Lead nurturing fosters engagement and long-term success 

Lead nurturing is the process of purposefully engaging qualified prospects by offering them relevant information and supporting them in their journey through the decision-making process. Personalized advice addresses specific buyer needs and pain points with useful and non-promotional information that leads them to resolution and establishes your company as a trusted partner in their technology portfolio.

Marketo has found that companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at one-third lower cost. Foundry Customer Engagement Research has reported that the two most important elements IT decision-makers expect from companies once they have engaged with their content are additional information on the specific topic and demonstrates awareness of their business or industry.

B2B marketing often uses the metaphor of a funnel (see below) to depict the buying process. The funnel typically consists of between five and nine stages beginning with awareness and leading through conversion and repeat business. Each stage demands a different content strategy. Marketers should use all available channels – including email, advertising, social media, events, and first-person contact – for lead generation and lead nurturing. Use implicit and explicit signals to gauge the prospect’s place in the funnel so that content can be matched appropriately.

These seven tactics underlie success in content marketing.

1. Understand B2B markets

For technology marketers whose background is in business-to-consumer marketing, or who serve both B2B and B2C audiences, it’s important to understand how the B2B decision-making process is different. Understanding these five major distinctions can also help in defining buyer personas.

  1. B2B buying decisions are value-driven. Value may be defined in several ways, such as price/performance, fit with a customer’s business objective, flexibility, and compatibility with existing systems. The important point is that style matters far less than substance.
  2. Most decisions are made by groups. This has important implications for technology marketers, since many of the people who influence a decision may come from outside the technology department. Gartner has estimated that up to 40% of enterprise technology purchases are now made outside of IT. Foundry’s Role & Influence research has documented steady growth in the size of enterprise buying committees, from an average of 16 people in 2017 to 21 last year and up to 25 for certain categories of products. Marketing programs need to encompass all possible influencers.
  3. A purchase is a commitment because the product is often essential to the company’s operations. Most B2B decision-makers don’t like to deal with too many suppliers. They want trusted relationships with a few key suppliers who understand their needs deeply.
  4. Decisions have career-defining implications. In many scenarios, a poor choice can have disastrous consequences for the business. B2B marketers should understand that their job is as much about ensuring the success of the individual buyer or buying committee as it is about making the sale.
  5. There are a lot of moving parts. Critical decisions often spend months and require numerous interactions between buyer and seller. Speed is essential. Foundry Customer Engagement Research found that 35% of IT executives said the first person who answers their questions about a solution usually gets the business.

2. Personalized touchpoints lead to sales conversion

With the advent of sophisticated marketing automation and customer relationship management software, marketers have powerful lead nurturing tools to personalize content. Personalization doesn’t mean just customizing names in an email, though; it should speak to their specific needs. An email subject line that references a challenge the company is currently facing or builds upon a content asset they recently downloaded is far more likely to catch the reader’s attention than a generic message.

Research by Corporate Visions, a marketing and sales messaging, content and skills training company, found that including industry-specific information in email messages resulted in 24% higher click-through rates and almost 50% more meetings than messages that weren’t personalized.

Personalization has become somewhat more challenging in the age of privacy regulation, but the barriers are less significant for B2B marketers who practice effective lead qualification and lead nurturing. They are still free to use information that prospects volunteer and buyers appreciate messages that save time and cut to the heart of their concerns.

Buyers don’t mind personalization if it helps them. A 2018 study published in the Harvard Business Review found that when web merchants disclosed to visitors that an advert was delivered to them based on their observed activity, click-through rates increased 11%, time spent viewing the advertised product rose by 34%, and revenue from sales conversion was 38% higher.

According to Foundry’s 2021 Customer Engagement Research, 96% of organizations are open to evaluating emerging vendors – whether that be because of a business need, vendors have previously proven their viability, or due to a peer recommendation. Thinking about how emerging vendors can introduce new technologies or services, ITDMs’ look for factors that directly impact their organization, such as case studies/proof of concept (51%), evidence that the product/service stands out from the competition (48%), and reassurance that the new product will easily integrate with their existing technology (47%). This comes to show how important it is to personalize your messaging.

3. Know your buyer personas

Buyer personas are a valuable tool in content personalization. These aggregated profiles of different customer types include demographic but also psychographic factors such as aspirations, motivations, and values. Examples of buyer personas include early adopters, fast followers, hesitant skeptics, and late bloomers. Lead nurturing programs should be adapted to the personas marketing has identified.

Personas inform personalization by enabling marketers to sculpt the tone of messages to match the motivations of the prospect. For example, a cost-sensitive buyer needs to be approached differently than one who is in a hurry to adopt a solution.

Personas can be derived from both implicit and explicit sources. First-person customer interviews offer the most direct insights and should be part of every marketer’s job. Salespeople can also contribute valuable perspectives because they deal with different types of buyers every day. A careful reading of bios and LinkedIn profiles can also help build personas. For example, a buyer who has risen through the ranks of a company for 20 years is likely to have a different perspective than one who often changes employers.

There is no one answer to how many personas you should create but you shouldn’t have too many. Using six to eight personas enables you to craft the voice and approach of your content to the most common buyer profiles without creating an unwieldy number of personalization options.

4. Answer the needs of qualified leads

Content sources and types vary according to the stage of the buying funnel. Years of Foundry research have documented preference patterns among IT decision-makers that can inform your choices (see chart below).

