In 2020, we saw that businesses could still function and obtain leads even if they didn’t have access to traditional in-person networking methods. But in 2021, as more and more businesses move online, the digital environment could be overwhelmed with business trying something else out: lead nurturing.
Lead nurturing is, of course, nothing new. And businesses already know that. They know facts like lead nurturing emails tend to generate 4x the responses of standalone email blasts—or more. They know that organizations that automate their prospects’ experience tend to generate a 451% increase in qualified leads.
In a nutshell, lead nurturing gives you a more “personal” experience with your potential leads in the digital environment. It acknowledges that a customer might find your page without the intent to buy, and it takes that into account. It then develops a long-term relationship with that customer so that they’re continually drawn back to your sales funnel, where they eventually learn about the benefits of working with you.
By engaging with your leads in this way, you avoid pushy sales tactics. You establish trust. And your reward is a higher overall conversion rate on incoming leads.
Defining “Long-Cycle Lead Nurturing”
If lead nurturing is already a long-term solution to the digital problem of establishing trust through a website, what is “long-cycle” lead nurturing, and what problem does it solve?
Let’s start with the definition. Long-cycle lead nurturing is a long-term investment in your potential leads. This strategy acknowledges that about half of all sales occur after the fifth interaction. In short, long-cycle lead nurturing is a strategy of lead nurturing that avoids making the hard sales pitch in the early interactions you have with your potential prospects.
Think of it as playing the long game. Long-cycle lead nurturing solves the problem that we saw burst onto the scene in 2020. With fewer opportunities to network and generate in-person trust, B2B companies need a way to create personal relationships with potential clients in the digital environment. And that can’t happen in just one or two interactions. That’s especially true when your clients have big budgets they need to trust you with.
Why Long-Cycle Lead Nurturing?
In our previous article—in which we detailed our predictions for B2B lead generation in 2021—we talked about how 2020 forced companies to rethink their budgets. In short, B2B companies need to respect a new need for flexibility. More of your customers are going to have uncertain budgets in the wake of a pandemic.
But this doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. Keys like long-cycle lead nurturing can help separate your company from the competition. 2020 won’t just leave an economic impact. Any major event like the COVID-19 pandemic will also leave a psychological impact. 48% of businesses reported the need for “long cycle” lead nurturing rather than direct sales.
Given the uncertainty left in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, B2B companies should expect this trend to grow even more common. Companies simply won’t know what their budget for 2021 will look like if they’re going to run the numbers based on what they saw in 2020. This uncertainty tends to lead to longer cycles for leads. B2B companies who are patient with their lead nurturing process will stand to benefit.
The way to think about this from a long-cycle lead nurturing perspective is simple. In early 2021, the economic strife posed by the pandemic will leave many C-level managers skittish about making new financial commitments.
This is the time for your long-cycle lead nurturing to take effect. Establish relationships with these potential leads early on so that by the time they’re ready to commit a budget to a new endeavor, they’ve already interacted with your company several times.
The Benefits of Playing the “Long Game” with Long-Cycle Lead Nurturing
Even though we see a trend emerging with long-cycle lead nurturing, a trend isn’t reason enough to adopt this practice. You have to be confident that when you do implement something this large-scale, that you’re going to see results for your efforts. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key benefits of running lead nurturing at this scale:
- Your potential leads aren’t trying to make a commitment yet anyway. Statistics suggest that as many as 96% of website visitors aren’t ready to make a purchase just yet. Long-cycle lead nurturing acknowledges this basic fact. It doesn’t try to subvert it. It doesn’t try to change your customers’ minds by making pushy sales pitches. It acknowledges that the first visit is the first touchdown in a series of steps that will eventually land them as paying clients.
- Most sales already come from long-cycle nurturing. An Ascend2 survey found that 48% of businesses received most of their important leads from complex sales that involved long-cycle lead nurturing. Short-cycle lead nurturing was second place, at 35%. This means that using long-cycle lead nurturing is simply adapting to the behaviors we already see online.
- Long-cycle lead nurturing helps you identify the decision makers. When you identify your potential leads and create content devoted to their needs and interests, you stand to see 72% higher conversion rates. Long-cycle lead nurturing helps you not only identify these potential leads as they visit your website, but allows you to cater your content to their specific needs.
- You’ll distinguish yourself from shorter-cycle companies. Only about 29% of all brands currently nurture their existing companies after the point of initial purchase. This is a distinct opportunity for B2B brands to separate themselves from the herd. If your competition isn’t doing long-cycle lead nurturing but you are, you’ll help demonstrate that you’re a company that’s worthy of trust. This is especially true if your competition isn’t even looking to nurture their customer relationships after the purchase.
However, now that you know the benefits of taking on a longer-cycle approach to lead nurturing let’s talk about how to make it happen in a way that feels natural for the potential client.
How to Find Opportunities for Internal Strategic Communication
When you nurture leads at your company, one thing is clear: you need everyone to be on the same page. If your potential lead comes to your website and gives you their name and contact information, they don’t want to repeat that name and contact information to you in the future. They’ll feel like just another cog in the machine. Any trust you tried to create by adopting a lead nurturing strategy will be out the window.
How do you mitigate this effect? Simple. You make sure that your internal communication is so seamless that your company seems to operate as one entity. Here are some ways you can do it.
Ensure Proper Routing of Relevant Customer Information
According to HubSpot statistics, almost half of companies don’t effectively verify and route customers to the appropriate salespeople. This represents an opportunity that any B2B company can immediately exercise some control over.
- How effectively do you verify business leads? Do you have a system in place for verifying a business lead? Are you able to grab enough contact information the first time, or do you have to swing around once or twice to make sure that your sales team has everything it needs?
- How do you route leads to the appropriate person? A B2B company isn’t just one person at the dials. You need effective internal communication to ensure that the appropriate people are discovering the right leads when those leads do come in.
Use CRM to Automate the Routing of Relevant Customer Information
If you’re engaging in long-cycle lead nurturing, the last thing you want is someone at your company to have to look up a name while they’re on the phone with a potential customer. The customer will think, “Really? I’ve engaged with this company three or four times now, and they still don’t have my basic information down?”
The way to mitigate this potential obstacle is to make sure that your CRM is properly automated. In short, any time someone at your company engages with a potential lead, you need the relevant salesperson to be able to bring up any and all relevant information on the account.
How important is this? Consider that sales reps who work at companies with automated CRM reach 65% of their sales quotas—while salespeople who don’t only reach about 22%. Here are some ways that you can avoid this problem permanently:
- Personalize your email sequences. Have your CRM automatically pull personal data to populate a targeted email sequence. Yes, there will be some initial work to create the sequences that are relevant to different types of leads, but it will be worth it because every sequence will thereafter create a “personal” touch, even though it’s automated.
- Log your engagements with each potential customer. For example, let’s say you have a live chatbot that engages with a customer. Does your CRM track this, or is it something that simply slips through the cracks? Make sure that your CRM software tracks every interaction. This way, every time you interact with the customer, you’re building on a previous engagement rather than starting from scratch.
How to Make Long-Cycle Lead Nurturing Work for You
Long-cycle lead nurturing is a less pushy approach to landing the big sales. When done right, it will say all the best things about your company. It will let customers know that you care about their problems. It will show that you take a personalized approach to everyone, even your leads. And it will demonstrate that you’re in business for the long haul. In 2021, those traits may be more important than ever.