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June 11, 2018 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Learning how to nurture leads with content marketing should be a top priority for any brand. Most leads you generate will not be immediately ready to purchase, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. In fact, marketing statistics consistently demonstrate the importance of lead nurturing:
According to Marketo, 96 percent of visitors to your website aren’t yet ready to make a purchase.
According to Aberdeen, targeted content marketing can yield conversion rates that are 72 percent higher.
The correlation between lead nurturing and higher sales only makes sense. After all, just because people aren’t ready to buy today doesn’t mean they won’t need your product or service in the future. If you can keep your brand fresh in their minds through consistent, relevant communication, you’ll be the first brand they turn to when they are ready to buy. The interim between first contact and first purchase can be a great opportunity to build a relationship with potential customers.
You have to be intentional about it, though. Rather than passively awaiting the transformation from prospects to paying customers, use content marketing to nurture leads and help them move through the sales funnel.
Image via Flickr by Joe The Goat Farmer
First, it’s important to understand the difference between prospects and qualified leads. Prospects include everyone reached by your marketing efforts, whether or not they are likely to turn into customers. Qualified leads, on the other hand, are prospects that have been vetted. The exact definition of a qualified lead may differ from company to company, but in general, qualified leads are those ready to be handed over to your sales team. They are the prospects who are primed to make a purchase.
How do you decide which prospects are qualified leads? Lead scoring. In this process, you assign a value (or score) to each prospect (or lead) based on what you know about him or her. Prospects who are most likely to become customers receive higher scores so that your sales team knows who to prioritize in their outreach efforts.
Your scoring system should be based on data from past customers and account for factors like the demographic information, online behavior, and engagement levels of leads. You should also incorporate insight from your sales team. They will have firsthand experience regarding which leads turn into customers and which don’t, as well as educated theories about what makes the difference. The goal is to create a scoring system that accurately predicts which leads will be most valuable to your company.
To maximize the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts, you need to get the right content to the right people at the right time. Sort customers into groups based on where they are in the sales funnel and how they rank in your lead scoring system, then make sure you are targeting them with content that will be relevant to their position. You want to help them move further down the sales funnel.
Ideally, customers will start at the top of the funnel and move steadily towards the bottom. However, as Kissmetrics points out, the path from prospect to paying customer isn’t always that simple. A lead might skip the early stages or move back and forth between two stages.
You can find several sales funnel diagrams online, and although some variation exists, the basic gist remains the same. Here’s a general outline:
Awareness (top of the funnel). This is the stage of lead generation, when potential customers first learn about your brand. Often, the content that draws in leads is educational in nature — white papers, eBooks, video tutorials, blog posts, checklists, infographics, etc. If you want to attract and nurture leads with content marketing, develop educational resources that will establish your brand as a leading authority in your industry. Be knowledgeable and helpful with no strings attached, inviting leads forward without pushing. If you come across as too pushy, potential customers may turn elsewhere for the information they need.
Consideration (middle of the funnel). People in this stage are learning about and interacting with your brand. They might be interested in demo videos, FAQ sheets, webinars, samples, and case studies. At this point, you can move away from general content that mentions your brand in passing and toward content that highlights what you have to offer. Still, you may want to avoid anything that sounds like a direct sales pitch. Carefully manage the timing and tone of your communications to stay on good terms with potential customers. They aren’t ready to decide quite yet, so don’t push too hard.
Purchase (bottom of the funnel). This is the “conversion” or “decision” stage when prospects turn into qualified leads and connect with your sales team. Once a prospect reaches this point, you may want to offer a coupon, estimate, free trial, consultation, or something similar to draw him or her forward. Choose the type of offer that best fits your product or service, and it will encourage the lead to take the last step and make a purchase.
Retention (beyond the funnel). Don’t make the mistake of ignoring customers once they’re worked their way through the sales funnel. Retention is just as important as lead generation. If you sell a product, you want to turn one-time buyers into repeat customers. For a subscription service, your goal is to make sure that customers continue their subscription past the initial free trial or promotional period. Content like how-to guides, customer support databases, special offers, and follow-up emails requesting feedback or offering support can all help you achieve this goal.
Once again, it’s wise to involve your sales team when developing your content marketing strategy. You may find that your sales reps are consistently directing qualified leads to a specific piece that is highly effective at convincing them to make a purchase. You can use that information to help you develop and distribute content better in your lead-nurturing efforts. Your sales team will benefit, too. After asking for their feedback, you can provide them with new and better resources that they can use to convert leads into customers.
Also, keep in mind that the sales funnel is only a broad outline. Consider breaking it down further and tailoring it to your business. According to Aberdeen’s Marketing Lead Management report (available with a free membership), prospects receive an average of 10 marketing touches before making a purchase. Take the time to map out all of the steps in your company’s sales funnel and develop content for each one. This will help you customize and coordinate the 10 touches your leads need to work their way through the entire funnel.
Content marketing is about more than churning out content. Without a cohesive strategy for development and publication, you’ll be wasting your time. To optimize your content marketing for the purpose of nurturing leads, follow these tips:
Experiment with a variety of content types. Many businesses make the mistake of focusing their lead-nurturing efforts entirely on email content. Although email marketing can be an effective tool, it’s far from the only option. In fact, depending on your leads and where they are in the sales funnel, it may not even be a particularly good option. Rather than putting all of your eggs into one basket, put some thought into what your target audience is most likely to see and respond to. Experiment with different content types until you find what works best.
Personalize communications. Break your audience up into as many segments as possible so that you can better tailor your content to their needs. You could divide leads up according to demographic data like age or profession, as well as by where they are in the sales funnel. The narrower your target, the more effective your content can be.
Manage your time well. Personalizing content doesn’t mean you have to do everything manually. Consider investing in some marketing automation software to help ease the load. If that investment doesn’t make sense for you right now, find ways to work smarter rather than harder — and make sure lead nurturing doesn’t fall by the wayside. For instance, you can set aside a specific time each day or week to focus on producing content and following up on leads.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Take the time to research your target audience. Get to know them not just as a whole but also in smaller segments. Find out what they enjoy, what they want and need, what they respond to, what social media platforms they use, the best ways and times to reach them, and so on. Then, when you’re designing your content marketing strategy, put yourself in their shoes. What might they find annoying or endearing? What will they find helpful or confusing?
Review and repurpose content. In addition to any new content you create, look for ways to stretch existing content further. A long white paper can be broken up into shorter blog posts. A clip from your latest conference can be shared on Facebook. Live presentations can be recorded. A press release can be reformatted as an email news update. The possibilities are endless.
If most of your leads are falling by the wayside, leaving you with nothing to show for them, it’s time to rethink your approach to lead nurturing. Whether you need help coming up with ideas or want someone else to handle your content marketing campaign from start to finish, don’t hesitate to outsource if you need to. Turn to CopyPress for great content that will help you convert leads.
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