteria, including demographics, site interactions, conversion count, source, etc. Scoring can occur before and MQL (within SAL).
Was that a considerable amount to chew on? Don’t worry: it’s all easily digestible.
And how does the customer journey map to lead qualification?
As the B2B marketing funnel we’ve looked at above progresses downwards, the customer journey starts and closes.
Unlike Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the customer or buyer’s journey has three distinct stages.
Of course, when you’re a salesperson, slaying dragons feels the same as closing a sale. So, why does the hero’s journey get 12 stages and we only get three?
Well, precisely because the buyer’s journey can (and must) be mapped to a marketing funnel, the stages, like the progression of qualified leads, are shorter and more encompassing.
Ever seen a baby chick’s eyes opening for the first time? It’s a magical thing.
Watching your potential buyers become suddenly aware of their pain (and perhaps that there’s hope!) at the end of the stage is something like watching that awakening.
Welcome to the awareness stage, the point at which there’s a progression, from the start of the stage to the end of the stage, of a level of awareness. At the beginning, the buyer is not only unaware of the brand, they’re also unaware of the issue.
Soon, as they are increasingly aware of a “pain”, they’ll start to look for knowledge and could even progress to solutions. If you capture them at this point in simply recognizing they have an issue, you’ll be able to generate your first “AHA!” moment.
There’s little to absolutely no mention of the brand at this point, if they happen to stumble upon on your content. Focus on delivering education on their problem. They’ll take on research proactively and this is where your solution could pop up as the potential answer.
So what do you do at this stage? Just twiddle your thumbs? Not quite. The process is much more implicit at this point. As it turns out, moving down the B2B funnel or ladder calls for a decreasing amount of explicit selling, so as not to turn off your prospect.
According to a 2016 report by DemandGen, “90% of business buyers say when they’re to buy, they’ll find you”.
No one likes “salesguy” unless they’re actually look to be sold.
So sit tight and do your thing: populate your website and social channels with educational resources, customer reviews, testimonials, and shiny, valuable opt-ins they wouldn’t mind trading in their emails for a look at.
You’re grooming them with tons of upfront value and that’s going to win you their trust and loyalty at the end of this stage.
Make sure that your content is SEO friendly and optimized for Google because – yes – 72% of your customers are doing a Google search first and foremost.
Then, there’s consideration, where there’s a finding and then winnowing of solution. There’s a lot of back and forth research the buyer is doing. For example, they’re on your mailing list and so they’re a qualified lead.
Towards the end of the stage, they’ve transformed, thanks to your lead scoring and MQL nurturing, from a MQL to a certified lead ready for the SQL process to takeover.
You’re still in the running and they may be courting “offers” from other brands/companies. A decision hasn’t been made yet, however, and they’re responsive to your nurturing.
On a psychological level, your marketing messages, brand voice and graphics are all doing performing their worth: your qualified leads are beginning to self-identify.
They’re drawing closer to making a decision and, on your end, your sales reps are doing their own form of winnowing: messaging is getting more and more tailored in email and drip sequences, using segmentation and tagging.
In terms of content, the language shifts ever so slightly to focusing on the brand, the product, the service and the distinct features and benefits offered. Focus on justifying their purchase through stats and metrics, ROIs or pricing.
The “final” stage is decision. Often times, towards the end of the previous stage, your lead will still need to consult with and get the approval of upper management. They could believe you’re “The One” but until they have this green-light, they haven’t yet moved from SQL to an solid opportunity. They aren’t yet ready to make the decision.
But, at this stage, when they are ready, here’s what it’ll look like: Buyers at the decision stage are thinking about preparation and what they need to do on their end to get ready for the purchase.
Assume that they’re in the process of doing exactly this but don’t assume the sale is closed.
What are you focused on in this stage? You should be getting explicitly brand-specific with equally deliberate offers.
Keep content marketing efforts in alignment by being brand-specific and simply evangelize the heck out of the product, service or solution.
And nothing speaks louder than case studies at this point. Not quite testimonials, not quite blog posts, case studies offer the best chance to offer value while still being very brand-specific.
Your email marketing efforts should focus on a drip campaign to take the user to paid.
Lead Nurturing to Build a Relationship
To move from MQL to SAL and even SQL, there’s a process that occurs, over time, called “MQL nurturing”. Even if, after lead scoring, a qualified lead is not yet ready to move from MQL to SAL, they exit “out” of the lead generation funnel to undergo a little more “nurturing for MQL”.
Which is essentially following up with a lead, through various techniques, and “nurturing” the relationship they’re starting to form with the brand.
If, after this point, they’re non-responsive, the lead is purged. But, more often than not, companies that excel at nurturing a lead generate 50% more sales, says a study by Forrester.
Demonstrating expertise, positioning your brand as the solution, educating about your buyers about features and benefits, touching base with the “customer” and asking them if there’s anything you can do, having them recognize your messaging and associating your solution’s “messaging” with what they’re looking for — these are the goals at this stage.
You’re looking for ways to allow them to make that psychological jump from “seeing you as just a friend” to, possibly, seeing you as “The One”, remember?
Techniques of “follow up” can include highly targeted content, segmentation and tagging through email marketing, setting up sales funnels based on a campaign meant to return them to your app or your solution on a trial basis, omni-channel nurturing, multiple outreaches, and personalization.
