By Peggy Bekavac Olson
T his is the last article in a three-part series dedicated to the important topic of leads. February's article, "Leads, leads, leads - Part 1: Lead generation," Feb. 14, 2011, issue 11:02:01, focused on inbound and outbound lead generation techniques. Last month's article, "Leads, leads, leads - Part 2: Lead management," Mar. 14, 2011, issue 11:03:01, emphasized effective lead management using a central repository for leads; it also set forth how to turn inquiries into qualified leads and then into sales.
I hope you've been working hard to generate new leads and entering them into a centralized database. I also hope you've begin mapping out each step of the buying cycle.
Next up is to think about leads in terms of buyer readiness and how to nurture them through the buying cycle so that you have the best opportunity for them to become customers. This is the topic of this final article in the series.
If you've expended effort on lead generation, you know firsthand how expensive, time-intensive and challenging it can be to make the most out of every lead. Many companies do a good job at generating leads by attracting prospects to their website or tradeshow booth, or by cold calling, buying lists and more.
The problem is that most new leads are not yet ready to engage. RainToday.com, a top sales resource, reports that less than 25 percent of new leads generated are receptive for sales contact.
Far too many firms push leads directly to sales once information is captured without paying attention to buyer readiness. When sales makes contact too early in the buying cycle, prospects are likely to be alienated by inappropriately timed budget, authority, need and timing questions.
All prospects are interested in at this point is gathering information for a future purchase. Thus, pushing leads to sales too soon and without qualification is not a good use of personnel resources and certainly not a good way to build rapport with prospects.
Sales people are also notoriously impatient and want "hot" leads. When the leads you feed them aren't hot, they're still likely to make their pitch and if they don't get the sale, move on, casting what may be valid leads for future sales by the wayside, never to be followed up on again. While some of these leads are truly unqualified, as many as 70 percent of prospects eventually buy, said Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale.
So, unless you have a good process for recycling leads, a prospect that never hears from you again will most likely end up buying from a competitor. Sales productivity suffers and frustration grows when you pass leads along that are not sales-ready. When that happens, lead generation efforts are viewed as ineffective, which can result in sales ignoring, by some reports, up to 80 percent of all leads received.
That's throwing away a lot of marketing dollars and effort. So what can you do to make more of your leads viable and sales-ready? Fortunately, there is a remedy - lead nurturing.
Lead nurturing builds relationships through an informative dialog with qualified prospects that are not yet ready to buy, with the goal of earning their business when they are ready. The process also includes ensuring a clean hand-off to sales at the right time.
Lead nurturing starts by understanding that sales doesn't really care about leads. They want real, winnable opportunities. They want quality more than quantity. Leads must be nurtured through the steps required to make them customers.
Not all prospects are immediately ready to buy, making lead nurturing campaigns imperative for transforming prospects into sales-ready opportunities. It's up to you to have a process in place that keeps your company top of mind as well as actively engaged with prospects when they're ready to make a buying decision.
Lead nurturing builds a stronger connection with buyers by providing the information they want and need and the appropriate amount of contact from your company at each point in the buying cycle.
It's the act of maintaining mindshare and creating solid relationships. Nurturing a lead into a successful sale is more than just "checking-in" via a phone call or visit every few months. It's about becoming useful to prospective clients.
Merchants have a buying cycle for payment processing. Notice I said merchant buying cycle, and not your company's sales cycle. Sometimes the merchant buying cycle is short because of immediate need, but typically, it takes place over time.
You need to think in terms of your buyers who are merchants. Take a walk in their shoes. Consider what must go through their minds as they make decisions about buying merchant services.
Some questions that merchants have that come to mind include:
Staying in contact and providing valuable information builds trust and credibility. So when you take care of leads over time, they can answer these questions for themselves in your favor.
A key aspect of lead nurturing is the ability to become a trusted advisor. How do you do this? Well, typical lead nurturing programs include meaningful letters, emails, phone calls, voicemails, case studies, success stories, articles, events, white papers, webinars and more, rolled out at appropriate times to merchant prospects in the buying cycle based on a defined process.
When you do this, your company becomes a resource. You don't sell; you don't make pitches. Instead, you provide insight and solutions, all within the realm of your payments expertise, becoming the company merchants call when there's a need. With trust built by nurturing leads, you may even find that your business no longer has to compete on price and that selling time is reduced.
The value of lead nurturing can be significant. The e-media publication DemandGen Report indicates that nurtured leads, on average, produce a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities versus those that are not nurtured. Marketing automation software companies and lead generation consulting firms report even greater results, stating that lead nurturing can yield anywhere from a 15 percent to 200 percent increase in additional, new qualified leads.
Whatever the numbers, lead nurturing programs can produce stronger sales pipelines, better qualified leads, higher close ratios, shorter sales cycles, increased sales amounts, greater sales productivity and enhanced brand recognition, image and reputation. These are all pluses for your business.
I hope you've found this series of articles on leads to be fruitful, and that you continue to generate, capture and make the most out of all your leads. Remember, hard work and diligence really pay off in the end, with a higher sales volume.
Peggy Bekavac Olson founded Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payment companies, after serving as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for TSYS. She can be reached at 480-706-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.
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