While lead nurturing campaigns can selectively push content at prospects and prod them in certain directions, the reality is that “leads move through [a nurturing process] at their own pace,” said Catalyst Direct's Cleary, adding: “Marketers need to be more sensitive to that.”
Lead nurturing practices and platforms are built for just that type of hands-off customer interaction. They are automated, so marketers can keep an eye on longer-term prospects without wasting time. And they have triggers and alerts than can let marketing know exactly when a lead is becoming qualified.
At Catalyst Direct, that means moving leads through a scoring cycle of “no awareness,” “awareness,” “consideration” and finally “active consideration.” In the early phases, Cleary said, the focus is on educational material; later on comes delivery of more active marketing materials, such as product demos or online RFP builders.
Building these sorts of sophisticated campaigns often requires a software platform.
“The key to next-generation lead nurturing campaigns is not to have canned, out-of-the-box linear programs featuring just one, two or three steps. That's just too basic and simplistic,” said Stephan Dietrich, president of lead management vendor Neolane. Neolane's platform is typical of most lead management platforms in that it includes graphical tools for building if-then-else flow charts, links to Web analysis tools for tracking user behavior and sophisticated scoring systems for determining how ready leads are to move to the next step.
Because lead generation and nurturing tools (see vendor chart, below) often come today as on-demand software, marketers can pay in the low thousands of dollars per month for such systems, even hiding them in their operations budget if the marketing group is big enough. That makes them low-cost, high-return and suitable for most sizes of budgets.
“Especially in a downturn, technology has to help marketers do more with less resources,” said Neolane's Dietrich, noting that he's had customers with $200 million in revenue but just two marketers.
ControlScan, a small company that provides online merchants with credit card policy compliance technology, is another example of a marketer doing more with less.
The company didn't even have a marketing department until last year. Now, not only is it developing rich content to target leads—including educational podcasts, blog posts and white papers—it has begun implementing a lead nurturing system from Silverpop/Vtrenz to automate the process.
“We have a thoughtful content strategy, but we're trying to build in more activity-triggered campaigns, based on how people respond to our content,” said Heather Foster, Control Scan's VP-marketing. Early tests of the approach have tripled response rates, all of which leads to more qualified leads. “We couldn't do that without software to help us,” Foster said.
Nurturing considerations are even infiltrating the demand generation side of the equation, such as at publishers and event companies, which have been more focused on helping advertisers generate new leads.
Take United Business Media's TechWeb division, which is highly focused on keeping its own very large database of site visitors and readers nurtured with new, well-targeted content. The media company is also beginning to work with marketers as an integral part of their lead nurturing processes, including evaluating bringing a lead nurturing software platform in-house.
“Our clients would like us to be more involved in the nurturing process,” said Michael Rasmussen, TechWeb's director of performance marketing, noting that any effort in that area is still informal and conducted mostly with larger clients.
Webcast vendor On24 is seeing the same trend. Whereas once marketers used the service for one-time lead generation, now they are more likely to set a series of online events—often educational in nature-that are part of a program to take existing leads and move them further down the funnel, said Denise Persson, CMO at On24.
“You have to position your company as a trusted adviser during this process and focus on bringing them more value than anyone else,” Persson said. “It could be three months, it could be a year, but that lead nurturing and maturation is really the big trend right now.” M