Phone: 978-259-8429

nurtureIn October 2010, TechTarget hosted the Online ROI Summit focused on helping tech marketers understand how to identify, nurture, and convert prospects. As part of the session on The Role of Nurturing in the Lead Gen Campaign, Pete Marino – Senior Marketing Manager with D-Link Systems – presented his company’s approach to lead nurturing.

Here Pete shares further insights into lead nurturing best practices at D-Link.

Q. Please explain D-Link’s typical sales cycle and buyer.

A. We’re generally engaging technical decision makers – IT managers and directors – between three and six months. We identified these roles as part of our research on the ideal customer, and learned that we speak best to this audience.

Depending on the vertical and the customer’s project, this audience might include others, such as the business decision maker and CFO. But we engage those secondary prospects indirectly by feeding all information to the main audience who then presents to these other stakeholders.

Plus, we had to focus on a single persona due to our nurturing budget. While it ultimately makes sense to interact with a variety of touchpoints across the prospect’s organization, it’s more practical for us to deal with one or more technical folks.

Q. Describe your process for developing ideal customer profiles/personas.

A. The first step was to align with the sales team, since they know the audience best. We met with key salespeople and assessed wins and losses and common characteristics across these. Then we broke these down by vertical focus and stakeholder role within the organization, such as technical buyer, influencer, economic buyer, etc. We drilled down to understand their roles and pain points, what motivates them, what they use for validation, etc. We then built profiles and scoring based on this information.

The key is that you can’t guess in order to develop personas – you need to assess your sales history and customer base. Moreover, you might miss important nuances if you don’t do the work. We unearthed interesting insights during the process – things you would only learn by looking at real data. One example is that we do well with companies that operate in multiple locations.

Again, because of our budget, we decided to focus on the technical buyer, so we then honed in on that person’s pain points, etc. Ideally, we want to understand the keywords and language used by this person in describing the problem and talking about possible solutions. But it’s sometimes tough to gather this information because you don’t necessarily capture it. We’re fortunate because we’ve done lots of teleprospecting and recorded conversations with prospects that include this type of detail.

Q. Explain your strategy/approach to lead nurturing. How do you align your content with your nurturing goals?

A. Our goal is to walk prospects through the buying cycle, keeping us top of mind until they’re ready to be contacted, which is usually late in the buying cycle. We align content with the buying cycle. At each stage, we try to identify a need, and create content to address that.

Perhaps in the initial stage, it’s an economic need, such as reducing CapEx by unifying your networks, or increasing security without increasing your budget. When prospects move into the consideration stage, they typically want more information on how to address their challenges, so we talk about best practices and provide more specifics about our technology. In the later stages, they want competitive and comparative information. We find that they want case studies throughout the buying process, though they seek a greater number of them later on.

We incorporate calls to action that generate demand around our programs and promotions. In addition, we always make sure that prospects know how to contact us at any stage within the nurture stream.

The biggest challenge is identifying where someone is in the sales cycle. It’s even tougher now when we hear TechTarget explain how people consume content. The consumption doesn’t necessarily align with the buying cycle because those prospects are archiving information. That’s why you need an early – but light – touch and then you focus on building the relationship. We make sure our sales reps can make a soft touch early on to establish a relationship with the prospect, such as by sending an introductory email. This is simply meant to make the prospect aware that the sales rep is available – there is no sales push.

As part of lead nurturing, you need to go beyond the content. While content consumption gives you one view into a prospect, other behaviors give you other clues. For example, we might see that that a prospect looked for reseller contact information. That’s why it’s critical that you monitor online behavior. You must pay attention not just to the amount of activity but also to the changes, such as that they’re visiting your site more frequently or doubling consumption of content. These are indicators that something is going on with the prospect.

Q. What’s your philosophy and strategy around registration?

A. We use progressive profiling and collect information over time. We keep our forms to 3-4 questions, so it takes three touches before we get the minimum amount of information we need to profile someone. But we’ve found that 30-40% more people fill out our forms because we’re not asking for as much information. Moreover, we’re seeing fewer fake entries.

That said, what we request with registration depends on what the person is signing up for – and our goals. You need to decide if you’re looking for quality or quantity. We ask for different information when they’re signing up for a webinar versus when they want to download a white paper.

Some content, such as our case studies, is free. And if we get a name from a trade show, our first email to that person might include an offer to download content without requiring registration. We do that to build trust. They’ll think “I’m getting valuable content,” and then they’re willing to provide information with the next interaction.

Sometimes, we don’t take them directly to the asset after they fill out a form to download content. Instead, we tell them we’re going to email the link to them. This forces people to provide us with an accurate email address.

Q. How did you determine the frequency of communication that would work for your audience?

A. Our nurturing is linear based on our customers’ buying cycle, which is 3-6 months on average, so we go with a two-week frequency for communications. In the latter stages, we point them to an evaluation or encourage them to take similar action. But everyone digests content differently. Even though we can make generalizations about what people look for and do in the awareness and consideration stages, it vaiesy by person.

Next year we’ll be unrolling Nurturing 2.0, which will be based on buyer behavior. This will change the flow of frequency, making it more dynamic based on how we see the prospect consuming our content and what we see them doing on our site.

Q. Garrett Mann of TechTarget said tech marketers need a minimum of 10-15 content assets for lead nurturing. Has that been your experience?

A. Absolutely. Developing enough content is the hardest part of lead nurturing. We were in a tough situation because we were building out our nurture flow while building out content

In our general flow, we have 14 assets. Once you run out of content, it’s challenging to keep prospects engaged. You need to repurpose content as much as possible, such as by pulling apart a white paper or turning a written case study into a video testimonial. The companies that do this best are the ones selling the marketing automation tools; they know firsthand that marketing automation doesn’t work without ample content.

Q. How do you make sure that sales (including telesales) is involved and understands what happens at each stage of the nurture flow?

A. We’re constantly improving on that. Right now we use marketing automation as a gatekeeper. Once we pass on a sales ready lead, sales has a view into all the information we’ve captured about that person. Today that includes all historical data about the lead, such as content consumed, actions take on our site, and what programs or promotions they’ve responded to.

We also provide sales with access to the information provided to us by TechTarget, showing engagement with our campaigns and similar campaigns run by other companies. And we provide telesales with guidance on logical steps depending on what a lead has done to date. For example, we’ll say “If the person has read this white paper, point her to this webinar.”

Going forward, we’d like to offer our sales team a view into our earliest interactions with the lead, even if that means someone who engaged with a sales rep at a show. We want our sales reps to see that so they can elevate the level of conversation with the prospect.

Q. What results have you seen from your lead nurturing activities?

A. The percent of marketing-qualified leads that convert to SQLs is in the high 90s. Sales-accepted leads that convert to SQLs is now 17 points higher than before. And roughly 27-28% of our SQLs close.

Q. What suggestions can you offer other B2B marketers looking to build a nurturing program?

  • Start simple and build out. It’s better to build off what you’re learning versus going in blind with something large.
  • Consider working with an agency like Bulldog Solutions to put scoring in place.
  • So much of nurturing is seeing how prospects react to your content and programs – that’s where you need to experiment.
  • Meet regularly with sales. Have an open dialogue and tweak what you’re doing based on their feedback. That means scoring, what you consider a sales ready lead, and how you define the ideal customer profile will change over time.
  • Don’t get mad when sales pushes back a lead. You need to understand why it got pushed back; usually there’s a good reason.