How to make 'Lead Nurturing' work for your sales team

We're doing a lot of work with Pardot (the Salesforce marketing automation software) at the moment. We think Pardot is a fantastic solution, but I'm not going to talk about it (much) in this article. Instead, I want to talk about the piece of our sales and marketing efforts that most of us ignore, the middle of the sales funnel. I think that if companies here in Dubai concentrate a little more effort in nurturing the middle of the funnel sales opportunities that they can enjoy a 10% to 20% increase in revenue within three months. The Pardot marketing automation application provides all the tools needed to convert this unrealised pipeline.

Why's this so interesting? Well, let's consider the two ends of the sales funnel that we all tend to pay most attention to, the top end where the inbound marketing effort creates new leads and inquiries, and the bottom end where the sales team are working hard to convert the opportunities into closed sales.

Inbound marketing and top of the funnel activity

I've written before about the blurred lines that exist where marketing ends and the sales process kicks in. At the top end of the sales funnel our marketing teams are working to get these early stage engagements with prospects. Using all the tools that we have such as blogging, email marketing, SEO and paid online advertising to targeted markets, we need to constantly add new leads to the sales pipeline to give our sales team enough leads for them to hit their sales quota. We track these inquiries that come in via our landing pages, seeing them in our Salesforce leads reports with tracked 'lead source' data that allow us to evaluate the effectiveness of each marketing platform and campaign.

Getting the attention of our target market is hard work, and often expensive. There's a tremendous amount of effort that goes into getting a prospect to complete a contact form or pick up the phone to get in touch. With a lot of companies that we've worked with, the process for dealing with these early stage inquiries is that they are automatically routed to the sales team for follow up. The logic being that the marketing team has created the interest, now it's time for the sales guys to take over and close it down.

Closing deals at the bottom end of the funnel

Sales teams the world over are measured on short time scales, revenue figures for the month is normal or over a quarter at a stretch. The benefit of this approach is that it keeps our sales teams closing, focused on bringing in new business on a weekly or monthly basis. That's why they're there and why they're paid the commissions. The focus on hitting monthly sales targets conditions the sales team, and really the entire business, to think and plan in the short term. Having your business hitting targets on a monthly basis is a healthy thing, a good thing, and something that all of us would be delighted to have in our own companies.

But what about..

The leads that take longer to convert, the middle of the sales funnel

The marketing team is focused on inbound marketing to create new leads.

The sales team are driven to close deals at the bottom of the sales funnel.

Who's looking after the bit in the middle?

Let's consider what makes up the middle of the sales funnel. This is made up of prospects that are interested in your product or service, have the budget and buying authority, but for whatever reason aren't ready to buy. These reasons could range from a lack of understanding of your product, waiting for the budget to be released in the new year or they're still trying to convince their boss that doing business with you is a good idea. In most cases, the prospect needs time, information and help to get to a buying decision (moving to the bottom of the sales funnel). So what is a good strategy for dealing with these middle of the funnel prospects?

You've already spent money to attract these prospects into your funnel through advertising or SEO work. The challenge now is to provide the information and regular contact (this is where Pardot cooks on gas...) so that the prospect can get comfortable with your product. Typically companies use a drip - feed of case studies, white papers and blog posts or website articles to flesh out both the features and benefits of their service. Delivering this information via email with links to other downloadable content such as eBooks or video's helps to move prospective buyers through the decision-making process so that they are ready for a chat with the sales team.

Many companies often pay little attention to the middle of the sales funnel, allowing the opportunities to fall in-between the two stools of inbound marketing (top of the funnel) and sales (bottom of the funnel). We all like to discover ways of driving new revenue, yet we pay little attention to the prospects that have already engaged with us, but just need some more work.

Pardot marketing automation for the middle of the funnel

The first thing to realise is that you're not selling at this point, you're educating and building trust and familiarity. The reason that most companies are not good at this is that it requires time and expertise to create content. Writing articles like this, producing graphics or videos and then publishing everything online and via email and social takes a lot of effort and knowledge. The hard bit of this process (from my experience at least) is to write the information and produce the graphics that go with the copy. Your choice here is to write it yourself or to work with a copywriters such as Samantha Armstrong at the PR Company (We've worked with Sam in the past and he highly recommend her).

When you've produced your copy you'll need tools to get the message out. There is a large range of tools that can be used for this, such as MailChimp for email, Hootsuite for social posts or Wordpress for blogging. I mentioned at the top of the article that we are working with Pardot marketing automation tools, and for businesses that are looking for high levels of performance with integration to their Salesforce CRM, this application takes some beating. What our clients are really liking about it is that campaigns can be created for a specific audience (such as the middle of the funnel prospects), and then let it run. The marketing automation and progressive profiling features of the system mean that content is delivered to your target audience regularly. Automatic lead scoring means that as your prospects consume your content (opening emails, clicking on links or reading web page content) they are automatically pushed through the sales funnel so that the sales team are made aware of when a lead is ready to have a sales call.