Of late, marketers have mastered using white papers, eBooks, webinars and other free content to pull prospects into lead management funnels and keep sales teams busy for months. This is in contrast to a time not too long ago, when marketers' toughest challenge was generating qualified leads.
But the increase in prospects brought the challenge of lead conversion. And in some cases the marketing department—and not the sales staff—is better suited to meet this challenge.
Salespeople have discovered there can be a grey area between lead and conversion, such as when the prospect has indicated interest but is not quite ready to commit. The prospect needs to be courted first. And while the ultimate proposal—the sale—still may be the job of the sales team, the courting (or lead nurturing) should be the responsibility of marketing.
Lead nurturing takes place after the prospect has been acquired and is safely inside the lead management or CRM system. Content marketing can have a powerful impact on this activity.
It takes five to six high quality touches to turn a new lead into a customer, according to estimates by Forrester and marketing automation firms. As such, it is critical for marketers to understand how to use authoritative content to move the lead to a loyal customer.
What should these touches look like? In the business community, narratives such as case studies enable prospects to participate in the story, which makes them more open to internalizing a marketer's messages.
For example, marketers seeking to generate prospects and build awareness should focus on creating content that educates and informs. At this stage, most prospects are researching vendors to learn more about a topic or product category. They respond well to best practices white papers and research reports.
Once prospects identify themselves as a lead—by registering for a download or attending a virtual or live event—marketers bring them into the consideration/short list phase. To take them to this next level, the content provided should be richer and give a deeper understanding of the offering. Case studies, testimonials and demos show expertise and build trust in the company.
As prospects get closer to a purchase decision, marketers can help them build a business case by providing evidence demonstrating their products as the right choice, whether by cost savings, improved results or mitigated risks.
The content-focused outlook does not end once a prospect becomes a customer. Instead, the objective focuses on retention with an eye toward building long-term relationships, and turning customers into advocates. At this point, marketers should develop content that continues to inspire customers and convinces them to buy more.
Importantly, marketers that want customers to become advocates must design content easily shareable via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social platforms. There’s more to creating a good narrative than just hiring a writer. Marketers first need to rethink how they perceive their customers and prospects. Traditional business-to-business lead generation programs focus on groups segmented by job title, company size, or other demographics.
Telling stories that cut across demographics can expand the market potential and create multiple touch points. Doing so enables marketers to better target messages among customers and prospects. Marketers can then segment based on where a prospect is in the purchase funnel—awareness, research, consideration, etc.—and bring to bear more specific storytelling that delivers real value.
Content plans and schedule must deliver different types of content based on where a prospect or customer is in the sales funnel. Delivering an increasingly deeper level of content will enhance permission-based relationship with prospects: The more they ask for content, the stronger the relationship becomes. The ability to nurture prospects and customers with highly relevant content builds trust, affinity and loyalty—and drives sales.