Nurture Content Failure

*This blog first ran in December 2014 via ANNUITAS. Our 2015 B2B Enterprise Demand Generation study results will be published this week, so this is relevant to run this post again.

In the recent ANNUITAS B2B Enterprise Demand Generation Study, only 20.9% of the respondents indicated that they are confident that have been effective in their use of marketing automation — which isn’t exactly a new insight, as there has been a lot of coverage of the challenges associated with effective use of marketing automation solutions (MAS).

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A successful MAS instance has a lot of moving parts to consider – from the process-oriented questions of lead management and the handoff to sales, data quality and data management questions associated with new lead records (and old ones), CRM integration, and more – so it not surprising that most Enterprises struggle with marketing automation. What got me thinking, however, was the connection between content, our buyers, and the automated nurture programs which marketing automation makes possible.

The specific question that triggered my interest was this one: When developing your content do you create content for each stage of the buyer’s purchase journey? Only 28% of respondents said yes, while 26% said no and 45% gave a very ambiguous “sometimes” as their response.

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Since content — and specifically content related to each stage of the buyer’s journey — is intrinsic to the success of a nurture program (which is, in turn, the backbone of marketing automation), there is clearly a correlation between low scores for effectiveness and a clear gap in creating content that serves the buyer.

Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar…you have just implemented your brand new MAS platform and you are beginning to plot out your first nurture campaign. In selecting the content that you will use to try and engage your prospects so that they become “qualified leads” you go to the well of content you have already created and select the jewels in the crown. You pick the ten best pieces of content that you have created over the past few years (as proven by the number of views and downloads) and place those as the pieces in a ten-step nurture program. You turn on the program and you start generating hot leads to send to sales – only sales keeps throwing them back to you saying that they are not qualified and they are nowhere near being ready to buy.

Sales isn’t wrong.

Mistake number one: relying exclusively on existing content to populate your nurture.

It can be very tempting to begin your search for nurture content by looking first at what you already have. The logic here is to get your program up and running, so that you can make use of content that you spent a lot of money to create, so that you can validate the choices you made when you decided to build that content in the first place. The problem is that you can’t trust responses to that content to be indicative of a prospect’s desire to engage with sales.

Mistake number two: trusting that responses to that content are indicative of a desire to buy

Good nurture content is designed to both guide a prospect through the buying journey and also indicate that a prospect is ready to buy. A good story sets the mood and creates an understanding of the “why” – why the protagonist makes the choices they make along the way, why they pull the trigger when it comes time to make the decisions that impact their fate and (ultimately) set up the conclusion of the story. Nurture content needs to be set up like a good story, helping a prospect better understand the problems they face and the implications of those problems – and then finally empower them to make the choices they need to make to solve the problem. Responses to your content program’s “greatest hits” aren’t the same as signaling they are ready to buy. A gradual movement from trying to identify the issues they face, to understanding the impact those problems are having on their situations, to finally exploring potential solutions for those problems is the definition of a true buyer’s journey and is the true indication that a lead is qualified.

Mistake number three: lead scoring needs to match up with the journey

ANNUITAS has covered this topic extensively in our blog (The Single Most Common Lead Scoring Failure: Not All Content is Created Equal), but it is so important we need to reiterate the point in context of the nurture program content strategy. High-level educational content should not be scored as highly as later-stage content that would only be interesting to a prospect that was considering solutions to their problems. Your scoring strategy for leads in your nurture programs should be weighted so that only prospects that have progressively moved forward through the buyer’s journey are sent to sales. Not all white papers are created equal, so they should not be weighted in your scoring program as if they are.

You need to decide what a prospect might be interested in learning about at each stage of the journey, and then decide what you should share with them to help them move forward. Sometimes you will have content that fits the bill, but often you won’t. Understanding what the buyer might be interested in as they make their journey needs to be the foundation of your new content strategy.

Author: Jason Stewart @jstewart_1 is Vice President Strategy, ANNUITAS