Every company is going to define its process, but the basic lead lifecycle consists of three parts: lead generation, lead nurturing and hand-off to Sales. Lead nurturing, particularly in B2B companies, is key because that stage turns the face in the crowd with the raised hand asking for more information into a sales-ready prospective customer.
Adam Blitzer, Co-founder and COO of Pardot, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing automation platform geared toward small- to mid-sized businesses, recently shared an interesting lead nurturing idea he has — nurturing leads lost to competitors.
Often once a prospect makes a purchase decision, and that choice is with a different company, the lead completely leaves the pipeline. Blitzer says there are good reasons to keep that now future prospect in a nurturing program, and discusses how Pardot continues to nurture lost leads.
You have something of a counterintuitive idea — actually nurturing leads lost to a competitor. Is this idea based on research or other metrics?
Adam Blitzer: It really started more as an experiment internally. Since the nurturing is automated, with no real work required on the part of the sales rep, there’s no reason not to try out an idea like this. We saw a fair amount of prospects come our way because they were unhappy with their current vendor, so it made sense to us that someday these leads lost might also be unhappy with their choice and be looking for a new solution.
We started nurturing lost deals back in 2007 and noticed that within a year, we started to win back a reasonable percentage of them.
Explain the reasoning behind nurturing lost leads.
AB: If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense to keep in touch with those lost leads – if your product was on their short list, they saw something the liked in what you are offering. Your sales rep has already invested a good amount of time building a relationship with the decision maker.
Putting them on a nurturing track allows you to keep them informed of new features and updates that you’ve pushed out over the course of their current vendor contract. In a fast-growing, SaaS industry like our own, the scope of a product can change greatly over the course of a year. It’s possible that the feature that cost you a deal might be now be implemented or that you’ve added something new and innovative that puts you leaps and bounds ahead of the vendor that your prospect chose.
It’s really just a way to keep your company top-of-mind in case they are looking to make a change. It isn’t unusual for a company to shop around when their current contract is approaching renewal.
There is also the simple matter of making the most of your marketing dollars, which is the goal of any nurturing program. You spend a lot of money generating leads and even more to generate sales opportunities. If they convert, it is likely a very low touch sale (this time around). You have already spent the funds to try to convert the prospect in the previous year and do not have to re-spend it when winning back the client.
How can a marketer begin reaching out to these lost prospects with a track specific to the vendor who won the deal?
AB: If a good relationship was established with the prospect during the sales cycle, it can actually be as simple as the sales rep setting up the campaign by saying that they wish them luck with their implementation, they’d love to keep in touch and they’ll send them over any information they run across that might be helpful.
Marketers know their competitors well. They can easily set up a different “lost opportunity” track for each competing solution, with content specific to that vendor.
The challenge is keeping automated content “fresh.” The easiest way to do this is to have fairly static email templates that point to dynamic or constantly updating content.
A great example is to have an automated email (personalized from the sales rep) suggesting the prospect take a look at their newest feature and interesting blog post. In both cases the link would just point to a page that is dynamically updated anytime a new feature or post is produced. That ensures that anytime the email is sent out, it points to something fresh and relevant, all without the marketer ever needing to change the nurturing program or email template.
How does timing come into play in this variant on traditional lead nurturing?
AB: The timing or cadence of the nurturing program will actually depend on the competitor to whom you lost the deal. If you know your competitor typically does annual contracts, you can start the program gradually (perhaps one email in each of the first two quarters) and then pick up steam as the prospect is closer to his renewal date.
One of the nurturing best practices we always try to remind people of is to know when to stop. If at any point a lead responds to a nurturing email — that’s a good time for the sales rep to pick up and engage personally with the prospect. And if you’re going to do this, it’s absolutely key that the person be removed from the campaign at that point, to avoid any conflicting messaging. It can be easy to forget this step, but it is so important.
Should the nurturing messaging be based on the winning vendor? If so, how?
AB: It is ideal to use the winning vendor’s name and any other information if possible. This makes the messages much more personal and less likely to be seen as automated. If you do have specific information about the vendor, it can’t hurt to point out the differences in your products, like where you feel yours excels over the competitor.
Should nurturing lost leads have an informal feel, or should these lost prospects be strongly pursued?
AB: While I do think it can be effective to use vendor-specific information that has a strong message, it’s often best to start out with a softer sell, especially at the beginning of a nurturing program. Since the prospect already has an established relationship with the losing sales rep, a personal, informal tone tends to work well.
These emails might include new features about your own product or perhaps even best practices information that could be helpful to them even as they are using a competing product. This best practices information still acts as a reminder that your company is a thought leader in the space and helps keep your brand top-of-mind.
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photo by: Phil Roeder