We recently signed our 12th international client and in the process of enrolling them in our SmartStart program, they inquired about how to go about introducing and proving the value of lead nurturing to the sales team. A good question - no matter what country you are in - and certainly worth a few words.
Before introducing yet another great initiative from marketing…
Understand the sale cycle: Know the sales team’s pain and process. Ask lots of open ended questions that help you understand the sale cycle, the process, the obstacles to purchase (“perceived” by the prospect and real), the buy signals, the competitive landscape, etc. Understanding the mindset and process of the sales person is one of the single most important things you can do as a marketer supporting a B2B sales team. (stay tuned for a future post on this topic listing actual questions to ask your B2B sales team)
Create demand from the sales team: Once you understand the challenges of the sales cycle, ask how sales deals with those challenges. Questions like, “How is that working out for you? How much time do you spend doing that? What would you do to improve that?” and a host of others will help you quantify and qualify the demand. Those same questions will help you formulate some compelling ways communicate the benefits of rules-based lead nurturing.
Let others convey the benefits for you: How often have you thoroughly researched an “optimal” solution, and introduced it to the sales team only to see it not contribute to revenue the way you thought it would? The sales team of course needs to stay focused on opportunities, but there’s nothing wrong with sharing a few case studies with them to get their input on a potential solution. It naturally lends credibility if they see others realizing success with a lead nurturing solution. Being an insider, you are in prime position to know who the informal influencers are on the sales team. Get their input. They are the squeaky wheels, so getting them to embrace a solution is arguably more important than getting sales management on board. After all, if they don’t leverage the solution, sales management can very well conclude the lead nurturing solution is not as valuable as you think it is.
Refrain from introducing new processes: Good sales people have a clearly defined process for moving a prospect to an opportunity and then to a sale. Great sales people execute this process consistently, and document a prospect’s status sufficiently to determine the appropriate next steps. Additional documentation steps for the sole benefit of marketing just won’t happen. So make sure that any demand generation and nurturing solution is sufficiently well though out to trigger automated nurturing on data that is routinely updated by the sales team. The little things are important, like sharing nurturing and hand-raising activity on the same CRM screen regularly viewed by sales. Expecting sales to hunt for this data on a new screen or tab may seem inconsequential, but it's a new process nonetheless. Each time you introduce something that is not a part of an effective salesperson’s normal routine, you invite the process to breakdown.
Transparency is key: Sales needs to be aware of how their leads are being nurtured. They should of course help define the steps of a drip marketing campaign, but also be able to see how it’s being executed and have the ability to modify the steps as needed. While selling is a process, exceptions to the process happen all time. Make sure your nurturing solution is flexible enough to allow sales to halt or postpone nurturing steps based on their judgments. ( more on this topic in a future post )
Get sales to “own” the solution: Since the lead generation, qualification and nurturing solution ultimately benefits the sales team, it’s understandable that they will want a hand in crafting how the solution will be leveraged. Sales should of course define the “sales-ready” lead, and the related alert triggers and nurturing schemas. You’ll get many different definitions of a “sales ready” lead and just as many opinions on how to move prospects through the sales cycle. Listen to all of them, and then get sales management to agree on some basic assumptions that can be adjusted later on as those assumptions get validated.
Create an internal case study: If you have a very large or disparate sales team, consider getting just a few sales team members to participate in a pilot before rolling out the solution to the rest of the team. This is a good way to iron out lead scoring / grading and nurturing assumptions. Almost every time a client has done this, the sales team ends up dialing back or tightening the criteria for automated alerts, because the automated nurturing inherently stimulates more hand raising activity. For instance, sales may only want to be alerted on “B” quality leads that view at least 8 pages on the website in 24 hours vs just 4 pages. With positive results on a pilot, sales management is much more likely to support your initiative during the roll-out phase.
Prove a contribution quickly: You want to show proof of success quickly, and build on that with additional adjustments. Complex sales cycles greater than 60 days definitely benefit from lead nurturing, but waiting 60 to 90 days to show a handful of results is not an option. Make sure your solution automatically gives you the detailed metrics you need in order to show benefits within 30 days. Some of these metrics include sales probability percentages and hand raising activities of nurtured opportunities compared to a baseline of non-nurtured prospects. With best practices applied to the nurturing and alert triggers, you should also be able to convey significant time savings. One of the key metrics here is the time saved hunting down and disqualifying leads that just aren’t sales-ready.
So you might be thinking all of this just takes too long…welcome to selling. Sure, you already know automated lead nurturing is a no-brainer. You know sales will shorten sales cycles and benefit from the lead grading and triggered alerts they define. You already know the time savings alone will ROI justify the solution and that you can get up and running in just two days. But here’s the rub…the proposed solution can’t be your idea – or at least perceived to be yours. Much of my training as an Army Psychological Operations officer focused on this, but quite frankly, most parents who have raised a 4 year old, already know this "rule of influence". If you are blissfully unaware of this tactic, it’s really very simple.
All you need to do is plant the seed with the sales team, and with effective nurturing, you’ll soon generate the demand you need to successfully introduce rules-based lead nurturing to your organization. Of course you could take the shortcut "because I said so" approach, but if you do, expect some push back...and maybe even a tantrum or two.