Lead nurturing is often something of a mystery to professional services executives. Perhaps because of this, it is often done intermittingly and produces limited results. That’s a real shame.

Repeat business is great but is usually not sufficient. Clients leave and must be replaced just to stay where we are. To grow our firms, we all need net new clients. That’s where lead nurturing has an essential role to play.

Lead Nurturing Defined

There are three basic phases to acquiring a new client. The first one is identifying organizations or individuals who might be a good fit with your firm. This initial phase is often referred to as lead generation.

The third phase of the business development process is closing the sale. This is when a specific opportunity is turned into a new client.

Lead nurturing sits between these two phases. It’s the process of turning new leads into opportunities.

Why is Lead Nurturing So Important?

The simple fact is that most leads are simply not ready to buy yet.

They may be at the early stages of exploring possible solutions to a business issue they face. Or perhaps they are gathering cost information to plan for an upcoming budget. So your efforts to turn them into a new client right away will be doomed from the start.

Ignoring leads that are not ready to close is also incredibly wasteful. Yet that is exactly what some firms end up doing, accidentally if not on purpose.

Three Functions of Lead Nurturing

There are three key functions that lead nurturing can play in the business development process.

  • Qualify leads to determine if they are a good fit with your firm and the services you offer.
  • Educate them about what you do and how you do it to save time and effort in the closing process.
  • Strengthen your brand by improving your reputation for producing results and increasing your visibility.

All three of these functions are important in that they reduce your costs (by better targeting your efforts) and increase the probability that the qualified leads will turn into new clients.

Traditional Lead Nurturing Approaches

Professional services firms have traditionally nurtured leads using one of three general approaches.

  • Face to face meetings to determine if there is a current opportunity with the organization and try and convince the prospect that your firm is a great choice. This has led to an industry devoted to “appointment setting” via cold calling.
  • Firm newsletters that are produced on a regular (typically monthly or quarterly) basis and sent to everyone on an email list. The challenge associated with consistently producing these newsletters has also spawned a newsletter production industry.
  • Nurturing campaigns consisting of multiple mailings (email or postal) following a specific event (a trade show or seminar for example) or a prospects action (filling out a contact form or downloading a white paper for example). Often these campaigns are short lived or sporadic.

Sadly, most of the time these efforts have not produced much and are often abandoned or left to run on “autopilot.”

New Approaches to Lead Nurturing

The world of lead nurturing has been evolving. New technology, new buyer behavior patterns, and new research have all combined to offer better ways to harvest the potential of lead nurturing. Here are a few developments that stand out.

  • The rise of content marketing as a preferred model for professional services. While educational events and thought leadership have long been a part of professional services marketing, content marketing takes these traditions to a new level. It fully leverages the power of blogging, search, social media and other online techniques to generate and nurture leads. The results of this approach have been very impressive in terms of driving greater firm growth and profitability.
  • Marketing automation is making personalized lead nurturing possible. New leads can be automatically tracked and assigned to a tailored lead nurturing sequence. For example, if a prospect downloads a whitepaper on mobile security, the system can send a series of predetermined email follow-up pieces over a pre-determined time frame. Once developed, the nurturing takes minimal labor.
  • Webinars are becoming a routine way to educate and cultivate prospects. They have become an easy-to-use method for increasing engagement and adding human interaction. Since they require a time commitment from prospects, it is a step up in engagement on their part and increases your ability to educate and nurture the relationship.
  • Video is making communication easier and more robust. You can use video to communicate educational content as well as convey a sense of who you are as people and what it might be like to work with your firm. Video conferencing can also be a way to have 1:1 personal interaction without the need for travel. This makes personalized lead nurturing much less costly.
  • Free education is becoming an expectation. In today’s wired world, the expectation is that you can learn about almost any topic instantly and without cost. Just Google it. If you are not nurturing your prospects by providing this education, someone else surely will be. When the prospect becomes an opportunity, you will be there as the firm that knows how to solve the problem at hand.

Taken together, these developments offer exciting new possibilities to the professional services marketer. Lead nurturing is now both possible and practical on a much larger scale than before.

Lead Nurturing Best Practices

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you develop your lead nurturing program.

  • At each step in the process, you should be focused on increasing engagement rather than closing a sale. Don’t try to force it or nurturing will quickly turn into annoying.
  • Lead nurturing should primarily be educational in nature and not promotional. You can talk about approaches to solving the problem and even what you have found works the best. But if you turn promotional, you will sacrifice your credibility and lose the opportunity.
  • The conversation is primarily about the prospects’ issues and business challenges, not your firm or your services. Keep your focus on what is helpful to the prospect and it will reflect well on your firm. When the time is right, they will ask about your firm and its services.
  • A single prospect may be faced with multiple issues and rapidly evolving priorities. Don’t get fixated on a single opportunity and lose sight of other possibilities. This means that nurturing communications can cover a variety of potential topics. It’s fine to show that there is a range of topics that your firm has expertise in.
  • Consistency over time and patience are important to maximize results.  Start and stop efforts are not likely to be effective. Also, communications that come infrequently (once a quarter for example) are less likely to have the desired effect. Weekly or monthly work well. And don’t get impatient. Some leads will mature in days or a few weeks, while others may take one or two years or more.

A well-crafted lead nurturing program can produce a steady stream of new clients. They will generally be well qualified and positively disposed toward working with your firm.

Often times they are even superior to client referrals. They understand the issues they are facing and are well educated in your approach to solving them. What more could a business developer ask for?

You can download a free copy of our Lead Nurturing Guide and see how we do it here at Hinge.

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