This form of personalized care and speaking to your customer as though you know them backwards and forwards relies on how well you know them.
But how well you know them depends on how much outreach you’ve done, whether you’ve taken the time to actually converse with them, ask them about their priorities and whether you’ve been able to take these and get to the heart of what’s really going on. At this stage, nurturing a lead can make all the difference in your company’s bottom line. It’s a make-or-break moment.
Don’t believe it? Consider this: There’s a 20% increase in sales opportunities when leads are nurtured, according to a report by Forrester.
MarketingSherpa echoes this and follows it up with yet another data-backed truth: only 36% percent of marketers actively nurture sales leads.
What’s the takeaway from this for you? Simple: they’re leave a lot of opportunity (read: money, repeat business, relationships, etc.) on the table.
And you’re free to swoop in and capitalize off their loss.
Out of the bevy of tactics and strategies that get irresponsibly lumped under “follow-up”, there are a few high-impact methods of nurturing your lead that you absolutely must have in place.
This is what super successful marketers do differently (and consistently), in case you were wondering. They don’t waste time reinventing the wheel.
- Producing highly targeted content: this includes delivery methods (who, when, what) as well as the content that will resonate
- Omni-channel nurturing: considering that four out of five marketers say that their email rates have been hovering at 20%, they don’t leave anything to chance. They know the power of email and run a solid nurture sequence campaign – but they also at the same time use the power of marketing automation to repopulate, distribute and create content for social media platforms, web content, ads, opt-ins, webinars, and sales outreach.
- Multiple follow-ups: there’s nothing that can replace the power of good ol’ F2F – “Face to Face” – interaction. This can be in the form of a call, direct mail, a highly personalized social media or email message. It used to be 7 but now it’s 10 – that’s the number of touchpoints a buyer will need to have with your brand before they make even one commitment (whether paid or shared/free)
- Immediate follow-up: look, you’re waiting for them to approach you with their needs, right? That’s the consideration stage. But, when they do, you’re well within your rights and, indeed, your function, to respond to their questions. By the way, in case you needed more incentive, a lead is 21 times more likely to move through to the next stage of nurturing when you contact them in the first five minutes of an interaction or trigger than 30 minutes
Besides these content-specific and sales-specific techniques, there are more overarching practices that need to be put into place.
This is where the function of a marketing automation tool comes into play. Done right, marketing automation tools become the “catch-all”, your one-true-tool, a dashboard for the complex pipeline you’ve already built.
A note on limits, however: automation software can only execute for you. You’ve still got to do the high-level strategy and thinking.
So this means that there’s simply no substitute for lead scoring, sales and marketing alignment and hiring effective, expert copywriters and email marketers to write and run highly personalized email marketing campaigns for you.
The One Tool to Rule them All
If you haven’t noticed a trend already, smart marketer, here it is in black and white, with a neat little stat that you’ll love:
89% of companies that align sales and marketing nurturing of leads effectively see a measurable increase in sales opportunities. And much of this alignment has to do with marketing automation. It’s the “how” in, “Yes, but how do we do this?
Marketing automation software brings sales and marketing on the same page and, thankfully, gets them to speak the same language, dance in tandem.
Through creating a strategy to nurture leads, both teams will have to think about (and then put into place) their own parts of lead scoring triggers, what constitutes conversion events, and when the precise moment is to move a qualified lead from automation to one-on-one sales interactions.
Think about it like this: out of the 100s of qualified leads (whose quantity obviously dwindles as you go down the lead gen funnel), you want to love every single one of your leads.
In 2018, super successful marketers rely on marketing automation to act like they’re in 5 places at once, with deep knowledge about every single one of those leads.
The benefits to your company’s overall image are manifold. Using marketing automation, companies act:
- More responsively: they respond faster which converts faster. How easy is that?
- With professionalism: responding to, following up with and addressing a buyer’s questions or concerns leads to a positive interaction which often leads to referrals. Cha-ching!
- In alignment with what they’re learning: marketing automation is like “AI” for humans — you’re able to gain deep insight and feedback about your buyer that gets increasingly detailed, the more interactions they make. And, in a happy loop, this leads to more targeted content and personalized campaigns
- More efficiently: “Cutting the gravy train”, they call it. When you consider that lead gen with marketing automation generates 50% more sales at a 33% lower cost, you’re not only ensuring that these costs trickle down to a more efficient ROI for your customer, you’re also ensuring that your bottom line increase without a simultaneous (and unnecessary) bloat in costs. That’s win-win-win-win, n’est-ce pas?
Data for (Fine) Details and (Better) Decisions
Have you noticed something very pointed about sales and marketing initiatives and functions in 2018?
We’re so much more effective at what we do when we’re not just groping blindly, in the dark.
In other words, data is the supportive spine that undergirds all our positive momentum, our purpose-drive actions and our “what next?”s. Without it, we would truly be lost. And this is why our decision-making power is becoming increasingly responsive, specific, and so effective: we’re able to pinpoint, with increasing accuracy, the patterns to human behaviour.
We then set smarter baselines. We can create more adaptive and iterative “tangents” or “if-this-then-that” situations to bring an increasing number of “lost” leads back into the funnel.
Ironically, it’s the data of marketing automation that is making our human interactions with our buyers more human, more knowledgeable and more personalized than ever before.