It shouldn't be a surprise to professional services businesses that it's getting harder to sell. In response to 7 years of less than 2% GDP growth, sales cycles are getting longer and more people (particularly executives) are getting involved in the buying process. But guess what, we all still need to generate more revenue. It's time to work smarter and harder.
But there's good news for those of us who have an established inbound marketing program. Buyers are looking online for marketing content as they start drawing up their shortlists of potential vendors. It's good news for a couple of reasons:
- It takes time to develop the domain authority with Google to be found consistently by potential buyers searching for help with the problems you solve. If you've been doing a good job consistently creating relevant content, potential buyers should be finding you organically. While you can sometimes jump to the front of the line with paid advertising, search engine advertising has limited effectiveness for businesses with complex solutions and long sales cycles.
- Many of your competitors have lagged behind in implementing inbound marketing in their firms. They will still get on the shortlists of people that know them, but everybody doesn't know them. Can your professional services firm rely on referrals and word of mouth to hit your growth targets?
But the reality is that most people aren't ready to buy when they first come to your website. Estimates vary, but KissMetrics finds that 96% of visitors aren't ready to buy when they first come to your website. Lead nurturing helps buyers get to know you better so that you get on their shortlist when they're ready to buy and you position yourself to close the deal. By definition, lead nurturing is a process that helps educate your leads as they proceed through the stages of the buying process (typically, awareness to consideration to decision.)
Here are 3 essential lead nurturing strategies you should have in your marketing toolbox.
Personalize your lead nurturing
Remember when we mentioned that more people are getting involved in the buying process? To match your lead nurturing process to this reality, it's important to have lead nurturing paths for all of the different roles in your buying process. It's no longer enough to sell to the CEO - she's not going to buy unless the people that are going to use your services tell her you can do the job.
Sales consultant Miller Heiman identifies 4 primary buying influences in a complex sale:
- The Economic Buyer: this is the person who has the authority to commit the funds necessary to buy your solution. It's typically the CEO or another C-Suite executive. They can say yes when everyone else says no and they can say no when everyone else says yes. Clearly an important influence to have on your side.
- The User Buyer: this is the person who will be the end user of your service. Think of the Controller if your selling accounting services or the HR Manager if you're selling employee benefit consulting. As the buying process gets more complex, the User Buyer and her team play an increasingly important role in the buying process. Thinking about going over her head to sell to the CEO? Don't do it - you will be shooting yourself in the foot.
- The Technical Buyer: this is the person who ensures that your solution meets technical and corporate governance requirements. It could be a procurement officer or a CTO. Keep in mind that the technical buyer may be either the Economic Buyer or the User Buyer. In smaller organizations, there might not be a formal technical buyer.
- The Coach: this is a person who wants you to win the competition. It can be any of the three buying influences identified above or none of them. A coach will help guide you through the buying process and share inside information with you if appropriate. Your chances of successfully closing a sale increase if you have a coach.
Your lead nurturing process must have the ability to address the needs and concerns of all the different types of buying influence. It's very difficult to create a one size fits all approach that meets the needs of everyone.
Here's some tactical advice for implementing a personalized lead generation process. We're assuming that you're using fairly sophisticated marketing automation software like HubSpot to manage your lead nurturing process.
- The first step is to map out your sales process and identify the buying influences that you typically encounter. For inbound marketing services, we generally have a C-Suite exec as the economic buyer and a Marketing Manager as the user buyer. A sales manager or a sales professional typically has some input into the decision, we often find that they serve as Coaches for us. Because we work with mid-sized businesses, there typically is not a formal Technical Buyer.
- Use your lead generation forms to identify the roles the lead plays at their company. The image below shows how we identify buying influences on our lead generation forms (or you can click on the dropdown in the form at the bottom of this page.)
- You can use this information (combined with other demographics like industry or company size) to trigger a personalized lead nurturing sequence designed to address the individual's unique needs and concerns.
This is much more effective than a lowest common denominator approach and is designed to address the modern buying paradigm.