For example, thought leadership white papers, industry overviews, and explainers are effective in the early research process but decline in value in the consideration phase. Webcasts, customer case studies, checklists, and blog posts are deemed more valuable deeper in the funnel. At the decision stage, peer validation, technology content sites, specification sheets, and cost calculators take on greater importance.

The tone and approach of content should also match the technology buyer’s perceived knowledge level and interest. Consider the example below, which uses a seven-stage funnel to map content related to decisions about virtual desktop infrastructure.

Buying Funnel StageContent Asset
Determine NeedWhite Paper: Is VDI Right for You?
Determine RequirementsWebcast: Where Does VDI Fit in Your IT infrastructure?
EvaluationBlog: 10 Questions to Ask VDI Vendors White paper: The Hidden Value of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Infographic:  Trends in VDI Adoption
Select VendorsVDI Decision Checklist
Sell InternallyVDI Cuts Costs and Boosts Security for London Insurer
Authorize & Approve Calculating the True Cost of VDI
Post-SaleManaging a Hybrid Physical/Virtual Desktop Environment

Reusing content can stretch your marketing budget. For example, an ebook can be repackaged as a summary slide deck, sliced into multiple blog posts, discussed in a video interview, summarised in an infographic, and promoted in press releases. Long-form “hero” content such as ebooks and research reports lend themselves particularly well to repackaging and are important parts of a well-rounded content marketing program.

Voice is an important consideration. Overly technical content can confuse decision-makers who aren’t part of the IT organizations. Conversely, a voice that speaks in broad generalities without bringing the topic back to practical problem-solving can leave readers feeling that their time is being wasted. Foundry Customer Engagement Research found that the number one challenge IT decision-makers say they encounter in finding high-quality, trusted information is the presence of “too much marketing hype/empty buzzwords.”

The most effective content uses simple language, highlights pain points, proposes technology solutions, and ends with a call to action. Above all, avoid the temptation to promote. IT buyers are among the most sold-to people on the planet, and they respond badly to sales pitches. Foundry’s 2021 Customer Engagement Study found that 72% of IT decision-makers said a vendor’s failure to supply educational content during the research process negatively impacts their impression of that company. The good news is that 89% said being contacted by a knowledgeable salesperson able to answer questions promptly increased the likelihood of a sale.

Creating and maintaining content for multiple personas and stages of the buying process can be a major challenge, particularly since IT-related content should be updated at least every other year. Working with an experienced lead nurturing partner that has significant experience with IT audiences can simplify this complexity and turn marketing qualified leads (MQLs) into sales qualified leads (SQLs).

5. Use data in lead nurturing

Businesses have more data than ever today but collecting data and using it effectively are two different things. Most businesses struggle with data quality and deriving value. More than 80% of executives surveyed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services said they want to generate real-time actions from customer data but just 22% said their organizations are effective at the task.

Having good-quality information about qualified leads enables you to target personas and stages in the buying journey more precisely. It also helps address the two most important factors in customer engagement levels identified by Foundry research: the ability to respond quickly and knowledgeably.

Gathering data on an ongoing basis also helps inform your own decisions. For example, A/B testing should be a standard part of email and landing page campaigns as well as content development strategies. Sales representatives should keep track of response rates to offers to help hone your messaging over time. Even such factors as the lag time between the delivery of an email message and a recipient’s click can be an important indicator of receptivity.

6. Automate email marketing

Despite the proliferation of social tools over the past decade email remains the number one lead generation and lead nurturing tool for technology marketers. Marketing automation platforms like HubSpot, Eloqua, and Marketo enable an unprecedented level of personalization as well as built-in tools to help with email design and language. Use them to help you target your audience and messages.

Email is an effective way to spread awareness of your content marketing assets and gain immediate feedback on what is resonating with prospects. Multi-step drip email campaigns sustain awareness and enable you to test different messaging around the same content. Measuring click-through response time data and combining it with website metrics helps determine how long viewers stay on your website and which pages they visit. Email addresses can also be correlated with third-party data enrichment sources to build your customer database, clean up data errors and improve list quality.

7. Use social media to connect and foster engagement

Social media provides another useful avenue to engage with individual prospects and learn more about them and their companies. Creating LinkedIn connections, for example, gives marketers access to information about buyers’ contact networks, areas of interest, and work histories. Shared connections can arrange introductions to people you would otherwise have difficulty reaching.

Following people on Twitter and Instagram gives you a way to speak directly to them through comments, likes, and retweets. It’s also a means to promote your content by sharing it directly with people on your prospect list. Retweets are considered a compliment and can pique the curiosity of social media users you want to reach.

Social media should not be used as a direct sales channel. It is a discussion that helps facilitate initial contact and foster engagement. Use it to show that you are listening and that you respect the value that others bring to the community.

A long and winding road

Lead nurturing takes time and practice, but the value is evident in the numerous research studies that have documented the higher win rates and deal sizes that result. B2B marketing is a challenging field. MarketingSherpa has estimated that 79% of B2B marketing leads never convert into sales. While that statistic may be dispiriting, it underlines the value of good lead scoring and lead nurturing, as the upside of any one sale can justify the resources committed to sales that didn’t work out. An experienced partner can maximize the number of MQLs that become SQLs.

To learn more about lead nurturing, check out ‘the complete guide to lead nurturing‘ here.