I recently had the opportunity to interview Ardath Albee about the importance of lead nurturing and I think you’ll be interested to read some of the valuable feedback she provided.
PC: Ardath, you’ve written a lot about the importance of using lead nurturing to engage leads across the entirety of the buying process. Yet B2B marketers seem to be more focused on lead generation than the rest of the process. Is that a problem?
AA: Yes. I really think it’s an impediment to the effectiveness of marketing in becoming a strategic arm of the company, rather than just a cost center. Let’s look at the difference between the short-term and the longer-term reality about leads:
The difference between those two functions is huge. The first is a welcome, but the second is strategic engagement that contributes to downstream revenues. If marketing is only focused on the first, they’re leaving the bulk of the process to sales. The problem here is that salespeople don’t want to nurture prospects—they want to sell to them. This is why so much lead wastage is going on. It’s why marketing can’t prove quantifiable value in return for spend.
Don’t get me wrong. Both lead gen and lead nurturing are important. To be successful, marketers need to integrate them both into a lead management process.
PC: Several reports have been published recently about marketing trends and goals. Lead generation is always high on the list and lead nurturing is trending at the bottom of the heap. You’ve been pretty vocal about what you see as conflicts between marketing goals and practices. Can you elaborate on what marketers should take into account to better align goals with practices?
AA: Absolutely. Let me first say that to make lead generation a main goal is kind of the default answer. It’s what marketing has been charged with achieving for a long time. The focus has been on quantity, not quality. The Tsunami of information available online has reversed that focus, only marketers have been slow to respond accordingly. Part of this is because their company hasn’t changed perspective, but the other part is that marketers haven’t shifted their mindsets or their skills to address the realities of the marketplace with their buyers—or proven it to their bosses.
First, let's dispel this idea that an opt-in is actually a lead. Because they're not. They're someone who was interested enough in the offer presented that they chose to fill out a form to gain access to it. Period.
What they choose to do next in response to your content and communications is a critical pivot point. One that won't happen if marketing programs stop at "lead" generation. Marketers need to start thinking about what comes after contact information. How does that fit with their lead definition? What next step[s] can they create to validate their belief that the contact is actually a “lead” is true?
The evidence exists that buyers spend more time self-educating via the Internet than they do in conversations with salespeople. There's also proof that, due to this change, sales is only invited into the last 1/3 of the buying process.
With a complex sale, there's a lot of knowledge transfer that must happen. If they're not getting it from you during a nurturing process, which competitor are they relying on? And why do you think you'll suddenly pop up on their shortlist if you haven't been there, being helpful, all along?
And, if salespeople are cherry picking all the "leads" you toss them, what's happening to all the others? If they were interested enough to fill out a form, they may eventually become buyers. That's up to what you do in an effort to build a relationship [read nurture].
After all, the subject is top of mind enough to cause them to pay for content with information. So, what's the benefit of spending all of that budget to let non sales-ready prospects languish unattended?
PC: You’ve made a good case for using lead nurturing in addition to lead generation. This said, two of the biggest challenges related to content development are making that content engaging and the time and resources necessary to produce it. In fact, many marketers are turning to 3rd party content and considering content curation. Your thoughts?
AA: Oh, I have many! But, let’s start with creating content. Marketers need to tackle that challenge. Maybe over time, using a combination of in-house and outsourced writers, or learning how to improve their own writing capabilities. The need for content is not going to wane. I think the best strategy is to consider how best your company can prepare to meet increasing demands for content.
Let’s talk about why it’s important to develop writing skills.
- 3rd party content is written by someone else who is [presumably] an expert in the subject matter. If all you use is 3rd party content, how will you know if leads are interested in your company or in what that expert has to say?
- In a study done by Tech Validate, marketers report that thought leadership content is more effective than lead generation content and that 3rd party analyst content is more effective than content written in house. Further evidence that companies need to invest in building their content development skill set.
- Social media is at the top of nearly every B2B marketer’s priority list. What drives social media engagement? Sharing great content. If some of it isn’t yours, you’re serving as a traffic generator for others. On the flip side, if you produce great content, your network will serve as a traffic generator for you.
- Crafting your own thought leadership content sets your company up as an expert. Using 3rd party content helps to promote that third party. Sure, you gain some value as a resource, but not higher credibility that you can actually provide the expertise those leads are seeking. Same goes for content curation. Both can be valuable, but not when used as the only sources of content your company provides.
By Dan McDade