Contributor Ambal Balakrishnan from ClickDocuments interviewed Maria Pergolino from marketing automation vendor Marketo regarding the evolutions in lead nurturing, lead management and marketing automation.

Maria Pergolino
Maria Pergolino

An interesting topic for all businesses and all marketers because in the end one of the things we try to achieve with content marketing, email marketing and even social media marketing is generating and nurturing leads until they are ready to be “passed on” to sales. For the record: this does not mean that our sole purpose is to generate leads. Enhancing customer satisfaction and improving customer loyalty is key as well.

And the rules of engagement and of lead generation have changed. The process has become more complex, is increasingly controlled by people and thus is more about inbound marketing.

I often have discussions with people who want to generate leads here and now via outbound actions that often fail. If you are responsible for new business it means you are “judged” upon the new business you effectively generate. However, in this day and age, some patience is crucial and less company-centric thinking as well.

Lead nurturing and improving the quality of leads passed to sales

Whether you organize events, set up email campaigns or use white papers or other forms of content marketing for lead generation or lead nurturing: the number of leads is less determined by the number of calls you make, emails you send and traffic building campaigns you set up. It’s about offering value and creating relationships first, no matter how automated your business is.

Back to the interview with Maria Pergolino. Ambal Balakrishnan asked her how demand generation will evolve.

Maria Pergolino: “traditionally marketing departments focused on creating leads for their sales teams by gathering names at trade shows or capturing emails from “contact me” web forms”.

She adds: “we will see hundreds of medium and large sized B2B companies stop focusing on the number of lead created, instead improving the quality of leads passed to sales”.

According to Maria this switch to demand generation will happen because of the growing adoption of marketing automation and focus on content marketing. This will be enhanced by the use of inbound marketing as part of the demand generation process.

The result of this change will be greater brand recognition, shorter sales cycles, and improved customer retention, she adds.

For Maria Pergolino the key action actions to take are:

  • Marketers should implement a lead nurturing and lead scoring process, involving sales in the creation to enhance sales and marketing alignment.
  • Demand generation objectives will create the need for marketers to develop high quality content / thought leadership.
  • Marketers should use inbound marketing including SEO, social media, and blogging to generate leads and to help nurture them until purchase.
  • CMOs should incentivize their marketing team with bonus structures based on the number of sales opportunities created.

You can read and find more resources on Ambal’s blog here.

The walls between sales and marketing

Thanks to the shift to online communication channels, the fragmentation of the media, and the constant emerging of new digital techniques to obtain data from people – like online webinars, surveys, social media, etc. – a lot of marketing departments receive more leads than ever before.

Besides the classic offline lead nurturing and generation techniques and traditional online strategies like email marketing, search engine advertising and blogs, marketers dispose of various new lead generation sources as well.

Therefore, for a lot of companies the question about how to generate leads is no longer a question. Instead, the questions are how to lower the cost per lead (through inbound marketing, amongst other things), and especially how to make sure those leads are being followed and nurtured effectively.

Lead nurturing is an important task for marketers. Its ultimate goal is of course to convert prospects and suspects into customers. In other words: sales.

And, even though the borders between sales and marketing are getting thinner and both must work together more than ever, those borders still do exist. Most of us, at one time or the other have experienced situations where leads were “forgotten” or not being acted upon properly. This is of course a waste of both time and money. Fortunately, there are many platforms (CRM, marketing automation, lead management, analytics, etc.) working together these days to ensure that the follow-up and “nurturing” of a lead happens in the best way possible.

It’s about the people (leads and sales people), stupid

However, it is not the only technology taking care of that. Lead scoring, nurturing, and management is above all a matter of correctly analyzing the data and offering the information desired by the prospect at the right moment.

Also, keep in mind that a lead is a human being. In these times of social media, neglecting a lead can cause negative word-of-mouth. But the marketing department has yet another challenge: making sure that the leads are also followed by sales.

There are different ways to accomplish this. Quite a few companies, especially in B2B, have digital technology at reach for their sales people, so that they can follow their leads optimally. If that technology is simple and efficient, it will actually be used. If not, sales will quit in no time.

