At least half of the leads that actually come to your company are not remotely interested, or ready to buy. They’re just beginning to explore their options. In fact, a large percentage of buyers won’t be ready to commit for months after they contact you for the first time. It’s been said that more than a quarter of people won’t be interested in making a decision for over a year.
Many people that contact my company aren’t ready to commit, and it usually takes us a year or more to close a sale. There have been times when it’s taken two or three years, or more, to close a sale.
Determining why this happens exactly is hard. It could be a million different things. The decision-maker could hate commitment. They might just be busy and unable to do the necessary work to make the decision. They might have to rally a large team of stakeholders and get alignment to commit to a decision. They might just know that they need something, but not even know exactly what it is.
Nurturing your Customers
So for this reason, we’re going to be talking about the concept of nurturing today. It would be really nice if every customer that contacted you was ready to commit after having one conversation. But this is a fantasy of galactic proportions. (Yes, I’m a Star Wars fan.)
What normally happens is that customers are just exploring and moving through the long process of making, and finalizing a decision. As I mentioned, many times the customer isn’t even sure what they want, let alone knowing who they want to work with and trust. They’re on a journey of discovery that we call The Buyer’s Journey.
The Buyer’s Journey
The Buyer’s Journey has three stages: Awareness, Consideration and Decision. Some like to include “The Unaware Stage”—the stage in which the customer doesn’t know that they need what you offer, and they certainly don’t know about you as a brand.
In the awareness stage, the buyer will realize that they have a problem or a need.
Then they move onto the consideration stage. This is where they begin to understand their problem and work to find solutions and options.
Finally, they arrive at the point that we all wish they could start, the decision stage. This is where they work to evaluate providers to administer the solution, and they ultimately make a decision to commit and buy. As much as we’d love it to happen, nobody starts at the end.
For these reasons, marketers and salespeople have to continually engage and have processes to nurture clients and customers through the stages of The Buyer’s Journey. The best way to do this is by having marketing and sales work closely together, but, it’s actually rare that teams work together in this way. But this is a great way to effectively nurture your potential clients.
To expect customers to find their way through all the stages by themselves is akin to going on a long car trip without the help of a map or GPS. The likely result is that you’re gonna get lost! When you neglect to properly nurture your potential customers through the buyer’s journey, and use all of your resources and processes to do so, it’s highly likely that they’ll never finish the trip with you, and they’ll wander down another path, to another destination.
When you help your customers find their way to a solution to their problem, we call this process lead nurturing. The keyword here is help. Lead nurturing essentially allows you to begin to build a relationship with your prospective clients and customers, and slowly build the trust that eventually turns into a sale or engagement. Trust is the foundation of every great relationship and it takes time and patience. In sales, it also involves process and skill. The key to doing this effectively is positioning yourself as someone who’s trying to help, and not positioning yourself as someone who is trying to sell.
It’s been said that it takes upwards of seven contacts to get to the point where a customer is ready to engage or commit. Almost two-thirds of salespeople give up after the second attempt. So what this means is that the people that are willing to persevere and work to build relationships through repeated contact will be one of the only choices left around the time the customer is receiving calls six and seven. This is actually the point where they’re getting ready to commit and make a decision.
My advice: Forget selling. Focus on helping, and persevere beyond the first few touchpoints. This is the key to effectively nurturing your customers and building the trust necessary to close a sale.
Ways to Nurture Customers
The following tactics and processes are deep topics, so I won’t go too deep into each one. I just want to give you a jumping-off point for some of the things that you should be exploring. The advice here is loosely in priority order in my opinion.
1.) Content Creation
What does content have to do with sales? Everything. Continually creating great content is the critical ingredient that drives everything. If you’re trying to attract, engage and delight, (and ultimately help your potential customers through the buyer’s journey) it’s almost impossible without great content. The alternative is to just talk them through the stages – which has value and is possible, but most people just default to pushing their product or service and selling.
Content allows you to position your products and services in front of prospective customers in a way that helps and educates them. You’re essentially giving them free advice and helping them solve their problems in ways that allow them to engage how they want.
