Over the years, we’ve talked at length about the best ways to follow up with leads and how to keep them engaged.
What we haven’t talked about much, however, is when you should begin our discourse.
Let’s establish what lead nurturing is and why staggering your initial follow-up message is crucial to your success.
What is B2B Lead Nurturing?
B2B lead nurturing is the process of advancing marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) through your marketing funnel, engaging prospects with your business at multiple touchpoints before passing them to your Sales team.
Markempa CEO and Founder Brian Carroll summarized the purpose of B2B lead nurturing quite well in an interview while acting as Marketing Sherpa’s CEO.
“Nurturing is really about addressing (and how we progress) the relationships we’re adding value to with each touch,” Carroll said. “So it’s really this idea of progressing someone from interest to purchase consideration so when they’re ready to engage our Sales team or a channel, that’s what (nurturing) is trying to answer.”
How to Know When to Follow Up With Your Leads
Asking for something far too early can be a total buzzkill.
Imagine you’re meeting someone for the first time; you’ve barely finished the word, “hello,” or even dropped the handshake when suddenly this, well, stranger, says to you, “Hey, would you help me move?”
“What?” you think to yourself. Did this guy just seriously ask me to help him…move?
Take a guess what your answer would be. Take a guess as to how quickly you’d be looking for an out in that interaction. “No, thanks, pal. Best of luck to you” would be the nice way of putting it.
This happens every day online; a user requests a piece of content only to be hounded by a company rep asking if we’d like to see a demo of their product. For the overwhelming majority of us, that answer is going to be a resounding no. And it’s not because we’re uninterested—it’s because we don’t yet know if we’re interested.
How the Consumption Gap Informs B2B Lead Nurturing
To know if something is a fit for you, you’d like to spend a bit more time about it, right? Whenever Sales reps reach out immediately upon requesting a piece of content, not only do you run the risk of annoying your prospect, you run the risk of referencing something they know very little about.
Research from FocusVision states that consumers consume up to 13 pieces of content before coming to a purchase decision.
This is an aggregate number across a wide selection of industries. While each sales cycle will differ, our first-party consumption data revealed how much content an average user within a given industry requests within a 6-month period. Regardless of much content is requested, each subsequent registration requires more time to digest.
Requests by Industry Over a 6-Month Period
|Industry||6 Weeks||3 Months||6 Months|
|Computers and Technology||2.1||2.3||3.1|
|Transportation and Logistics||2.4||2.1||2.5|
|Retail and Consumer Goods||2.3||2.1||2.7|
|Biotech and Pharmaceuticals||1.6||1.8||2.7|
In each of our annual consumption reports, we’ve shared a stat unique to NetLine called The Consumption Gap.
The Consumption Gap
The Consumption Gap measures the time between when content is requested and the moment it’s opened for consumption. In 2021, this figure was the largest it had ever been, ballooning 12% YOY from 29.7 hours to 33.3 hours—a 3.6-hour increase.
So what does the Consumption Gap mean for the Sales process? For starters, it means you need to be patient, especially at the beginning.
Since 2018, B2B professionals have tacked on 6.2 additional hours to their overall consumption time, meaning they’re in absolutely no hurry to read, listen, or watch whatever content they’ve just requested.
|What’s the point, you ask?
While requesting gated content is a positive signal, it should not be read as a green light for you to immediately reach out. Click To Tweet
The 48-Hour Rule
While the Consumption Gap sat at 33.3 hours in 2021, this is merely the average amount of time it took for professionals to consume their content. 35% of the Job Levels that we track to produce our Consumption Gap statistics have consumption measures exceeding the average, including the C-Level. Even Senior VPs, who were the most eager Job Level in 2021, weren’t downloading their requested content until nearly a full day later (21.4 hours).
The 48-Hour Rule
Consumption Gap by Job Level
Instead of jumping on them immediately, we must give users space. Our recommendation is that, before making first contact with a lead, B2B professionals should wait for roughly 48 hours.
This way, when you do reach out, consumption has most likely occurred. The more time you provide to your prospect, the greater your chances are to be met more warmly (and knowingly) by your lead.As new research suggests, B2B professionals should wait for roughly 48 hours before making first contact with a lead. Instead of jumping on leads immediately, we must give prospects space. Click To Tweet
You’ve probably seen the stats, and maybe even accepted as common knowledge now that conversion increases by 9x when responding within five minutes of lead submission.
This is a flawed approach. It is based on filtered stats pulled from survey data rather than more reliable, honest, unfiltered, first-party behavior.
