Last week we established that even with a good product, what really allows companies to grow is their client base – clients are the oxygen a company needs in order to scale and increase growth.
But every customer starts as a lead, so to scale effectively, brands must constantly develop and increase their incoming lead pool. To better understand how to acquire leads and nurture them all the way through the funnel, we sat down with Hadas Avrech, Growth Manager at Optimove, a smart marketing software solution (and our parent company).
In our previous conversation, you emphasized how much the company’s messaging impacts initial lead quality. What do you do after leads begin flowing in? What is lead nurturing?
“Lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with prospects throughout different stages of the sales funnel by providing relevant content at each stage. Our main goal is to create a more meaningful conversation with potential customers. Even if they might not be looking for an immediate solution, we want to position ourselves as the best choice for achieving their goals when they’re ready to buy. Lead nurturing is one part of the larger marketing process, where we take all the leads in our CRM and filter out the ones who are ready to transition to the sales team.
Now here’s the thing: in every company, resources are limited, so the key is to only transition leads that are already relevant and engaged. You do not want to pick up the phone based on a hunch, because that’s a waste of everyone’s time.”
So how do you do it? Manually or automatically?
“Well, both. It depends on what stage the lead is within the funnel, but as a whole, I believe in a hybrid approach to lead nurturing. As we collect leads, we utilize our automated marketing tools for the initial qualification processes, but when a lead is further down the funnel, it’s more valuable to introduce the human touch.”
Can you describe the lead journey?
“At first, leads flow into the CRM system from various sources. Each lead gets automatically evaluated and scored based on pre-defined criteria. If they pass the qualified-lead-score threshold, they are sent to the sales team, and their lifecycle stage is defined as MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead). Then, the New Business Associates run their preliminary qualification process by phone or by mail. If they’re qualified, the lead lifecycle stage is transitioned into SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads), which will trigger the sales cycle.”
How do you go about defining a good lead?
“One of the first items we checked off our list is setting the SLA between marketing and sales to define who should be qualified to move down the funnel to the sales team. We conversed with the sales team to pinpoint the attributes that define a good lead; since they have the closest contact with the leads, their insights significantly improved the system’s predictive qualities.
Then, we gathered the information we had on the leads and mapped it out according to three categories: firmographic (the firm’s size, industry, revenue etc.); demographics (the lead’s job title, seniority level, time in the company etc.); and activity (did they visit the site, download an e-book, submit their details etc.).”
What if you don’t know all that information “behind” a lead? Are there any ways to collect it?
“In many cases we don’t have a sufficient amount of data on a lead. There are a few ways to close these gaps of information – dedicated data enrichment tools, using dynamic forms, and finally – asking them by using surveys or questioners”.
“As far as data enrichment tools go, there are various tools out there, like Clearbit, Leadspace, LeadGenius, InsideView, etc. You must remember one crucial thing: The more data you have on each lead, the better your chances of converting them into a customer. This is one tool you do not want to skimp on.
Another channel you can use to enrich the data you have on your leads is utilizing the forms on your site; essentially, the fields on the form will automatically change based on the pre-gathered information about the user and will present only relevant fields. For example, if we already have the job title and seniority for a specific lead, we won’t trouble them for those details again. Instead, the form will present relevant fields such as “what marketing tools are you using?” There are many tools that can help you with this process; at Optimove we use HubSpot’s Progressive Profiling.
Lastly, when it comes to surveys, we can either send direct questions or display different content types to the user; based on their activity, we can analyze which content they favor.”
You can build an excellent marketing and sales operations, but without investing in tools that enhance the incoming lead flow, your efforts – and investment – will be in vain.”
OK, leads are flowing in. What’s next?
“Once you’ve managed to improve the lead flowing mechanism, it’s all about differentiating and scoring each lead. There are lead scoring tools that can automate the process, such as Lattice Engines, Infer, 6sense, Exceed.ai, and more. But, there’s always a great need for human touch and insight; your personal input carries a lot of weight. The system is merely the tool that allows you to execute the strategy you have already carefully crafted.
“We need two conditions to occur simultaneously for a lead to count as qualified: the lead needs to be relevant and engaged. It cannot be just one or the other, it must be both. There’s not much we can do with a super-relevant marketing executive who is unresponsive. At the same time, a super-engaged marketing student who downloads 6 of our e-books out of sheer curiosity is also hardly our target audience.
“Once we have all that in place, we need to decide what the threshold is to determine if they are ready to be turned over to the sales team. Say we define a score of 100 as the perfect lead; now, we evaluate how many leads we want to send to sales in a specific time frame, and based on that, establish our SLA with sales. Based on our calculations, a lead with a score of 70 and above goes to sales and turns to MQL. That’s our threshold, but remember, this is individual and will change based on your business goals and marketing strategy.
Now comes the tricky part, the very essence of lead nurturing – we don’t just look at the lead database and ‘work with what I have,’ but rather, we allocate resources into giving the leads an opportunity to interact with our content, which will result in raising their score.
And it’s not easy. We’re talking about unspeakable amounts of data. On the one hand we want to be efficient and automated, but on the other hand, we are on the mission to create personalized journeys, so there is very little room for error. The best way to work around this is by segmenting your lead pool into the most distinct clusters possible.
It’s all about the conversation – how do I strike it up? If it’s someone who never really engaged with us, I’d be careful not to send him an overly personal message. But if it’s someone who already downloaded one of our e-books, I have a conversation starter I can use.
But even after you’ve created this infrastructure, it’s still not enough. You must always remain dynamic and monitor the performance. Never be complacent, it’s a pattern many companies fall into. It’s not enough to look ahead, you must always look back and analyze. I constantly need to either change my criteria or fine-tune my threshold.”
How do you measure and monitor your progress or lack thereof?
“Except for the obvious performance KPIs, two metrics that are really important for us are MQLs that went back to becoming leads and MQLs that turn out to be irrelevant. We want to understand why they reverted back to leads – were they premature? Was there another reason? And of course, why did they turn out to be irrelevant – was the collection process flawed? Is there a problem with the lead-scoring module? Maybe we need to fine-tune our criteria or increasing the threshold. There are so many insights we can gather from this that can significantly improve the entire lead nurturing process.
Now, I’m not talking about manually going over lists and analyzing each and every lead, but rather identifying paths and creating automated exceptions and filters. I go over the data and look at leads who became MQLs, and MQLs who turned into SQLs, and of course SQLs who turned into customers. At the end of the day, what we care about most are the conversion rates – how many leads became customers. Understating your ROI is key to being able to measure your success”.
Is there a common mistake you see in this process?
“The first common mistake is skipping the research phase and going straight to implementation. You can’t build a model without properly understanding your arena – how do you segment your prospects? What is the message you’re trying to send? Another common mistake is that many companies build a magnificent marketing operation siloed from the sales department. You must include the sales department in the lead generation and nurturing process if you want to build it right and for the long term. And of course, as I mentioned, even after you’re done – always monitor the performance to make sure you are on the right path. And never be afraid to go back and change your process.”