So your site is up and running and working wonders. Your educational content draws traffic, folks are talking about your firm and its expertise, leads are starting to pour in. Good on you! But with all this attention comes a new set of responsibilities, questions, and opportunities. One of the greatest of these responsi-questio-pportunities (trademark!) is this: How do you make sure your visitors, particularly qualified leads, stay aware of your services which are most relevant to them? And how do you do this without annoying the crap out of everybody? 

To answer those questions, let’s talk about lead nurturing. To start: what is it, exactly, and how does it work?

Who needs nurture

Here’s the reality of your web traffic: not everyone who stops by is poised to buy. Not every qualified lead is poised to buy. It’s not that they just need sufficient persuasion right up front, either. Your visitors may just be window-shopping, information gathering, testing the waters. These folks might be your clients someday, and they might not. For now, they are your interested guests.

At its most basic, lead nurturing means marketing mindfully to these visitors who aren’t yet ready to make a purchase, keeping their attention engaged through relevant information — but not browbeating them with off-target or off-putting appeals. The key to this process, as it so often is in modern marketing, is giving visitors information they already (or will most certainly) want.

At its most effective, lead nurture is a dynamic, adaptive process. That means two fundamental characteristics should define your lead nurturing effort. The first is personalization. In order to provide your visitors with information that’s as relevant as possible to them, you’ll need to know a little something about them.

Web analytics will get you part of the way, but ideally, you’ll want to know things like: What industry are they in? What is their role? Where are they in the buying process? That means you’re going to have to ask for the information. But you probably wouldn’t ask someone you’d just met for these details at a social event, but you might ask for their email — if you had something genuinely useful to tell or offer them.

Likewise, you might ask for your visitors’ email addresses in exchange for a useful piece of truly robust content, so you can tell them about similar content later. This content has to be truly valuable — think an eBook guide with actionable instruction on a particular topic. It should be something they’ll appreciate, something you might reasonably expect them to want more of. When you’re gathering information about a visitor in the course of your lead generation, take the same sane and respectful tack you’d take in a social interaction. Get to know the other person naturally.

I come not to bury the lead, but nurture it

So you’ve got some visitors’ email addresses, and they’ve got (continuing the previous example) valuable eBooks that help them solve some particular problem. Great! Now use those emails respectfully. Don’t bury the poor folks in a flailing storm of offers, trying to hit every possible point of interest. Instead, ensure that what you send them is based on the action they took. In this case, you’d want to make sure that the topic matter of following communications is related to the content they downloaded.

And that brings us to the second key characteristic of a successful lead nurturing effort. It ought to be based on the visitor’s engagements. In a sense, it is self-directed. What the visitor receives is informed by what they’ve done — the content they’ve pursued, the offers they’ve declined, and all the web and marketing analytics that you can bring to bear on the question.

And what exactly is it that visitors receive? Progressively closer engagements. Once someone has downloaded an eBook, you might then offer a webinar session for folks interested in the topic in question, and ask attendees to provide some basic information on their roles and companies. You might then offer webinar attendees a complimentary individual consultation on that topic, at which point you come to understand where they are in the buying process. From there, your communication with the lead may be highly tailored to their circumstances.

This is lead generating in a nutshell. At every step, your marketing activity is precipitated by leads’ own actions. Ideally, the content they receive isn’t shilly at all, but so well-targeted to their particular needs that they keep requesting more.

Nurture is a two-way communication, a give and take. You don’t need to know much about someone to carpetbomb them with appeals, but you have to understand a little something about an individual’s needs in order to care for them. At its best, lead nurturing uses content marketing to kickstart a process of mutually beneficial, collaborative problem-solving. Use it effectively, and 2014 could be the year your content utterly transforms your business.

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