Customize lead nurturing sequences for appropriate triggers
The old lead nurturing playbook was pretty simple - somebody downloaded an eBook or whitepaper and was then sent a series of emails designed to get them to buy. An eBook download is still one of the actions to trigger a lead nurturing sequence, but it should take context into account. We just talked about one way to add context (the lead's role in the buying process,) but there are other things to consider:
what pages has the lead visited on your website?
what content offers have they downloaded?
what emails have they opened? clicked?
Here are some other triggers for lead nurturing sequences:
Lead views your pricing page
While not everyone agrees, we advocate publishing pricing information on your website where appropriate. Research shows that pricing is one of the first thing a buyer wants to learn about a potential vendor. Why make it difficult for them to find that crucial information they're looking for? Transparent pricing also serves a useful purpose in the sales process - qualification. You don't want to waste valuable sales resources on someone who doesn't have the budget to buy your solution.
Good marketing automation software like HubSpot will tell you when one of your leads visits your pricing page. It has to be someone who has previously completed a lead generation form on your site. This lets you match an IP address with a name and track the pages that person visits on your website. If someone is looking at your pricing page, there is a good chance that they may be in a buying process. If the lead's demographics matches your ideal customer profile definition, a visit to your pricing page is a perfect trigger for lead nurturing.
Registration for a seminar or a webinar
There are two main reasons you should be using lead nurturing when someone registers for a seminar or a webinar.
First of all, using lead nurturing to remind registrants about the webinar as the date of presentation approaches will increase attendance. If someone registers for a webinar and hears nothing from you for 30 days, they will likely forget about it by the date of presentation. But if you remind them a week before and the day before, it will keep the event top of mind with registrants and maximize attendance.
Secondly, lead nurturing lets you share related information with registrants after the event. It's a good practice to share the presentation with registrants after the webinar. You can also share content that amplifies the information you presented. And don't forget to add context - you should have one lead nurturing sequence for people who attended the event and another for those who didn't.
When a contact requests a consultation
A consultation is a critical bottom-of-the funnel for most professional services businesses. Most buyers aren't going to waste time on a consultation if they're not in the midst of a buying process. The goal of this lead nurturing sequence is fairly simple - to get them on your calendar ASAP. When someone requests a consultation with us, two things happen immediately:
- The lead is immediately taken to a scheduling tool where they can schedule a convenient time immediately. The more steps you put in the way of someone getting on your calendar, the less likely they are to actually take advantage of the consultation. We try to make it easy as possible, we pop up a calendar as soon as they submit the form.
- We send them an email that lets them know what they can expect from the consultation and invites them to share more information about what they want to get from the consultation. And we send another link to the scheduling tool.
We then send an email with conferencing information and links to helpful resources based on what they've shared with us about their needs.
Use marketing analytics to optimize your lead nurturing
With the right software, you will be able to analyze all of the steps in your lead nurturing sequences. You can find out things like:
What is the goal success rate of each lead nurturing sequence? For example, the goal of an eBook download lead nurturing sequence could be to get qualified buyers to request a consultation. What percentage of people who go into the sequence complete the goal? How does this compare with your other lead nurturing sequences?
What's working and what's not working with your sequences? What are the open and click rates of the different emails in your lead nurturing sequences? Are people opening the first 2 emails and dropping off at the third? Which subject lines work the best? Which content offers get the most clicks? These can all help you optimize your sequences.
When you start measuring and analyzing marketplace feedback, you can experiment with subject lines, sequencing and frequency of your emails. It's a constantly evolving iteration process that will foster an environment of constant improvement. And as Tom Peters said, "what gets measured, gets done."
With a sluggish economy lengthening sales cycles and involving more people in the buying process, there is a renewed emphasis on smart lead nurturing with growth-oriented companies. Content marketing gets you on the shortlist and lead nurturing gets you into the finals. The key is to use smart lead nurturing - a set it and forget it approach just won't cut it. If you'd like to learn more about how to customize lead nurturing in your business, schedule a free consultation with us.