Great content takes many forms. It could be articles that they read on a certain topic. They might prefer to download a white paper, ebook, or specific case study that sounds like it will solve their problem or provide a solution. They might enjoy listening to content in the form of podcasts. And how could you forget video? Everyone loves watching videos and it can be an amazing tool to actually show, demonstrate, explain and prove your value.
What you’ll find is that content is going to drive many of the other tactics that help to move people through the buyer’s journey. The value of the content that you create isn’t just focused on what you post on your website, but it can be repurposed and utilized in many additional ways. Especially if the content is evergreen, or not rooted in a specific time and can be used again and again.
Have you ever visited a company or store online and then began seeing ads online for the same company? Many people consider this to be a weird, deja vu experience, or worse yet, just creepy. But it isn’t creepy. It’s remarketing.
Remarketing is essentially the process of serving ads to people who showed an interest in what you do and sell. Opinions differ on whether this is a good or bad thing. But in my opinion, as marketers, we’re trying to do good. Someone has actively shown an interest in our products and services and it’s our job to find ways to help and nurture them toward a solution to their problem.
Remarketing is not interruption marketing. We’re not running a commercial with someone yelling. We’re not mailing them something out of the blue. We’re not knocking on their door during dinner time. Someone is actually searching for a solution to a problem and they’re becoming aware that we might be the solution. We simply want to remind them that we’re here to help.
Remarketing can be a great way to begin the process of building a relationship with someone. Many times people are just exploring. It’s a great way to start the process of connecting with someone, beginning to build trust, and helping them to move through the stages of the buyer’s journey.
As I mentioned, content is key. If you’re actively spending money to drive people back to a website full of “thin” content that doesn’t help someone, in a way that they prefer to engage, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Most people don’t want or need to call, and likely won’t on the first or even second visit. You won’t have an opportunity to actually talk to any of these prospects. But you can speak to them through content, and you need to provide that content in many forms to reach as many people as possible.
3.) Retargeting and Automation
The terms “remarketing” and “retargeting” are oftentimes used interchangeably. But they’re actually two, completely different things.
Remarketing is mostly about serving ads to people who have shown an interest in what you do or sell. You’ll use these ads to drive them back to your website content. Retargeting is mostly about repeatedly engaging with prospects via email.
This could be in the form of automated emails. It could be a “drip” campaign of multiple emails on a certain subject. It could even be by sending them a regular newsletter. The key is that you’re engaging in activities to build and refine lists that you can engage with on a regular basis. And why is that? Yes, it’s to help and nurture people through the Buyer’s Journey.
And to continually reinforce my previous recommendations and to further demonstrate how this all connects, the content that you create can be repurposed and sent via email in many different ways. The content that you create and post to your website and social media can drive people to your lists through subscriptions, gated content, and direct sales engagement processes that gather contact information.
4.) Sales Follow-Up
Traditional lead nurturing involves having your sales team follow-up with prospects via phone. There’s a place for this and it is an important part of nurturing leads.
But, in my opinion, success isn’t always going to be found in relentless calls and voicemail messages. If I’m being honest, most times I don’t answer calls from people that I don’t know, and I believe that this is a growing trend in the business world. But, to take that one level higher, I don’t even listen to the messages that people leave for me because the volume is so high. Normally I’ll listen to someone say their name, what company they’re from, and maybe get to the point where they divulge that they’re a salesperson that’s trying to sell me a product or service. Then I delete the message.
The problem with unrelenting calls and messages goes one step deeper too. Not only are people ignoring you, but the more you call, the more you hound them, and the more you begin to repulse them and annoy them. So now they’ve gone from ignoring you, to being actively annoyed, and that’s never a good thing.
Let me be clear, follow-up is essential. But I think the key to follow-up is controlling and varying the schedule of your contacts, as well as varying how you’re touching them. Getting your leads within a trusted CRM to manage the process is critical as a first step, and content plays a big part in the process as well.
