February 2

Lead Nurturing: 4 Steps That Help More Customers Buy

Empathy-based Marketing


Marketing can take you on a long hike. The one thing I can guarantee you about the journey is that getting more leads is not better if you don’t know how to nurture them.

The goal of lead nurturing is to help potential customers on their buying journey. It’s not just about converting leads to becoming “marketing qualified.”  It’s about helping them progress along the way to get more sales.

Can you think about a time that you saw lead nurturing being forgotten about?

I’ve seen companies spend too much time getting people to raise their hands (i.e., leads) but not enough towards progression.

It’s a big problem, often ending with frustration as the cycle of “leads-that-go-nowhere” continues.

According to Forrester, top performers convert just 1.54% of marketing qualified leads to revenue. That means 98% of leads fail.

I know!

Crazy, right?

Decorative photo of a compass relating to marketing being a hike.

Let’s get out our hiking boots, and take a journey with your customers.

I define lead nurturing as consistent and meaningful communication with viable potential customers regardless of their timing to buy.

It’s not “following up” every few months to find out if a prospect is “ready to buy yet.” Or doing random acts of nurturing, which may feel like enough when you’re busy (we’ve all been there).

True nurturing involves a sometimes long and circuitous path, but you’ll be building long, meaningful, and trust-filled relationships with the right people in targeted accounts along the way.

Salespeople often struggle with developing nurturing content without marketing support.

If you’re wondering what kinds of content helps with progression, do this: Ask your sales team.

Start by asking your sales team questions like, “What’s the content you share with leads that seems to help the most?” or “What’s the content you use to help take people to the next level?”

The first step on that path to success is to start thinking like a customer.

Step #1: Step in your customers’ shoes to build a buyer journey map

Be the customer. Finding it difficult to conceptualize this? Try and get out of your building and be as close as you can to their experience by observing your customer’s behaviors.

What are their problems? What are their fears? What do they hope to gain? If you’re having trouble with this still—no worries, download this free Empathy Map Checklist to help get you started!

After you’ve gained a solid understanding, build your customer journey map.

You might be thinking, “Brian, what is a customer journey map?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

A customer journey map tells the story of the client’s experience: from initial contact, through the process of engagement, and into a long-term relationship.

In sum, you should do the following:

Define the timeline of buying steps from the customers perspective

Take a “Deep Dive” into each step to answer the following:

  1. What are they doing? (buyer actions attending, reviewing analyst report, getting a demo, etc.)
  2. What are they thinking? (How do I get this done?)
  3. How are they feeling? Stressed out? Curious? Excited?
Example journey map based on what the the customer is doing, thinking, and feeling at each stage of customer journey. In this example, the stages of the buying journey are laid out in a timeline, each with three prompts underneath connected to the specific stage with lines. The three prompts read: "doing?" "thinking?" and "feeling?" under each stage in the buying journey. When making one of these you should list out answers to those questions relating to your customer; "What are they doing at this stage?" What are they thinking at this stage?" "How are they feeling at this stage?"
Example Customer Journey Map based on what customers are doing, thinking, and feeling – markempa
Decorative image of a rock climber that is zoomed in on their shoes.
Stepping into the customers’ shoes

Identify questions customers have at each stage of the journey

  • How will this product or service help my company?
  • Is this worth the hassle of trying to get my team on board to solve this problem? Why so?
  • Will their solution work? Can they prove it?
  • Is there another company out there that is better?
  • Is the company credible?
  • Can we afford it?

Help prospects find the answers to these questions, and you’ll remind them of the benefits of working with you.

As customers, who would want a sales rep recommending a solution for a problem that they don’t fully understand?

You’re creating value by giving them useful, and most importantly, relevant information in digestible, bite-sized chunks. Relevant information is the “Cliff Bars” of the sale’s trail, providing the fuel that sustains customers along the journey.

See what I was saying earlier about stepping into the customers’ shoes? It is the most critical step in lead nurturing.

Refocus content/nurturing approach to help customers on their journey

The journey map is about helping you understand the fundamental interactions that your future customer will have with the organization.

What are their motivations? What are their questions about each marketing touchpoint? Try to understand what they want and the concerns they’ll have when they talk with their peers. The goal of customer journey mapping is to get actionable customer insight.

Customer insight allows you to increase the clarity and relevance of your sales messaging, thus improving customer experience.

Ask yourself, are customers receiving the information that they want and need?

Decorative image of a zoomed-in trail map. There are 4 colorful pins in the map to mark where to go on the trail.

Step #2: Plan your lead nurturing path with a focus on progression

Invest your effort, not just into forming creative content for lead capture, but also into forming creative content for lead progression. I’ve seen companies spend most of their budget getting people to raise their hands, but not enough toward progression.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Marketers spend most of their budget getting people to raise their hands but not enough toward account progression. #abm #marketing #sales” quote=”Marketers spend most of their budget getting people to raise their hands but not enough toward account progression.”]

To keep with the hand-raising analogy, as a potential customer, keeping your hand raised throughout the long buying journey is a lot of work without help carry the weight of buying (i.e. sale’s team).

For potential customers, buying feels like a weight.

They’re weighing their options and considering many factors during business-as-usual.

The goal of lead nurturing is to help progress leads from initial interest toward purchase intent. It’s about progression. It’s a journey.