The most important way to ensure that leads are being followed effectively by sales is of course making the leads as qualified as possible for follow-ups. At most companies, sales people won’t do anything with leads that they don’t feel like being worthy of their time because they offer too little information.

Through lead nurturing and integrating different techniques and systems to make the leads as qualified as possible, lead scoring (literally assigning a score to a lead) makes it possible to call in sales only when the lead is ready to make that important next step: selling.

And, in these social medium times more and more .. buying. After all, the focus is clearly shifting from selling to buying.

Managing and optimizing the funnel

A while back, I mentioned about an article that David Baker from Razorfish recently wrote for MediaPost’s Email Insider blog, which also had an interesting view on the changes in lead management and introduced the influence aspect.

David Baker
David Baker

Return Over Investment has forever been the driving force in B2B marketing, David writes. In recent years, it is increasingly so, I might add, since the adoption of Marketing ROI across businesses is increasingly becoming important.

However, David says that what he calls “more progressive digital channels and methods of reach” force us to not only measure ROI at the conversion stage but also at the lead quality stage. As a result, lead scoring has to be adapted to a more “complicated sales cycle and attribution”.

Secondly, David also looks at that the combination of sales and marketing and the need and challenge of the integration between a sales agent and “the web experience”. People these days increasingly use online channels, look for information on the web, are multi-tasking and omni-channel and thus dispose of more information sources.

At the same time, however, people also have better tools to cut through the noise and filter all the information in function of their needs and preferences. And the truth is that we don’t know what they look for and have limited insights in what information and sources they allow and when and how they want to interact with our businesses.

So it’s also by definition more challenging to manage the way in which we synchronize the data we obtain from the web experience and digital footprints of our customers, communication, support, sales interactions and so on. Or, as David puts it, to manage and optimize the funnel.

Data quality and the introduction of influence

Since buyers increasingly control interaction, communication and information gathering, are more connected than ever and are also more demanding, businesses have to do more research, track better and find new and better ways to gather and combine metrics, data and the insights and information obtained by them.

It’s what David calls the challenge of “data quality”. As he writes: if you believe in the concept of lead recycling, then you will realize how important data quality is in taking an extended view and investment in managing leads longer, even if they aren’t ranked high in your “ready to buy” scale.

According to him the way we look at leads will thus change. From a focus on where people will people and how much they will or might buy to how much influence they have in the buying decision and what other people are involved in this decision. Remember that in a connected world, people increasingly rely on their peers.

David wonders if one can accurately mine “intent to buy” through unstructured data sources? How will LinkedIn and other B2B social networks influence lead scoring and value?

And it’s not about reach but about the “real-time simulation of social networks to gauge influence and engagement”, he adds.

The buying journey has become more complex, more difficult to track but maybe most of all more social – or let’s say “connected”.

Cross-channel and cross-interaction

Before people decide to buy something they go through a whole process of information gathering, interacting, informing and so on.

It has always been like that but today it’s even more so. I already often explained that this is one of the reasons why content has become so important in the whole B2B process.

But it’s not about content alone. Nor is it only about dialogue, participation and relationships. From the lead perspective it’s also a matter of having the right tools, processes, people and data to adapt and optimize the lead management and sales cycle (or better, the buying cycle).

And that’s why a holistic and cross-channel approach of mining data, combining them and integrating online and offline customer experiences and analytics is so important. Whether you succeed in doing this or not, however, is more than a question of tools, it’s a matter of strategy and people.

And of course of acting upon these changes by optimizing your marketing automation and lead management strategy in function of all these changes. But the right tools are a necessity.

Lead generation, demand generation and looking at leads in function of their influence: what do you think? You can connect with all the people mentioned in this post below and for those that can’t get enough I added some related interesting papers, reports and more from all three mentioned companies from slideshare.

Ambal Balakrishnan is the co-founder of US-based ClickDocuments. Ambal is specialized in content marketing, social media marketing, B2B marketing and much more. You can connect with Ambal on Twitter here.

This article was posted on i-SCOOP’s Social Email Marketing blog and has been moved as part of an integration of all our blogs.