Getting someone on a call to have a real conversation is hard. This is an entirely different process and skill. But, when you do get someone on the call, it’s important to quickly confirm where they are in the buyer’s journey. You need to qualify your leads. This will drive a lot of your strategy as to how you’ll engage with them and how often.
If someone clearly has a need and can be assigned to the decision making stage of the buyer’s journey, then how you help them make a final decision will be drastically different than when you reach out to someone that you suspect has a need for your product or service, but has no clue if they really need it or not.
Providing them with the right type of content is key. If someone is ready to make a decision, then you should have an arsenal of content that you can send them that clearly explains why you are the best choice to help.
If someone isn’t even aware that they need your help, then you need content that helps you start the relationship, get them educated, and move them along into the consideration stage. Your content will likely be much more focused on creating awareness around the problem and then subtly connecting them back to the fact that, by the way, we actually provide a solution to this problem.
Lastly, depending on the stage of the buyer’s journey, you can do a lot to reduce annoyance if you have a sense of the buyer’s timeline and their stage in the buyer’s journey. If you know they’re going to be making a decision in the next month, then, by all means, call them and have as many discussions as possible during that time.
But if you know they’re just now starting to explore and might be making a decision next year, or even years from now, you can take a much more slow and varied approach to nurturing, educating and ultimately helping them to move toward a solution using email, newsletters, social media, targeted ads, and occasional calls to check-in to see if you can help with anything.
5.) Sales Enablement
Finally, when we’re talking about nurturing, we need to consider the concept of sales enablement. This isn’t exactly a tactic, as much as it is a process or even a cultural shift.
Here’s a quote from Hubspot to get us started:
“Marketing is the process of getting people interested in your company’s product or service, while sales encompasses any activities involved in selling that product or service to a consumer or business. One cannot exist without the other. You cannot sell without initially igniting interest in the consumer through marketing, and you cannot be a marketer without having a team prepared to sell the product once you’ve captured a consumer’s attention. – Hubspot
Does your sales team have the right content, tools and resources to nurture a lead and close a sale?
If the answer is “I don’t know”, then it’ll certainly be worth exploring the concept of sales enablement while you’re working to properly nurture your customers.
So what is sales enablement?
Again, let’s use a quote from Hubspot to provide a specific answer.
“Sales enablement is the iterative process of providing your business’s sales team with the resources they need to close more deals. These resources may include content, tools, knowledge, and information to effectively sell your product or service to customers.” – Hubspot
I would add one minor tweak to this definition and say that you need to provide them with the resources they need to nurture and close more deals.
In short, what this means in the real world is that teamwork is critical. Sales enablement ensures that marketing and sales is owned by both teams. Marketing provides sales with the resources they need to effectively help customers down the buyer’s journey, and sales will work with marketing regarding what’s working and ultimately what else they need to get the job done right.
There’s a belief that every minute that a salesperson is creating content, is a minute they’re not selling. If you’ve followed me to this point, you’ll likely see how this can be false. A salesperson’s job should be to help people, not sell to them. (at least in the eyes of the customer.)
Great content can be an excellent way to ultimately move customers through the buyer’s journey, and if salespeople can help to produce this evergreen content instead of blindly making another cold call, it can be a great investment of time. Even if the content isn’t evergreen and it’s highly custom and personalized, it’s still a great investment of time and resources because this extra effort to help on a one-to-one basis can be a huge differentiator.
Enabling your sales team to sell more effectively with great, useful content will ensure that they have the tools they need to sell more effectively and efficiently. And again, we’re going full circle and showing that content can drive the success of everything and nurture your customers from awareness, consideration and decision, all the way through to the actual close of a sale.
If you take nothing away from this today, the one big idea is that people generally don’t like to be sold to. People do appreciate being helped when they have a problem – even if they’re not even aware that they actually need help yet. Doing all the right things to help and nurture them to a solution can be a science, and that’s where a professional inbound marketing company can help guide you. It’ll certainly be worth your time to invest in the culture, teams, partners, processes, content, tools and information you need to nurture people through the entire buyer’s journey.
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