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Can Lead Nurturing via Marketing Automation system beat ‘Phone’ based Lead Nurturing?

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The buzz around Marketing Automation Systems is heating up. It’s quickly becoming the hot new ‘gotta have’ software, just as CRM was earlier in the decade.

Lead nurturing by marketing automation tools

There is a significant constituency that advocates “nurturing” via the use of B2B marketing automation tools. These include advertising agencies, software developers, and internal marketing and communications people.

All stand to benefit from the implementation of these systems. On the agency side, a significant new revenue stream has emerged from the need to constantly develop exciting content to feed the Lead Nurturing / Marketing Automation machine. The software players benefit significantly from software, maintenance and consulting fees. All of this requires active management by the internal Marketing team, whose jobs (and empires) inevitably will expand to satisfy their company’s marketing automation needs.

This constituency does not consider personal one-on-one communication as acceptable marketing or lead nurturing medium. For example, one agency executive recently said to a client, “… you don’t want to talk to a prospect who’s not yet ready to buy.

Such communication might well turn off such a prospect. In fact, they may think it’s strange that you called. Or they may be reticent in the future to raise their hands because they will get another call from your company.”

Yes, some prospects are, indeed, surprised by a call. But it shouldn’t be a negative experience, primarily when handled professionally and effectively. On the contrary, many prospects are impressed that someone reached out to them personally to engage them in a consultative dialogue related to what they need, how they are achieving their objectives now, what’s working and what’s not working, and the nature of the “pain” that caused them to raise their hand initially.

And, of course, no factual data supports the notion that if someone receives a professional one-on-one phone call from a company, they would be reticent to raise their hands in the future. This assertion is anecdotal at best.

When done right, a phone call enables you to gather prosperous information and the brand image is actually enhanced significantly. The message to the prospect is clear: this company cares about understanding me and what I need. They want to earn our business and have a meaningful relationship.

Attention to each sales lead

The marketing automation constituency believes that you should only reach out to prospects personally only when they reach a defined threshold as “ripe” and have indicated via their remote activities that they have sufficient interest in your offerings. In marketing automation lingo, “they must have attained a certain lead score that determines [by some formulaic calculation] that they are ready.”

Lead scoring

Lead scoring does have a legitimate place in the process, but it’s rarely a panacea. This is especially true when one considers that not all of your “suspects” and prospects will and do behave in a predictable, formulaic manner. Most, in fact, will never attain the required score unless you reach out to them directly to understand and qualify and quantify their needs and pain. And the only way to do that is to call and engage in an interactive and consultative dialogue.

Some Lead Nurturing / Marketing Automation statistics

The following counts come from many clients over the past few years. All the records from the campaign (or promotional) generated inquiries (i.e., none were called as part of an outbound lead generation effort or were run of the mill organic web site related inquiries).

Most came from the following general areas:

1. Conference/Trade Show attendees
2. Webinar participants
3. Content download (White papers)
4. Promotional email recipients responding to a variety of offers
5. Microsite inquiries
All received at least one or more phone calls.

sales opportunities

As you can see, on average, some 12% (6,941) initially became assignable near term opportunities. This is, in itself, a successful and cost-effective result. However, the balance (88%) either was not yet ready to buy or simply didn’t sufficiently qualify for marketing to hand over to sales.

lead nurturing

Of the initial cohort, 25,921 received further phone calls resulting in an additional 6,293 assignable opportunities over time. This represents a lift of almost 100% over the initial conversion result. And given that this effort is rarely complete, we expect still more will convert over time. Our estimate is this will rise from 24% to 40% or more overall.

A fair question one could pose then is what subsequent activity or promotion was directed at these prospect companies (other than phone follow up touches)? The answer is that some were sent multiple (for the most part relevant) promotions and materials (albeit mainly in an uncoordinated unplanned manner), and some were sent nothing. But, there was one constant: all of these companies received one or more follow up lead nurturing calls.

Strangely, the overall result from those who did receive vs those that did not receive promotional content was statistically insignificant.

From what I can gain from the literature put out by the marketing automation proponents, they do not seem to make any claim that their solutions will deliver more assignable opportunities using their systems. Instead, they claim that they will do so more cost-effectively for the most part. This is because ‘phone nurturing’ is less cost-effective.

Yes, indeed, there is a cost, but our clients agreed that it was an investment well worth making in all cases. If nothing else, they knew with absolute certainty what the relative value in terms of ROI was for each of their marketing activities that caused prospects to raise their hand in the first place. And they were also assured of a minimal lost opportunity cost (an actual cost that marketing automation can’t address directly).

It’s also essential to bear in mind that there are other direct and indirect costs of marketing automation (and they are significant if you want to do it successfully): content creation, software and the internal management overhead. And then, ultimately, you’ll still need to reach out and connect with them personally to move the process forward.

Marketing automation systems can have an essential role in lead generation and lead nurturing activities

However, the interactive and relationship building capabilities of personal contact via phone are still, by far, the most effective mechanism available to most B2B marketers to engage directly with their prospects, capture important business and market intelligence and close sales.

No marketing automation system or, for that matter, CRM system will (or can) replace engaging directly and positively with your clients and prospects – regardless of the hype.