Don’t Limit Your Nurturing

A recent article in Click-Z, by Mike Hotz, made the case for focusing your email nurturing primarily on the middle of the funnel.  To support his point, Mr. Hotz offered up this statement:

“… should concentrate your efforts on the middle of the pyramid, on prospects that were referred to you by a trusted source – ideally your own satisfied customers – as well as prospects who have developed a relationship with your brand but have not yet purchased, and those who consider you to be a recognized expert in the field. This will allow you to build prospect relationships based on trust and value, not loose connections based upon offering the lowest price. “

While I agree that attention to the middle of the funnel can be a vital component for engaging and ultimately acquiring customers,  I’m not sure that it should be the only focus.   Instead, I believe the case can be made to nurture at every stage of the funnel (initial contact, MQL, SAL, SQL and Customer).

Let me use an analogy that I think we can all relate to:  a romantic relationship.  When you first meet “the one”, it often begins with a mutual attraction (interest). There is initial contact, and preliminary dialogue that allows you to get to know each other in the first stages of the relationship. As the relationship progresses, the conversations become longer and deeper. Trust and mutual interest grows.   How you speak to each other, and what you say changes.   When you become engaged, and eventually married, the content of your discussions continues to evolve, taking on a new dynamic.  But the conversation doesn’t end at the altar.  Healthy, growing marriages are evidenced by continuous conversation and communication.  Those marriage relationships that stop the conversation rarely lead to ongoing growth.

Buyer relationships follow this same pattern.  At first, there’s initial interest (they look at your product or service).  Initial communication “engages” them, allowing for a two-way dialogue, where they enter the “middle of the funnel”.  Over time, as the buy cycle moves along, the conversations between you and the buyer become deeper and more focused on specific, rather than general needs.  Eventually, you get the chance to “propose” (ask for the sale) and “get married” (acquire the buyer as a customer).  From there, ongoing customer communication is a must. Otherwise, the relationship will end in “a divorce”, resulting in lost revenue.

So, as you can see, making sure that nurturing takes place at each buying cycle stage is crucial.   Take a look at the diagram below to see why nurturing at each stage is so vital to revenue performance.

As initial contacts (or prospects) are obtained, the majority of them will not be ready to buy right away.  So, it’s vital to begin managing the relationship immediately by engaging them and beginning the nurture process.  At each and every stage of the buying cycle, the content and dialogue you provide should take on a new form, being focused on meeting the needs of the buyer at that time.  We often refer to these “stage-content” combinations (or nurture streams) as Marketing Nurture Campaigns, Sales Acceleration Nurture Campaigns and Customer Nurture Campaigns.

The success of each of these nurture streams will be dependent on how relevant the content is to the buyer and where they are in their process.  Sending the wrong content at the wrong time can turn a buyer off, somewhat like “popping the question” on the first date.  The best way to manage the delivery of your content and manage the dialogue is to ensure you have an understanding of your buyer – this is done by developing your buyer personas (a process that needs to occur BEFORE you launch your nurturing process).  Once you have your personas defined, you can then begin developing content maps for each persona and each stage of the buying process.

In today’s B2B market, it’s not good enough to simply generate leads. You must engage and manage them effectively to ensure they convert to revenue.  Nurturing at every stage of the funnel will exponentially increase your ability to do so.