Following up on content consumption with “buy from me now” is a strategy that’s destined to fail. Worse, you run the risk of turning people off to consuming more of your content in the future.
What’s the right way to follow up on content to turn leads into sales conversations?
Nurture, nurture, nurture.
Remember, people at the beginning of the sales process don’t want to talk to a salesperson—and they don’t have to anymore. They can research everything they need to know online. They will engage with you only at the point that they have identified a problem that they want to fix, and believe that you might have a solution worth talking about.
Before we get into best practices on content marketing follow-up, Marketing and Sales must be on the same page regarding their lead definitions. I encourage you to separate leads into three categories:
- Marketing Qualified Lead (similar to the old sales funnel term of “Suspect”)
- Sales Accepted Lead (what we now call a prospect)
- Sales Qualified Lead (an “Opportunity”)
Defining the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
If someone consumes your content (which you can track through clicks in emails, website visits and gated content downloads), and they are with a company that matches your ideal prospect profile (meaning that they theoretically could buy from you), that’s a Marketing Qualified Lead.
It is not reasonable, however, to expect that this person is unsatisfied with their current vendor, has the budget, or has the authority to make a change in the organization. Therefore, we can’t yet call it a Sales Qualified Lead (or Opportunity) until they agree to have a conversation with a salesperson. The missing step is the conversion of an MQL into an SAL. That’s done through nurturing, both digitally and conversationally.
At Sales Engine, we have a level of qualification that must be met before a conversation ever gets scheduled with a salesperson. This of course will vary in every organization depending on your overall sales process. For us, if we’ve determined an overall need and willingness to have a conversation, we go ahead and turn it over to Sales and schedule the meeting.
Once a conversation has been agreed to, you have a Sales Accepted Lead (SAL).
If an MQL agrees to have a conversation with your sales rep—in person or by phone—that’s an SAL. During this conversation, the salesperson asks questions to further qualify the prospect. Again, this will vary according to your sales process, but in general we are probing for need (and solution fit), commitment level to solve the problem, buying process, and ability to pay. It could take more than one conversation to assess these issues.
When those conditions are met to the salesperson’s satisfaction, it becomes a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).
How you define these three terms is really important because it gets Sales and Marketing on the same page and a good starting point. But the magic of content marketing really happens in the process of nurturing MQLs into SALs.
Get if wrong, and you’ll lose them.
So the question becomes, How do you follow-up in a nurturing fashion so that when someone is converted from an unknown visitor into an MQL, you add value and shepherd them through the buying journey?
It depends of the type of content that they’ve downloaded and consumed.
Start with the assumption that it’s not possible to know where that individual is in their buying journey. It’s also not possible to know whether that person is on a buying committee, and whether they are in a buying cycle. Maybe the person is a leader in the committee and they’re early in the buying process. Or perhaps they’re a laggard in the committee and the decision’s already been made and they’re just out doing some research.
You can, however, predict what topic they’re interested in based on the content they’ve already consumed. If they clicked on an article on topic XYZ, you know that you can continue to nurture that person on topic XYZ.
So whether that’s a Business Development rep making a phone call and leaving a voicemail, or an automated email sent to them containing a link to another piece of content—it must help them along and provide value. That’s nurturing. That’s adding value.
If your rep proceeds to make a phone call after someone clicks a link and they say, I noticed you clicked on an article, do you want to buy from me? It’s just not going to work effectively. The appropriate cliche is: You’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Our process for follow-up on MQLs goes like this: Our Business Development rep follows up on an MQL and they call and leave a voicemail with something like:
Hi [NAME], I noticed you’re interested in topic XYZ, and I have a research paper on that exact topic—do you mind if I share that with you?
Help them their research, and as you develop a relationship with them, a good salesperson can then pivot that conversation at the appropriate time to turn that into a sales opportunity.
Since phone conversations are going to have about a 5-6% connection rate and 85% of calls are going to go to voicemail never to be returned, you’re probably looking at digital means of nurturing that lead.
If you remember just one thing: You can’t accurately infer where that person is in their buying process, but you can KNOW what topics they’re interested in based on their actions. The play is then to tap into your content library and share other content on the same topic to further nurture them down the process.
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