Can Lead Nurturing via Marketing Automation system beat ‘Phone’ based Lead Nurturing?

The buzz around Marketing Automation Systems is heating up.  It’s quickly becoming the hot new ‘gotta have’ software just as CRM was earlier in the decade. There is a significant constituency that advocates “nurturing” via the use of marketing automation tools.  These include advertising agencies, software developers and, increasingly, internal marketing and communications people.

All stand to benefit from implementation of these systems.  On the agency side, a significant new revenue stream has emerged from the need to come up constantly with interesting content to feed the Lead Nurturing / Marketing Automation machine.  The software players benefit significantly from software, maintenance and consulting fees.  All of this requires active management by the internal Marketing team whose jobs (and empires) inevitably will expand to satisfy their company’s marketing automation needs.

Personal one-on-one communication is not considered by this constituency as an acceptable marketing or lead nurturing medium.  As one agency executive recently said to a client, “… you don’t want to talk to a prospect who’s not yet ready to buy.  Such a prospect might well be turned off by such a communication.  In fact they may think it’s strange that you called.  Or they may be reticent in the future to raise their hands because they will get another call from your company.”

Yes, some prospects are, indeed, surprised by a call.  But it shouldn’t be a negative experience in any way, especially when handled professionally and effectively.  On the contrary, many prospects are impressed that someone reached out to them personally to engage them in a consultative dialogue related to what they need, how they are achieving their objectives now, what’s working and what’s not working, and the nature of the “pain” that caused them to raise their hand initially.

And of course there is no concrete data that supports the notion that if someone receives a professional one on one phone call from a company that they would be reticent to raise their hands in the future.  This assertion is anecdotal at best.

When done right, a phone call not only enables you to gather very rich information, but brand image is actually enhanced significantly.  The message to the prospect is clear: this company cares about understanding me, and what I need, and they want to earn our business; they want to have a meaningful relationship.  ETI has been engaging prospects in this style successfully since 1987 for some of the words top brands and for smaller companies for whom brand image is life critical.  It works!

The marketing automation constituency believes that you should only reach out to prospects personally only when they reach a defined threshold as “ripe,” and have indicated via their remote activities that they have sufficient interest in your offerings.  In marketing automation lingo, “they must have attained a certain lead score that determines [by some formulaic calculation] that they are ready.”

Lead scoring does have a legitimate place in the process, but it’s rarely a panacea.  Especially when one takes into account that not all of your “suspects” and prospects will and do behave a predictable, formulaic manner.  Most, in fact, will never attain the required score unless you reach out to them directly to understand and qualify and quantify their needs and pain.  And the only way to do that is to call and engage in an interactive and consultative dialogue.

Let me back this up with some hard statistics.

The following counts come from a number of ETI Sales Support clients over the past few years.  All the records came from campaign (or promotional) generated inquiries (i.e - none were called as part of an outbound lead generation effort or were run of the mill organic web site related inquiries).

Most came from the following general areas:

  1. Conference/Trade Show attendees
  2. Webinar participants
  3. Content download (White papers)
  4. Promotional email recipients responding to a variety of offers
  5. Microsite inquiries

All received at least one or more phone calls.

As you can see, on average, some 12% (6,941) initially became assignable near term opportunities.  This is, in itself, a successful and cost effective result.  The balance (88%) either were not yet ready to buy or simply didn’t sufficiently qualify for marketing to hand over to sales.

Of the initial cohort, 25,921 received further phone calls resulting in an additional 6,293 assignable opportunities over time.   This represents a lift of almost 100% over the initial conversion result.  And given that this effort is almost never complete, we expect still more will convert over time.  Our estimate is this will rise from 24% to 40% or more overall.

A fair question one could pose then is what subsequent activity or promotion was directed at these prospect companies (other than phone follow up touches)?  The answer is that some were sent multiple (for the most part relevant) promotions and materials (albeit mostly in an uncoordinated unplanned manner) and some were sent nothing.  But, there was one constant: all of these companies received one or more follow up nurturing calls.  Strangely, the overall result from those who did receive vs. those that did not receive promotional content was statistically insignificant.  I have an opinion on this as well, but we’ll save that discussion for a future blog or article.

From what I can gain from the literature put out by the marketing automation proponents, they do not seem to make any claim that their solutions will deliver more assignable opportunities using their systems.  Their claim, for the most part, is they will do so more cost effectively.  The implication of this is that ‘phone nurturing’ is less cost effective.

Yes, surely there is a cost but, in all cases, our clients agreed that it was an investment well worth making.  If nothing else, they knew with absolute certainty what the relative value in terms of ROI was for each of their marketing activities that caused prospects to raise their hand in the first place.  And they were also assured of a greatly limited lost opportunity cost (a real cost that marketing automation can’t address directly).

It’s also important to bear in mind that there are other direct and indirect costs of marketing automation (and they are significant if you want to do it successfully): content creation, software and the internal management overhead.  And then, ultimately, you’ll still need to reach out and connect with them personally in order to move the process forward.

As we suggested during the CRM craze (Your Sales Opportunity Pipeline Still Needs to Be Managed), we strongly suggest that you test carefully, and not simply buy into the marketing automation hype.  Marketing automation systems can have an important role in lead generation and lead nurturing activities, and ETI has offered such solutions for a number of years.  But we know from experience that the interactive and relationship building capabilities of personal contact via phone is still, by far, the most effective mechanism available to most B2B marketers to engage directly with their prospects, capture vital business and market intelligence and close sales.  No marketing automation system or, for that matter,  CRM system will (or can) replace engaging directly and positively with your clients and prospects – regardless of the hype.

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