It’s worth noting:

  • The sales messaging employed and the frequency of touches will depend on the solutions you sell and the prospect’s buying cycle.
  • It would help if you created different lead nurturing tracks based on demographic criteria, such as size, industry, role in the buying process, and more.
A hiker helping another hiker up a steep part of a mountain by holding their hand and leading.
Slow down, and walk at the customer’s pace

Step #3: Walk the path with your customer

In a complex sale, the journey can be long and challenging to help people move from initial interest to purchase intent.

Your only job is to make certain you nourish your customer along the way and guide them with a meaningful compass toward the right and best decision for their needs.

Think of your marketing team as trail guides who will need to point out all the sights along the way that are useful in the decision-making process.

As a sales representative, you are the customer’s coach. You are there for customers throughout their journey, responding to their needs and providing guidance relevant to their experience.

Slow down, and walk at the customer’s pace, even if that means taking the long route with them when it comes to buying your service or product. If you hurry them along, you might end up with an exhausted customer who doesn’t feel good about the journey and won’t turn to you to continue the path to purchase.

Hand drawn art. The style of the drawing is simplistic with using only one line to connect the characters of the image with their background. No color is used except in the background which is a warm beige color. The image is set on a hiking path with two hikers walking the path with backpacks. This image was drawn to represent the journey that those in sales and marketing embark on with their customers--side by side, together.
“How you sell me is how you will serve me.”

How you sell me is how you will serve me.

Economic buyers evaluate you based on this, “how you sell me shows how you will serve me.” Makes sense, right? Here’s where that Forrester statistic I mentioned earlier comes in. A study of business-to-business buyers shows that salespeople who became trusted advisors and understood the needs of economic buyers are 69% more likely to get away with a deal.

The complex sale requires that your prospect:

  • Must be familiar with you and your company and with what you and your company do.
  • Must perceive you and your company to be an expert in your field.
  • Must believe that you and your business understand his or her specific issues and can solve them.­
  • Likes you and your company enough to want to work with you.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Economic buyers evaluate you based on this, ‘how you sell me shows how you will serve me.’ #cx #sales #b2bmarketing ” quote=”Economic buyers evaluate you based on this, ‘how you sell me shows how you will serve me.'”]

Remember you can’t automate trust. Trust-building should be the theme of your nurturing efforts.

Building trust with your future customers

By providing valuable education and information to potential clients upfront, you become a trusted advisor. You are then perceived to be an expert. You don’t sell; you don’t make pitches. Instead, you provide insights and solutions all within the realm of your expertise and, as a result, become the first company they turn to when there’s a need.

Make your marketing program’s single point of focus be to develop trust, and your business will become more profitable and less reliant on competing on price. Selling, per se, is reduced in the interest of more open and honest conversations with prospects (being their coach in the buying journey that they can trust). You win more business on a sole-source basis, and more new business referrals come your way.

Two hikers on top of a mountain facing away from the camera and posing as by throwing their hands up in a cheering motion. They both look excited, relieved, and proud to have made the journey.

Step #4: Keep Walking the Journey

Startling as it may seem, recent research (and even studies from 20 years ago) shows that longer-term leads (future opportunities), often ignored by salespeople, represent almost 40 to 70% of potential sales. Research compiled by the MarketingSherpa Lead Generation Benchmark Report showed, “marketing departments with a lead nurturing campaign reported a 45% higher ROI than marketing departments that did not utilize a lead nurturing track.”

If inquiries are directly passed on to salespeople, reps, partners, or distributors for follow-up, please beware.  You may be leaving as many as eight out of 10 sales prospects on the sales path for your competitors.

Now get your compasses out, trail experts, and begin the long-yet-fruitful journey toward an effective lead nurturing program. You’ll be surprised how many potential customers will want to join you along the way.

Photo Credit: Sujay Sarkhel.

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About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Hello Brian! Your article is very informative and I really loved reading it, I guess training the team to participate well with customers is very important. Well probably read this article again.

  2. Hey Brian, loved your article!

    Even I’ve seen companies solely focusing on achieving sales targets and not on lead nurturing – a process that can get them a loyal customer for life.

    A major reason behind this I believe is the lack of a proper business development team that focuses on customer satisfaction and a set of good quality leads for sales professionals

    Sales professionals often get a huge database containing leads, but they aren’t related to their niche. This makes it difficult for them to connect on a personal level with prospects.

  3. Great information Brian!

    This is especially true: “If inquiries are directly passed on to salespeople, reps, partners or distributors for follow-up, beware. You may be leaving as many as eight out of 10 sales prospects on the sales path for your competitors.”

    There is a simple reason for this. Sales professionals are usually working on quarterly quotas. They are incented to work on the business closest to close. All others opportunities fall by the wayside. That’s why a high-functioning business development team is critical.

  4. Building trust and always giving them the best true value has been the fastest way I’ve seen large companies and other individuals truly change how their customers buy and react to them.

    You can take a look at apple and many others, and see how they treat their customers, and the path they take them on as well to see what works.

    Great post as always my friend!

    The customer is always right!:)

    1. Thanks Johnathan, I agree with you on building trust. And I like how you talk about Apple too. The first word in the Apple Marketing Philosophy is “Empathy: We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.”

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