Interview: Brian Hansford Shares 5 Tips on Lead Nurturing for the Complex Sale

In the B2B market, long, complex sales cycles come with the territory and can last anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. Therefore, lead nurturing is a critical part of many organizations' sales processes. In the Lead Nurturing Cookbook, we offer a recipe for building long-term lead nurturing processes marketers can implement using their marketing automation platform. Brian Hansford, Founder and CEO of Zephyr 47, an agency that specializes in helping organizations implement and improve their lead management processes, participated as an “Guest Chef” on this recipe offering marketers advice on how to successfully execute a long-term lead nurturing program. I caught up with Brian and asked him to expand on the insight he offers in the Cookbook and help you understand what factors are important to consider when building a long-term lead nurturing program.

In an extended lead nurturing program where you might be engaging with buyers six months to a year before they are sales-ready, how do you ensure they are getting the right message, at the right time?

I like Rules of 3 when tackling an opportunity. There are three factors to help B2B marketers effectively engage with prospective buyers over an extended period and win the business.  First, develop the profiles of the buyers and influencers involved in the buying process. Profiles or personas are incredibly important in lead nurturing success because they will help steer content and lead management. These profiles should outline the roles, responsibilities, points of pain, and messages that prospective buyers care about.

Secondly, develop a content strategy that provides the information for these contacts at the various stages of buying process.  The buyer personas will help focus a content strategy on the right audience with the right information. In addition to the content focus, the content strategy should identify the channels to publish and serve the content. A buying process begins when buyers research the problems and the solutions, transitioning to vendor evaluation, purchase decision, decision validation, and ongoing loyalty. As buyers move further into their process, marketing automation solutions help marketers provide the right information to the right people over a given period of time.

Thirdly, B2B marketers should have their lead management strategy.  This takes into account the workflow, contact cadence, campaign themes, and definitions that move leads through the buying process and a qualified handoff to Sales.  Marketing automation systems integrated with a CRM solution are very important and enable this entire lead nurturing process.

What are some mistakes you’ve seen b2b marketers make in building a long-term nurturing program?

Many B2B marketers fly blind with their lead nurturing because of inadequate or poorly developed content. Actually, I think many still follow more of the old ‘drip marketing’ model where every database contact gets peppered with the same content at random intervals.  Here we are in 2011 and I still get unfocused and irrelevant emails, calls and offers from various B2B companies!

Marketers must think long-term and cater nurture programs to potential and existing customers based on their stage in the buying process, their role, the need, and the timeframe. The spray and pray scattergun approach just doesn’t work anymore. Just as important as nurturing new business opportunities, B2B marketers should nurture their existing customers! This entire process requires heavy lifting in analyzing data, speaking with customers to profile what information helps them, testing campaigns, and involving Sales in the nurturing process.

Companies with extended product lines can improve nurturing performance with targeted messaging, relevant content and offers.  Providing the same content in a random fashion for all potential contacts misses the mark.

A study by Gartner states that 45% of leads that enter your website will purchase from either you or a competitor within 12 months. What can b2b marketers do to help ensure these leads purchase from them not their competitors?

Statistics like Gartner’s show there are amazing opportunities for B2B marketers to engage buyers and drive revenue. B2B marketers can use marketing automation solutions to engage the gold in ‘Gartner’s 45%’ and minimize the risk of lost sales to competitors. Lead nurturing strategies that engage prospective buyers with content, timing, and workflow provide a tremendous competitive advantage.  Just increasing the number of sales of those 45% can have a dramatic and incremental positive impact on revenue.

I may sound repetitive, but my message is consistent!  A lead management and content strategy that helps B2B marketers engage prospective buyers with the right content at the right time can cause a dramatic increase in conversions. B2B marketers cannot solely rely on capturing contact information and sending random forms of content irrelevant to the recipient and sending generic messages solely through email. Nurturing with lead scoring provide focus and help deliver marketing qualified leads to Sales that should have an accelerated decision cycle. Without the nurturing by Marketing and Sales, supported by a marketing automation platform, the competition will win.

How does marketing automation help you track where leads are in their buying cycle and how should this impact your content offerings?

In my corporate experience and with clients now, I have seen time and again how marketing automation solutions enable B2B marketers to track activity-based behavior and user-provided information to help score prospective buyers as leads, or not. From there, leads can be guided through a nurturing process where the ultimate benefit is a shortened sales cycle and accelerated revenue generation. This is done by following a strategy that involves scoring leads and escalating them to Sales at the right time, based on previously agreed definitions.  Scoring models implemented with marketing automation platforms are critical in helping B2B marketers deliver and serve the right content through the right channels at the right time. The beauty of this entire process is how Sales can be involved by serving content and passing leads back to Marketing for further nurturing if needed.

Marketing automation solutions enable nurturing programs by providing the right content to prospective buyers based on their scores which determine where they are in their buying process.  Content throughout the nurturing process includes detailed white papers, case studies, performance tests, RFPs, entertaining videos, product demos, and more. Marketing automation solutions like Manticore enable the entire process of serving this content to the right people at the right time. B2B marketers will achieve strong conversion and revenue results with rich content that effectively addresses each stage of a buying process, delivered through multiple channels and formats.

In creating lead nurturing programs, one of the biggest challenges marketers face is creating enough valuable content. What are some techniques for repurposing existing content effectively?

This has to be one of the biggest areas of pain that I saw both in my corporate life and with clients or companies in the B2B realm. So many organizations struggle with this and it’s an ongoing battle to produce relevant, interesting content.

There are all kinds of different forms of content that can be targeted to audiences, depending on where they are in their buying cycle. It’s not just the job of the marketing manager to create all the content. All organizations is have subject matter expert in some area within their four walls that can help produce some content.

It’s important to look past just the marketing manager and the product manager. Maybe there’s a sales rep or an engineer that can provide expertise on a subject, which could then be turned into a three-paragraph blog, for example.

A technique that we’ve used successfully is actually working with partners to develop content, and jointly publishing offerings. If you have a channel organization, recruit their subject expertise to develop content.

There may already be even an existing library of content that can be updated or repurposed, or refreshed.  Just because a white paper is three years old doesn’t always mean that it’s outdated. Many times they can be updated and refreshed pretty easily, and you can repurpose and incorporate them into some campaigns.


Brian Hansford is the Founder and Marketing Secret Weapon with Zephyr 47.  Brian brings passion and focus to strategic marketing by following a comprehensive planning approach and ensuring brilliant execution and measuring the results.  Zephyr 47 is headquartered in the 47th latitude of Redmond, Washington. Brian has developed marketing strategies and delivered successful programs for companies such as Cambridge Technology Partners, Citrix Systems, Captaris, and Open Text.  His range of accomplishments include numerous global product launch programs, global alliance marketing strategies and programs working with Microsoft, integrated Web and social media marketing programs, and customer marketing through marketing automation.