The truth is that providing space to your leads at the outset of any relationship is table stakes to modern marketers. This isn’t a debate, the data proves it.
|Of course, if a user comes to your site to request a demo or directly asks to speak with a company representative we encourage you to respond immediately. In this scenario, you’d better grab that phone ASAP to either tap out an email or dial their number.|
Getting your lead to move from warm lead to closed-won business, however, will require an ongoing commitment to patience.
But patience only pays off when it’s part of a larger plan.
Committing to Lead Nurture
Lead nurturing tangibly benefits the bottom line.
According to Forrester Research, companies with superior lead nurturing strategies generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost.
Nurturing leads is essential in B2B Marketing. With so much information to parse through to find the right solution, service, and price point, it’s no wonder that B2B sales cycles last anywhere from one to six months. Combine this with the ~31% of B2B buyers who expect to make a purchase over the next 12 months and it’s clear how much work it takes to convert a lead.
Unfortunately, B2B Marketers do a lot of talking but not as much walking.
Marketing Sherpa reports that 65% of marketers have no lead nurturing strategy. Considering that 85% of B2B marketers say that lead generation is their #1 goal, the majority of demand gen teams are only setting themselves up for failure by not committing to a lead nurturing strategy.
As Brian Carroll shared, lead nurturing is about addressing the pains of a lead over and over to the point where they’re progressing to the point of reaching a purchase decision. While buyers have more control than ever, B2B Marketers still have the power to guide leads through their buying journey.
Establishing the Lead Nurture Baseline
Despite the fact that B2B buyers are doing more and more research independently before ever contacting a vendor, there are still plenty of ways B2B businesses can benefit their prospects.
Some of the simplest and most impactful ways vendors can bring value is through these three simple rules.
1. Know Who You’re Talking To
It may seem obvious but, knowing who they are (beyond their name, company, and title) is essential – regardless of how you decide to communicate with your prospects. Without knowing what they’re interested in, how they found you, and the rest of their journey to you, you’ll be doing far too much guessing.
Dip into your CRM and leverage each and every data point at your disposal. Analyze your database and identify audiences and current customers with common traits, such as titles, industries, content registrations, and any other common behaviors. This step will help you refine which content you might offer next or could simply frame how you’ll frame your first email or phone call. Knowing who you’re speaking to and what their motivations are will help you identify information that’s most relevant to them and how they want to consume it.
2. Identify Their Pain
We Marketers often think we know far more than we do. Perhaps this is due to the alluring power of CRMs and other fancy tools we have at our disposal. It’s alright, we’re all guilty of this practice. The best way to mitigate this, of course, is by simply asking questions you wouldn’t have information about prior to nurturing your lead:
- What challenges keep you up at night?
- How would you prioritize these challenges?
- How are you currently addressing your needs/challenges?
- What resources help you respond to those challenges?
- Are you currently attending industry-specific events or consuming other related content?)
- What kind of information/solution would make your life easier?
- What sort of information informs your buying decisions?
- Are there any budget restrictions?
Asking about when your prospect might be looking to make an investment certainly doesn’t hurt either, however buyer-level intent data might offer visibility into this information.
3. Addressing the Pain Points (Without Selling)
Once you’ve identified a number of the challenges your prospect is facing, it’s time to focus on their specific needs. Naturally, you’re going to want to showcase how your business is able solve their problems more completely. Perhaps the best approach, however, is to merely be as helpful and as thorough as possible.
Being as helpful It could be as simple as isolating a blog post and a video from your library that speaks directly to their most pressing issues. Being thorough could mean providing a list of (honest) pros and cons between your product and the rest of the market. This might feel odd initially but put yourself in their shoes: They’re going to be doing comparison research at some point; why not be the one being as transparent as you can be?
As the relationship matures and the time comes to make a purchase decision, your lead might just think to themselves, “You know, this company has been terrific throughout this entire process. They’ve given me practical information to help guide our decision making, they have a grasp on what our needs are, and know the space intricately.”
Now the next time your Sales team makes contact, they won’t need to beat around the bush by asking about the weather. Instead, they can conduct a meaningful conversation about the latest piece of content that was sent as part of your lead-nurturing program.
Leveraging First-Party Data in Your B2B Lead Nurturing Program
Nurturing your leads is a fundamental piece of any lead generation program. Interest alone is not enough for you or your Sales team to ask for any kind of conversion. Proper lead nurturing requires patience, commitment to a full scope strategy, and knowing what to do once you’ve generated a lead.
By embracing the data, you’ll be well on your way to seeing more success in your demand gen campaigns with richer outcomes for everyone involved.