Is Lead Nurturing Over-rated?

Lead nurturing is on every CEO and marketer’s ‘must do’ list. And for good reason as the objective of lead nurturing is pretty clear: Identify high potential, qualified leads that are not ready to purchase and build a trusted relationship by “enabling” their purchase journey.

Championed by a wide assortment of marketing technology vendors as best practice, companies frequently point to it as one of the key differences in their success. Yet the amount of resources focused on lead nurturing relative to the results the average company achieves is reason for pause. Are we over enamored with a marketing tactic? Is lead nurturing over-rated?

Lead nurturing can make a difference in revenue growth but like most things in life, it’s not that simple.

Nurturing is often misunderstood and misapplied. It becomes a ‘bucket’ for all sorts of contacts, leads sales disqualifies, returns to marketing, opportunities that don’t close, or that never really “score” high enough. Sales and marketing (and everyone else, for that matter) avidly believe these leads will eventually purchase if they are only marketed to differently. Yet, what constitutes “being marketed to differently” varies little from lead generation campaigns.

The result is that lead nurturing shifts from being a strategy to build persistent engagement to becoming the core of marketing strategies. A dangerous and costly miscalculation.

Where is the disconnect?

The heavy investment that many companies make in nurture campaigns does not motivate the lead to purchase faster; rather they likely have the opposite effect. A recent study on sales and marketing alignment by Peter Strohkorb found that successful companies (in terms of profit and growth) de-prioritize lead nurturing. They invest the bulk of their time and resources on customer retention and developing a steady pipeline of new leads.

The adage is “a customer will buy when they’re ready to buy”.

The key to nurturing is knowing with whom and when to invest that result in conversion. For many companies that step is hard.

In my client work, I’ve frequently found that lead nurturing campaigns ran counter to buyers’ journeys. In other words, campaign engagement, calls-to-actions, and content do not align with what buyers valued, sought and used to achieve their target outcome. Once nurturing was aligned with journey maps, three root causes became apparent:

  1. Campaigns were not attracting the right high value buyers (HVB)
  2. Marketing and Sales were not outcome focused, and
  3. Campaigns were not enabling buyers along their journeys.

The lack of deep “outside-in” understanding of customers, their journeys, and behavior contributes to the belief that every lead will buy if only they are nurtured correctly.

Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, a CRM vendor, believes that part of the problem is all the marketing technology. According to Augustin, “People need a system that integrates all customer information, regardless of where it sits, into a complete seamless view.” Companies need help in spotting the right leads to nurture and “a visual dashboard of workflow, task management, and project management that gets everyone on the same page, organized around the customer managing the whole customer lifecycle,’ shares Augustin.

Raghu Raghavan, CEO of Act-On Software, a marketing automation and email marketing vendor, believes that “Marketers lack clear metrics to help them understand how to guide buyers.” For Act-On the key to lead conversion lies in the “sequence of buyer behavior.” Based on big data analytics, Act-On sees itself as the “holder of engagement data” and operationalizes it in an easy to use timeline format.

Understanding customer behaviour is the decoder ring to successful nurturing. Lost in all the noise and hype is the criticality of deeply understanding the customer, through their own eyes.

Christopher Faust, Chief Marketing Officer of Qvidian, shares that “lead nurturing may be overrated but it depends on how you use it. That, and it depends on the actual lead, nurturing can target those, and offer the necessary value, to specifically help them get to their next step in the buyer journey.”

In short, to improve lead nurturing focus on interaction patterns:

1. Clearly define your high value buyers (HVB).

2. Document the buyers’ journey for key target markets.

3. Define scoring algorithms based on longitudinal buyer behaviours

4. Microsegment HVB based on where they are in their journey

5. Define relevant ‘in the moment’ nurture campaigns that enable HVBs to their ‘next’ journey step.

6. Hyper-personalize interactions to build trusted relationships that enable buyers to achieve desired outcomes.

Faust sums up the lead nurturing challenge well, “Marketing in general to me, and especially with nurturing, is just that – tease, not sell, and get buyer to next step forward. But personalization is the key component.”


First published in CustomerTHINK.

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