With lead generation at the center of every marketing strategy, we know our Channel Partners go to great lengths to find and convert prospects. And although we all understand successful lead nurturing requires relationship building with potential buyers, it is precisely at this stage that many of our marketing efforts fall flat. In fact, according to Marketing Sherpa, 73% of B2B leads are not sales-ready  and it often takes several touches through lead nurturing programs for a buyer to request additional information (13+ to be exact ). It is not uncommon for Marketers to pass leads to sales reps before they are properly nurtured. Consequently, a sales rep initiates a call and prospects are scared off because they are not ready to buy.
As part of our ongoing Marketing Best Practices blog series for Partners, this third article focuses on practical tips for building a winning lead nurturing strategy.
Map the buyer’s journey to the sales funnel
In an earlier post, we discussed the stages of the buyer’s journey, which is the research process that prospects follow before making a purchase. On the flip side, the sales funnel is the buying process that converts prospects from leads to customers.
When buyers enter the sales funnel, it’s critical to qualify and nurture them along the way. Understanding their buyer’s journey and how it maps to your sales funnel helps you make decisions around your nurturing strategy, and ultimately when to hand off leads to sales reps. For example, typically the stages map as follows:
- Awareness Stage = Top of the Funnel
- Consideration Stage = Middle of the Funnel
- Purchase Stage = Bottom of the Funnel
First things first, understand customer characteristics
Before marketers can adequately nurture prospects, it is essential to understand and define their characteristics. A common framework designed to flesh out customer definitions is personas, which are fictional depictions of existing and ideal customers. This blog from Hubspot provides detailed instructions.
For example, if your business depends on building network and security services with the VMware platform, you may develop customer personas for various decision makers and influencers in Enterprise IT.
Build a nurturing strategy foundation with content
Content is an integral part of any nurturing strategy. However, before you publish content you must first develop relevant content for your audience. With a firm understanding of customers through personas, marketers can tailor content delivered to prospects matching each audience’s wants, needs, budget and pain points. Coupling this knowledge with the buyer’s journey gives you the ability to deliver the right content – at the right time.
Understand content types that generate Top of Funnel leads
Many of us spend a lot of time and energy generating top of funnel leads, but struggle to build relationships with prospects over time with nurturing. It is important to differentiate the types of content that build awareness for cloud computing, virtualization and IT solutions, which are defined below:
- Social Media
- Blog Posts
- Web Content Optimized for Search Engines
- Product Videos and Podcasts
- Infographics and Other Highly Visual Content
The above content is the cornerstone of inbound marketing efforts. It should be highly educational, position your company as a trusted thought leader and set the stage for ongoing lead nurturing.
Utilize premium content
For buyers who are building their knowledge and entering the mid funnel stage, offer premium content, which is placed behind a registration form (gated). This content must offer enough value that the prospect is willing to “pay for it” with their contact information.
Examples of premium content in the consideration stage include:
- White Papers
- Research Papers
Nurture through email marketing and sales activities
Premium content opens the door for collecting email addresses and applicable data such as titles, which gives VMware Channel Partners the tools to progress through the mid-funnel nurturing process and advance to the bottom of the funnel.
We recommend deployment of email nurturing programs through marketing and/or sales, which are highly effective communication tools. Place prospects into nurturing drip campaigns on different tracks that depend on where they are in the funnel, their persona, title and other relevant customer data. Distribute the following types of content through each track, which align to their cloud computing or virtualization wants and needs:
Middle of Funnel content
- Case Studies
- Testimonials and Reviews
- Comparison Guides
Bottom of Funnel content
- Free Consultations
- Personal Product Demos
- Free Trials and Assessments
Decide when to hand leads to sales
Finally, Marketing and Sales must agree on when Marketing should discontinue their nurturing efforts and hand leads over to sales reps. Working together on the definition of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) support this alignment.
Typically, SQLs are nurtured through Marketing, and are at the decision stage in their journey; while MQLs are established as meeting the qualifications of a typical buyer. Those identified as SQLs are prepared to be handed over to sales. To identify the right timing, research past performance and define the optimal parameters for this lead handoff.
We invite you to take advantage of the VMware enablement tools in the Partner Demand Center designed specifically to help you build effective nurturing programs and content to ensure our mutual success:
- Enablement Tools: Social media posts, partner tested collateral and other marketing programs
- Program Overview: Guide to Channel marketing programs
Feel free to email us with any questions -we are here to help.
 The Complex Sale: Lead scoring effort increases conversion 79% https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/case-study/lead-scoring-effort-increases-conversion
 Why it Takes 7 to 13+ Touches to Deliver a Qualified Sales Lead (Part 1)