How to serve marketers' lead-nurturing imperative
Two short years ago, demand-generation services were driven by the marketer’s equivalent of hardware feeds and speeds: Tell us the number of leads you can produce, in what timeframe, at what cost per lead.
Things have changed at warp speed.
Today’s B2B marketers require every bit of detail they can get on a prospect’s demographics (job title, company size) and where they currently fall in the purchasing cycle for a product or service. They’re also eager to get a comprehensive view of content assets downloaded or consumed, as well as broader online behavior – namely, whether prospects visited web pages with content relevant to the marketer’s strategy.
Marketers share a common set of challenges that are driving this dramatic shift:
- Budgets aren’t growing rapidly (if at all) so they need maximum bang for the dollars they’re spending on demand generation.
- Marketing pros are being measured less on the quantity of leads they deliver to sales and more on the “convertability” of those leads
Expressed more tangibly: Would sales rather call on a high number of prospects that have downloaded a white paper, or a smaller number who have engaged with several pieces of content: white papers, video, one or more webcasts, or possibly even attended a live event?
These factors explain why today’s marketers are highly focused on where a lead is in the sales cycle. They define those stages in different ways, with different qualifications depending on their strategy and nomenclature. In some cases, prospects ready for sales contact are called Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL), while others refer to Sales Qualified Leads (SQL). Broadly, marketers refer to a concept they call “BANT,” which speaks to a prospect’s Budget, Authority, Need and Timing. The higher the individual’s status in BANT terms, the more desirable they are as a sales prospect.
Answering the call
Progressive media companies and marketing services organizations have brought new capabilities to package and deliver the new insights clients need. Marketing services have expanded to include programs such as auditing and development of content assets, message mapping, lead scoring and lead nurturing. We have found that these services add tremendous value and skills to often stretched and under-resourced B2B marketing departments.
Content audits, for example, give customers a clear understanding of the quality and expected engagement level with their content by their target audience. Audits classify individual content assets by where they fit in a marketer’s buying cycle definition; these assets are then entered into a message map that defines the communications and offers that will occur.
Lead scoring is a quantitative method of determining precisely where a lead is in the buying process, and whether that person is ready to be contacted according to a marketer’s sales readiness strategy. To use a simple example, point values are assigned for certain characteristics (title, buying authority) as well as actions (downloading a late-buying-stage content asset). Once a lead reaches a certain point value – MQL or SQL status – he or she is turned over to sales for outreach.
Lead nurturing employs a series of steps to advance a lead in the marketer’s buying cycle through follow-up offers, supported by additional content assets, after the initial engagement. The goal is to maximize the number of leads that reach the marketer’s sales readiness criteria. The typical lead nurturing programs encompass both content audits and lead scoring, though the latter two services can also be delivered a la carte.
Database and tech underpinnings
To support these emerging client services, media companies must be willing to make significant investments in technology and infrastructure. Marketing automation software and analytics tools are a core requirement to support fine-grained e-mail and web-based targeting. Such systems also bring efficiencies to the execution, fine-tuning and analysis of complex marketing programs.
In addition to generating sales leads, marketers want to build and develop a database of prospects they can nurture. Media companies can play a leading role in this effort by nurturing database members to maximize their engagement with a marketer’s content.
A variety of targeting approaches are available via marketing automation, which publishers can use to help marketers reach the most qualified prospects: targeting by company size; by industry or professional title; by a specific list of named accounts; and by online activity (visits to web pages by technology topic, clicking on links in a newsletter by topic, downloads of whitepapers by category, attendance at webcasts by topic and so on).
Marketers are striving to capitalize on the treasure trove of data that can be collected on prospects, their information consumption, their current tech infrastructure, and their near-term buying plans. Media companies can offer both the lead generation via its rich database of users and subscribers, in addition to the services that provide an integrated solution for the marketer.
With marketing automation systems, a marketer can build the logic and flow of a program upfront, in an automated way, so that each offer is defined by an email recipient’s most recent activity. It can also be used to isolate on names in a database who have engaged at a certain level and frequency over a defined period, with specific types of content. The technology ensures economical use of names in a database while storing all response and performance data in a single place, making analysis and optimization straightforward.
Every marketing campaign – especially those that involve lead nurturing – relies heavily on quality content to educate the individual receiving the message and to present the marketer’s value proposition. The good news: Rich, engaging content is a core competency of many media companies. An adept marketing services organization derives maximum value from available content by building offers that underscore the value of that content.
Media companies and marketing services organizations that can build a high-touch services model to deliver targeted, nurtured leads will position themselves as a trusted extension of their clients’ marketing departments for the long haul.
Tom Smith is vice president of performance marketing for UBM Techweb, responsible for management and delivery of goals for client marketing programs, including lead generation programs. Prior to his current role, he worked in online editorial content development and management. You can follow him on Twitter.