No one enjoys blind dates. Whether introduced by friends, the Internet, or your neighborhood matchmaker, it’s nerve-wracking to meet for the first time. Conversely, everyone loves weddings. The flowers, the tradition, the drunken dancing at the reception–you can find something you like.
Everything that comes in between is the interesting part. You’re learning about each other: what you like to do, the things he doesn’t eat, the stuff she does on Saturdays. And you’re discovering the things that you do well together.
You need to deepen your relationship with prospects over time, interacting in a variety of settings, learning more about each other’s needs and capabilities while progressing seamlessly from one interaction to the next. And you need to know when to commit more resources to the relationship, as well as when to pull back and give the prospect some space.
As in life, B2B marketing can be described in five stages:
- The introduction
- The first date
- The proposal
- The wedding
The introduction is the first time your future betrothed hears of you. It is up to your friend, online profile, or matchmaker to make you seem interesting and attractive. You don’t have direct control over the introduction, but the more you can do to influence it, the better.
Discover your ideal prospect. The first step should be to determine your ideal prospect. Just as you know you like tall, dark, and handsome, you should also know that the best prospects for your products and solutions are companies in the United States with 100 or more employees, in the pharmaceutical and healthcare verticals. It’s not usually this simple, but having an idea of what your ideal prospect looks like will help you focus your marketing. If you know that tall, dark, and handsome is often at your alma mater’s tailgate parties, you’ll probably want to be there, early and often.
Build your brand with thought leadership. Brand matters because B2B buyers are still people, and emotions impact economic decision-making. B2B buyers are overwhelmed with choices and information—more than any buyer could evaluate rationally. This means that no matter how disciplined a buying process is, emotional brand impressions do influence vendor selection. One way B2B companies can build their brand is by helping buyers research early in the sales cycle, demonstrating they are trusted advisers who understand the prospect’s problems. By using thought leadership to engage prospects early, you build awareness and increase your chances that the prospect will respond to future demand generation efforts.
The first date
The first date is all about making a good first impression. Don’t come on too strong or you’ll scare your prospect away. And don’t talk only about yourself. Use the first date as an opportunity to learn more about your prospect’s wants and needs, as well as to share some relevant information about yourself.
In B2B marketing, this means you should deliver some form of premium content that is worth registering for. While thought leadership content should influence and guide people before they are in a formal buying cycle, the content here should be targeted to those who are just beginning to look for solutions, such as self-running video demos and customer case studies. Either way, they should be short and to the point. You’re trying to make a good first impression.
In the B2B marketing world, the dating process is called lead nurturing, defined as the process of building a relationship with qualified prospects who are not yet sales-ready, regardless of budget, authority, or timing—and of ensuring a clean hand-off to sales at the right time.
Your prospect has shown at least some interest in you. You don’t want to ruin a good first impression by calling too often or asking for too much commitment too soon. Instead, develop the relationship by sharing additional information at the right time. If tall, dark, and handsome responds to your overtures, you want to talk to him and try to gather more information: Is he single? Is he interesting? In B2B relationships, it’s much the same: make offers of more information at respectable intervals and determine the level of interest at each stage. The goal, of course, is to date exclusively.
Share relevant third party information. You don’t need to create all the lead nurturing content yourself. You can demonstrate how well you understand each prospect’s wants and needs by sharing relevant third party content with them. This can be as simple as emailing a news article and saying "Based on our conversation last week, I thought you’d find this interesting."
Make it personal. Remember, the goal of dating is to build a relationship with a real person. B2B buyers are people, so the human touch matters. Lead nurturing is a conversation, not a series of disjointed campaigns. Personalize email responders and landing pages. Make sure each step connects with the prior one. And except for webinar invitations, don’t make the same offer twice in one email flow.
When creating your ideal customer, marketing and sales must work together to determine the best indicators of success, in terms of what the customer looks like (demographics, etc.). During this discussion, you should also determine the lead score that results in a sales-ready lead. For instance, if a prospect fit your demographic target, clicked on one of your pay per click ads and watched a short demo, then downloaded an eBook from your email follow-up, you might consider him to be moderately qualified (a 7 out of 10, for instance). But if he then attended a webinar from an invitation you sent and went to the "pricing" section of your website, you might consider him a 9 out of 10, which tells you that he’s ready for a contact by your sales team. Your sales team would then go to work (with your help, of course).
The deal. The close. The win. Ultimately, making the sale is up to your sales team, but by implementing a sound nurturing and scoring process, you have helped them by establishing a relationship and positioning your company as a leader with the prospect.
Just as a nice haircut and a manicure prepare you for that first date, every marketer should prepare for that introduction. You’ll need easy to use tools to help you nurture leads, including email, landing pages, forms, and lead scoring.
Triggered emails. Send a series of emails as part of a drip marketing campaign, or triggered based on specific prospect activities. Each email offers a document (or webinar, or trial software, etc.) that helps move your target along in their decision-making process.
Custom landing pages. Don’t forget that custom landing pages can increase conversion rates by up to 48% during your lead nurturing as well as your lead generation activities. You only have eight seconds to get their attention, so use bullets, short forms, and no external navigation. And have only one call to action!
Smart forms. Why use the same form with the same fields over and over? Just like you wouldn’t ask your date for his or her name every time you see them, you shouldn’t ask for contact information again and again. Smart forms recognize known visitors and can fill in the fields you already know. Since you don’t have to ask for this, ask for other info, such as company size, time until decision, etc. Building the profile over time will help you in scoring the lead.
Lead scoring. Knowing which pages your prospects visit on your site can be very beneficial to determining their interest as well as their level of engagement. Being able to connect anonymous visits to actual prospects? Priceless.
Automate and measure. As busy marketers, we need to automate the everyday tasks of building and managing lead generation and lead nurturing campaigns. We also need to more objectively score leads according to their company demographics, as well as their activities on our websites, landing pages, emails, and other campaigns. And a single lead source doesn’t cut it when lead nurturing. It’s great to know where we first encountered the prospect, but knowing what happens between that first meeting and closing the sale is imperative in these days of marketing accountability.
Finally, as you work through the nurturing process, you’ll probably discover that some of the assumptions you made are incorrect; for instance, that downloading a particular white paper means that they are close to buying or that sending a particular email would elicit a good response. Don’t forget that lead nurturing—and marketing in general—is constantly changing. You’ll want to stay flexible and be ready to change your lead nurturing process as you experiment with new tactics and learn what works.
Jon Miller is VP of Marketing for Marketo, a provider of marketing software that helps B2B marketing professionals drive revenue and improve accountability. Contact Jon if you want to learn more or sign up to participate in a free beta of Marketo’s lead management software. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.