Chapter Seven
Nurturing Leads

In an ideal world, a potential customer would come across your content, respond to your call to action, and access your offer. Then, they would be so intrigued by what they read that they would have no choice but to schedule an appointment with you or your sales team immediately. From there, an agreement would quickly be reached and you would move on to the next qualified prospect who is eager to meet with you.

Unfortunately, you probably can’t remember the last time anything in the world felt ideal. The chain of events I described above is essentially the way sales funnels work, but there are often a few bumps and bruises along the way.

In some cases, these delays could stem from the fact that your content or offers aren’t a perfect fit for your audience. When that happens, you’ll probably be able to identify the bottleneck by examining your web analytics with the help of a talented design team.

However, even if your sales funnel is as close to perfect as it can be, some prospects simply aren’t going to take the next step right away. They may hold off because they are engaged in other projects, need approval from a supervisor, or are simply away from the office for vacation. It might be the case that they are checking out competitors or doing more research elsewhere. Or perhaps the need they have isn’t urgent enough for them to consider it a priority at the current time.

Under any of these circumstances, pushing too hard with emails or phone calls would probably bring you closer to losing the sale than it would to closing it. So how do you stay on top of the prospect’s mind without badgering them? The answer is to use a preset lead nurturing plan that can be put into place and will handle the follow-up work for you.

I have already alluded to this process in the previous chapter, but now it’s time to go into lead nurturing in a bit more depth. Let’s start with something that’s easy to overlook.

Email Is Your Secret Weapon

It’s a strange feature of the human mind that we all tend to flock to the latest and greatest ideas, even if they aren’t proven or reliable. Meanwhile, things that seem standard, commonplace, or even boring get ignored – that’s true even if they generate results.

This certainly describes the way business owners and marketers tend to think about email autoresponders. While they were once cutting-edge technology, most of us have been using email in its various forms for at least a couple of decades. Perhaps that’s why it’s simple, cost-effective power tends to be forgotten.

When you use content and offers to collect basic contact information about your prospect, you also get everything you need to send them personalized messages inviting them to move through one phase of your sales funnel to the next. These messages cost you virtually nothing to send, and don’t require any manual input on your part. You simply set them up to go out at regular intervals any time someone responds to one of your offers. Then, you just keep an eye on your reports to ensure they are generating the right kinds of results.

Designing Your Autoresponder Chain

There are essentially three details that matter when it comes to setting up your autoresponder chain for new prospects: length, frequency, and timing.

In terms of length, you’ll want to keep your email short and to the point. Remember, you’re sending a message to someone who probably felt a little nervous about giving you their email address. Their initial concern would be that you’ll abuse it and send them many more messages than they want to receive or, worse, sell their contact information to another company. Sending them follow-up reminders that are short and to the point helps to establish trust and build your credibility.

As for frequency, you’ll want your first email to go out almost immediately. This one should confirm their subscription and offer a direct link to whatever information piece you offered them in exchange for their contact information. By sending that message immediately and automatically, you show that you follow through on your promises and you show up in your prospect’s inbox while your offer is still fresh in their mind. Also, you might prevent them from visiting your competitor at the same time.

Following your initial message, it’s a good idea to set your next message to go out a few days later. After a few emails suggesting similar or deeper offers than the one your prospect already responded to, you should back off. For instance, your total email autoresponder chain might have 10 messages: one that sends right away, four that send every few days in the week and a half following their initial subscription, and one a week after that.

If your prospect still hasn’t moved farther down your sales funnel by then, they are probably uninterested or in a holding pattern due to the kinds of external reasons I’ve already outlined. In that case, pestering them isn’t going to help, but you do want to stay in touch. Luckily, there is a method you can use to accomplish that.

Warming Up Your Cold List

Suppose someone enters your sales funnel, responds to an offer (or even multiple offers), and then stops moving forward. What happens then?

In my experience, the best thing to do is move them to a separate subscriber list of other cold inquiries. These are people you know are interested enough to get information from you at one point or another, but never managed to become actual warm leads. That means they have value to your business but may not be prepared to move ahead for the time being. In fact, they might not ever take the next step. That doesn’t mean you should give up on them, though.

Instead of trying to get them to move deeper into your sales funnel, a good strategy is to leave them exactly where they are – interested but not progressing. The way you do that is by periodically (perhaps every three weeks, for example) reaching out with another email that isn’t focused on generating the next conversion. Instead, it could highlight your most popular recent blog articles, any new research or reports you have published, or even things like case studies and awards.

The idea here is to drip new information on them at a very low frequency. That way, they never get annoyed that you’re constantly reaching out, while at the same time keeping your business toward the front of their minds in case the need for your product or service becomes urgent again.

It can be disheartening to watch prospects get “stuck” in your sales funnel, but you will be amazed at how many of them will eventually warm back up again if you follow a smart approach to staying in contact.

If your email subscribers were once interested enough to pursue one of your offers, there is a good chance they’ll feel compelled to either resume their search or remove themselves from your subscriber list before too long. Either way, you get a way to keep warming up your cold list to develop opportunities without having to waste time on people who aren’t interested in buying.

The Beauty of the Inbound Approach

When businesses are new to a lead nurturing approach, the impulse can be to push hard trying to close new opportunities. As I pointed out, though, this is usually a low-percentage move. While you might be able to persuade a few prospects to meet with you or hear a presentation, most are going to decline and exit your sales funnel altogether.

As tempting as it can be to try to turn email addresses into revenue, a better idea is to wait until prospects volunteer information like phone numbers – or better yet, signal to you that they would like to schedule a meeting, consultation, or demonstration.

That notion might run contrary to what a lot of us learned about selling early in our careers, but it’s an easier template to follow in the digital age. For one thing, buyers have gotten used to researching and making decisions at their own pace. When they feel like they’re in control of the pace in terms of the sale, they are less hesitant to come up with needless objections once it’s time to talk specifics. The result is a smoother sale with fewer stumbling blocks and negotiations over prices and terms. Because buyers have already decided for themselves to work with you, you don’t have to twist their arms to make a deal.

Such an arrangement is beneficial to your company as well. Instead of spending all your time chasing down contacts or creating sales opportunities, you can keep working on your content profile and expanding your sales funnel. Life gets easier for your account representatives and you need fewer of them to meet your revenue goals because they are following up with willing and qualified leads rather than trying to produce new business out of thin air.

Nurturing leads requires more patience than using old-school, hard-sell tactics. However, the process produces less stress and the results are hard to argue with.

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