Ask any marketer the definition of lead nurturing and you’re likely to get a variety of responses. But while the technologies, approaches and measurement of lead nurture has expanded over the years, one thing holds true: nurturing is a priority among B2B marketers. But what does nurture mean to the people that are being nurtured? What do they value and what turns them off? What does a relationship really mean?
To find out, I spoke to clients, colleagues and recipients of a range of B2B nurture communications, including an IT Director of a major healthcare chain and a CMO at a global security company. I asked them one question: “For companies that you’ve engaged with, what are the things that they aren’t doing to add value?” It’s a broad question, but the answers serve as a powerful reminder of how critical it is that nurture efforts are in alignment with the needs of your recipients.
Here are the top 5 responses I received from my non-scientific
1. Are you talking to me?
Not surprisingly, everyone I spoke to said the greatest turn-off was being on the receiving end of information that wasn’t relevant and lacked utility. One recipient told me, “One company I was hoping would provide some new insights simply sent me emails promoting white papers and other content on things I already knew.” Giving people what they want is not always possible or practical, but if you’re not including content and perspectives that add value, you’re destined to be ignored.
Before you start sending nurture emails, map out an editorial calendar with themes and topics that align with what you know about your audiences and what matters to them. One place to start is to ask them. Conduct quick “voice of the customer” research via an online survey to surface the most pressing care-abouts of your personas. And create a dedicated email early in your outreach that asks people what their biggest challenge, pain point or objective is. Not everyone will answer, but giving people the opportunity to tell you what they want is a quick way to relevance.
2. Slow down already
Most voiced an issue of companies being too pushy in their communications. Starting the discussion with “Why us?” is premature. And many expressed the value of self-direction into topics that matter to them rather than force-feeding product information that isn’t relevant given where they are in their journey. One told me, “A big part of determining who I go with is their understanding of what I need pre-sale. I don’t expect companies to be mind readers, but I do expect them to tell me what I should be considering as I’m looking for help.”
There’s a time and place for asking for a meeting, but not at the start. Early on, test promoting multiple assets on the same topic in your emails. These assets could span journey stages or address different aspects of a single issue. You’ll gain deep insight based on what people are engaging with, rather than force-feeding them a topic that you think they might find important. You can then build a storyline with supporting messages based on where people are in their journey.
3. Don’t give up on me
Many companies consider nurture as a campaign with a start and end date. But lengthy, complex, committee-driven buying journeys are anything but linear and can last for months. One senior project manager told me, “When my company was assessing its current job tracking solution, I did some preliminary research. I got some immediate emails, but after a few weeks, it was silent. That was three months ago and we’re finally making a short list. Those companies did a disservice by not keeping in touch.”
While immediacy of follow-up is critical, don’t abandon leads just because you think they’ve gone dark. The key is to ensure that when needs change and decisions accelerate, you’re top of mind. Make sure you have an email drip to reactivate people in accounts who showed interest, but haven’t engaged in a specified time frame.
4. Show, don’t tell
When moving into later journey stages, my small research panel said they liked to get under the hood. One told me, “It was great to get a response from someone when I downloaded a product comparison tool. They immediately followed up with a phone call asking if I wanted a demo, which I gladly accepted.” This also speaks to the desire to move beyond email as the primary nurture tactic – and to integrate a phone follow-up when there are triggers that show your prospect is ready to engage in a deeper discussion.
Make sure that your deeper funnel assets include mini nurtures that trigger immediate follow-up. Integrate phone calls to further qualify and assist people when they express a clear need for help when researching your solutions. It’s an easy, but often overlooked way to activate buyers.
5. Help. I’ve registered and I can’t get started!
One insightful question was, “What about those trial emails?” She explained, “I recently finished a trial that was like a fishing expedition. All they wanted to do was sell me, even before I starting using the trial. It turned me off to the point that I didn’t even activate my trial.” In-trial nurture emails should align with their own unique journey, and it’s paramount that responders receive the guidance and support they need to maximize the value of – and engagement with – their trial. Don’t assume that a trial responder is ready to buy. They really do want to try before they buy, so provide guidance on what they should experience.
Develop a trial content hub that provides a range of content to help people get the most out of their trial. Some people will be ready to jump in, while others will need more coaching. Rather than cram every email with multiple calls-to-actions and “buy now” messaging, provide a destination to help people get the guidance and support they need.
Next time you’re reviewing your nurture strategy, ask yourself if the recipient is getting the value and guidance they need to get you in the consideration set. The answers might surprise you.