Marketing for the long haul

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For the typical b-to-b company, the need for long-term lead nurturing may be self-evident, given that nearly all b-to-b sales cycles are lengthy. But only recently has the need for nurturing been more fully recognized, coinciding with the emergence of tools to help it happen.

"Over the past year, the conversation has increased about longer sales cycles, lead nurturing and the whole concept of leveraging multiple people in the organization to drive the sales process," said Robert Moreau, exec VP-sales and marketing at Rubicon Marketing Group.

The reason for this increase in attention, Moreau said, is not only a corporate desire to obtain more qualified leads but also to find a way to plug what could be called "lead leakage."

"Marketers will do a campaign and just focus on leads that are the cream of the crop," Moreau said. "They'll pass over leads they think aren't qualified and avoid the rest that just sit there and get stale." Automation is the only viable answer in handling these volumes of latent prospects cost-effectively.

According to Clark Newby, VP-marketing at security solutions company Fortify Software, nurture marketing "is about telling stories," particularly in the form of case studies. Case studies are more than a way to nudge prospects toward conversion, he added. They are also about "building up the relationship, which is worthwhile in the prospect's mind."

"We have a pipeline of leads we need to deliver to sales, and we want those to be well-qualified," he said. "We don't want to burn cycles that can be better leveraged by marketing."

A series of touches

A series of touches, consisting of sales sheets, technical white papers, case studies and e-newsletters all lead "to the point where you want to become part of a live conversation," Newby said. This is particularly useful to b-to-b companies because their solutions may require significant education to be fully appreciated.

Rubicon's solution, which Newby has used, adds rigor to an analysis of customer behavior online. The system recognizes that prospects fill roles (decision-maker, influencer, specifier, approver, supporter, etc.) and follow certain pathways in the buying process. The idea is to set up tracks for each customer based on their role and online behavior and, using inexpensive automated forms of communications such as e-mail or e-newsletters, drive him to ever-richer interactive content and, ultimately, to qualified lead status.

"It's based on triggers such as, `If this person is willing to download this particular white paper, he's ready to speak to sales,' " Moreau said.

Using analytics tools provided by Eloqua and Market2Lead, and feeding information into a CRM package, the process can double both lead pipeline volume and conversion rates, he said.

The key is to understand and nurture individual customers, and automation promises to take that a long way.

"One of the big changes we're seeing is in differentiation," said Jason McNamara, CMO at U.K.-based marketing database company Alterian. "Traditionally, campaign management has been about segments of prospects, not individuals." He said the segment approach is too coarse to target precise customer preferences, and so hampers nurturing.

Alterian offers an automated marketing solution that, while complex, relies on the simple equation P + V - C = Contact Optimization. Here, P equals propensity to respond to a marketing overture; plus V for the anticipated value of the customer's action; minus C, standing for the cost of inspiring the prospect do this.

Regarding this process, McNamara said, "We have four or five case studies where there is an immediate 20% to 30% improvement in conversion."

With the focus on tools, it's easy to overlook the biggest challenge in implementing a long-term lead nurturing program: assuring an adequate corporate culture to make it happen.

"It's all about communication and defining your success criteria," said Martyn Etherington, VP-marketing at Tektronix, which manufacturers test and measurement equipment. "It's been said that 80% of all leads generated by marketing go untouched or are deemed useless, and when I started here five years ago, it was very much the same," he said.

Etherington has worked hard to bring sales and marketing together at Tektronix, with both hashing out what constitutes a "quality lead," what the expectations of the sales team are and how to close the loop between the two functions.

"Long-term lead nurturing is observational right now, but I think it will turn into a science," Etherington said. "Our challenge is how to make sure we are understanding where our customers are in their buying cycle and how we can influence them along a discreet set of behaviors. We can learn a lot from the b-to-c world, but these are very early days for b-to-b companies."

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