Lead Nurturing

A long time ago, a Tennessee business man told me he knew that 50% of his advertisement worked; he just didn’t know which half!

We have come a long way with better CRM’s and tracking capabilities. With lead generation in the new marketing landscape, we have a better feeling than ever about where our business comes from. The  leads we capture give us a gauge about what to expect from the pond we are fishing in, the pond being the segment of our market place that we target and that responds.

When you invest in capturing piano interest in your market place by hiring a proficient provider such as Prospect Int’l (LeadFlow), you receive leads based upon people in your market place who have “piano interest.” Forrester Research Inc. says that approximately 25% of retail leads are “in the market” at the time of lead acquisition. Also at the time of acquisition, you will net (another fishing analogy) another 25% of leads who are casual and will never turn into anything. These are people who go online because they are wondering if a piano may be a good idea for themselves or a family member, but end up “thinking better of it.”It may be because of the price, time commitment, or they have too much time on their hands and they were only just curious.

If you add up those who definitely are and those who definitely are not “in the market” at the time, it equals roughly 50% of what you’ve paid to catch in the net. So what happens with the other 50% that you’ve paid to catch?  If you are on top of your game, lead nurturing occurs. Many, many prospects are new to the process; we see it in their comments as we monitor our client’s leads. Many are in the information gathering stage, a stage more germane to today’s sales process than that of yesteryear’s. Information, being so much the main fabric of today’s sales process, must be acknowledged, harnessed, and managed to profit. If you ignore it and your competitor provides better content and advice than you, you will lose precious market share. The “Always be Closing” days are over, these are the “Always be Serving” days: the company with the most friends wins. Closing is easier if you have made a friend first.

Let’s take a look at how a lead should be treated after it is determined not to be a “hot” one. If it falls into that middle 50% where the rating is harder to assign, this lead falls into the “needs nurturing” category.

How best do we choose the nurturing tactic? Leads need several designations to be properly treated. The items which are vital to determine the proper treatment are: type of instrument, price range and the level of heat in the interest. After a lead enters the nurturing stage, the prospect should be placed in the proper bucket, the one which allows you to speak to them about their specific needs. Done properly, all these suspects should be encouraged to be true prospects over time by engaging in question based dialogue which allows you to sell the benefits of the instruments and models that are most appropriate for them to learn about. Your goal is to win their trust and their permission to be their personal tour guide.

Simply dumping leads into your e-mail marketing system and sending them generic wholesale e-mails is not the correct way to address these clients. If you want to be the “trusted concierge” and help them in their quest to find the perfect piano, you need to address the specific wants and needs of each suspect. Only after they have been thoroughly addressed should they fall into the general company “monthly e-mail” rotation. That’s the paradox: in an automated world, only use the automation to begin relationships. Company generated, broad spectrum messages are only the fall back position when true dialogue is not possible. A percentage of long term generic company e-mail recipients get warm or hot again because the timing gets better. Ergo, it is imperative to have the generic e-mail marketing messages in your marketing arsenal.  It is even more important to be double damn sure your sales staff doesn’t do the easy thing instead of the right thing. Be sure the effort is sincere, before the suspect gets relegated to an e-mail address in the catalog only. My number is eight. If you make eight attempts in any combination of phone, text and e-mail, then I believe it is appropriate (assuming a lack of  response) to move the suspect into the general blasting protocol.

The point I’m attempting to drive home is that lead nurturing is where the real work is done. This is how you get the real value out of your lead generation investment. The middle 50% over time will allow you to reach the highest possible sell through. That is where the lead dollars mature like good annuities and pay off down the line.

The average maturation for a lead to turn into a bottom line buyer is at issue. When you work the middle 50%, you will have various sundry maturation time frames. Some of these suspects will be real prospects truly “in the market” in a month, but some not for five years and naturally every individual one will have their own level of readiness. If you establish a groove, a comfortable follow-up protocol, and stuff the pipeline full of good leads, it won’t matter because some clients will always be coming “into the market” and available for your team to work in earnest. Lead nurturing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are an old school sales professional who only cares about closing and not setting the ball up on the tee for future swings, you will struggle in today’s selling environment.

Just like a well diversified investment portfolio, leads are ready for harvest/cashing out  at different times. There is a daily ebb and flow, but there is also an overall trend. If you keep your focus on serving and making friends, the prospects will come around to purchase when the timing is right for them. The secret is to have more friends (leads to nurture) than your competition.

A simple formula to experiment with for follow-up timing: mark your calendar for each individual nurturing lead for two weeks after they are no longer considered closable, then four weeks, then monthly. As opposed to “hot” leads which need to worked more aggressively, the nutured leads need to feel less pressure, but more servitude. Since leads come in on an irregular basis (hopefully daily, like with LeadFlow averages), there will always be leads ready for follow up on the birthdays of their entry into your CRM.

It is important to find out the needs of as many in that middle 50% as you can and serve them based upon what they tell you they are interested in. I won’t go into extensive detail or recommendations, but there are usually many interesting features and benefits you can use as an excuse to maintain contact with your prospects. We urge you to be relevant, creative, and respectful, but persistent over time, always respecting theirs. There are some decent CRM’s available these days which weren’t around years ago that can help you stay organized.  At Prospect Int’l, we are building a piano industry specific CRMM (the second M stands for marketing), entitled PianoLeads, which will offer all the features you will need to import your leads easily at acquisition time as well as categorize and score them. It will also sport customizable templates to help you follow-up and be as efficient and effective as possible.

Nurturing better than your competition will allow you to get the most out of your lead generation dollars and give you the opportunity to make more friends than the guy down the street selling the same thing. Closing deals is easier if you are working with someone you have built a relationship with by serving their specific interests.

Happy Prospecting! And remember: Everything Good or Bad Starts With an Attitude.

P.S.  a special thanks to Paul Jennings, Steve Kinchen and Danya Rothman (the author of “Lead Generation for Dummies) for their instincts and inspiration to tackle this subject.

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