The inability to have face-to-face meetings, trade shows and industry events has pushed B2B buying and selling almost exclusively online over the past year. Like all other selling-related tasks, B2B lead generation has become a largely digital affair, with sellers leveraging a combination of inbound and outbound marketing tactics designed to get new prospects into the sales pipeline.
Lead nurturing remains an important growth strategy for B2B sellers, particularly because the B2B buying journey has become much more self-driven. Buyers prefer it that way, with McKinsey & Company (McKinsey) reporting an increased preference in self-service channels for all buying-related interactions, including research, evaluation, ordering and reordering.
Lead nurturing keeps your hard-won leads engaged throughout a complex B2B sales cycle that takes nearly 60% longer than it did before the pandemic. But lead nurturing programs are rife with challenges that include a perpetual need for high-quality, targeted content, declining response rates, and the preference for sellers to remain anonymous until they’re ready to buy.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of six lead nurturing best practices that are focused on moving prospects through a B2B buying cycle that no longer looks like a funnel—one that’s driven by buyers and relies on new technologies and the intelligent alignment of sales and marketing teams, and that exists within an increasingly complex digital landscape.
Best practice #1: Begin the lead nurturing process before you get the lead
Maintaining lead nurturing programs during the pandemic has been a major challenge for 77% of respondents in DemandGen’s 2020 Lead Nurturing Survey. B2B marketers can mitigate failure rates by reaching out to the right prospects before they enter the marketing funnel. The best way to do this is by using an accounts-based approach to lead generation—one that enables B2B sellers to allocate sales and marketing resources to high priority accounts and leverages a combination of audience/account targeting, existing relationships, multichannel outreach, personalized content and sales intelligence to identify the right leads and accounts before any sales outreach is done. Accounts-based marketing (ABM) platforms such as Terminus, ON24 and 6sense can help B2B marketers initiate engagement with the right accounts and buyers, ensuring that the most interested, appropriate (and ready-to-buy) prospects enter the sales funnel.
Best practice #2: Create omnichannel, personalized workflows and emails to nurture leads
Lead nurturing is a mid-funnel activity, meaning prospects have interacted with your company in some way already. It’s the seller’s job to recognize this and create workflows that effectively scale communication to prospects on a one-to-one basis. To do this, sellers must track leads across all of the channels with which buyers engage and capture intent/engagement along the way. This enables better identification of high-fit/low-fit leads and informs your personalization and content strategy. Keep in mind that B2B buyers want personalized messaging, with 86% of buyers expecting salespeople to personalize sales materials.
Best practice #3: Don’t overlook new lead nurturing tactics
While social media, content engagement, retargeting and ABM strategies dominate the B2B lead nurturing landscape, don’t overlook additional tactics and tools that can improve buyer response rates and help sellers stand out. Some additional tactics in the DemandGen survey included using ungated content, video messaging, intent data and direct mail for lead nurturing purposes. As the following bar graph illustrates, B2B sellers are using social media as the number one lead nurturing tactic, followed by content engagement data, retargeting and enhanced personalization strategies.
Source: DemandGen 2020 Lead Nurturing Survey Report
Best practice #4: Let’s talk about intent
Layering intent data into lead segmentation can increase lead accuracy which, in turn, improves the effectiveness of lead nurturing campaigns. In the DemandGen survey, 26% of respondents who use an ABM approach said that the accuracy of leads was increased when they segmented leads by buying intent. Respondents first segmented leads by industry, title/role, personas, company size and funnel stage. They then created custom campaigns that addressed intent (e.g., preferences, needs, pain points, buying cycle stage, etc.)
Best practice #5: (Lead-exclusive, ungated, bundled) content is king
Content is woven into every best practice listed above, but we thought it deserved its own focus because there are some content attributes that have changed, though the content types used for nurturing leads have remained (somewhat) the same. As illustrated in the bar graph below, DemandGen’s survey found that the most popular lead nurturing tactics were webinars, sales calls, thought leadership articles, email newsletters and blog posts. These tactics aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but what’s new is that marketers are engaging more leads by using ungated content for thought leadership and product demos. They’re also bundling content based on buyer interests, making it more relevant and personalized (e.g., lead-exclusive content).
Best practice #6: Don’t let those leads get cold
The average B2B sales cycle is about four months long, but it often takes longer to close the deal—up to seven months or more. Unsurprisingly, DemandGen respondents were more successful at closing deals when they increased the frequency of their contact with leads. Weekly outreach was the most common frequency, with 35% of respondents saying they contacted leads on a weekly basis, while 22% of respondents said they maintained almost constant contact, interacting with leads every three days. Another 22% reached out to leads every other week, while just 13% said they nurture leads on a monthly basis. The survey found that the optimal time to engage with leads is at the earliest stage of the buyer’s journey, according to nearly 70% of respondents—this enables sellers to maintain continuous contact throughout the entire journey, which leads to better sales outcomes.
A strong lead-nurturing strategy equals success
Nearly 70% of respondents in the DemandGen survey said that having a strong lead nurturing strategy increased sales opportunities and allowed them to generate warmer, sales-ready leads. A self-driven, digital B2B buying journey adds complexity to an already difficult selling ecosystem, but effective lead nurturing strategies can simplify the process for buyers, ensuring they get the content that’s most relevant to them, wherever they happen to be in the buying cycle. Investing in lead nurturing campaigns can also ensure that marketing and sales teams focus on identifying and engaging with high-value leads that are more likely to convert, helping organizations drive substantial growth and stand out in a cluttered B2B buying ecosystem.