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Move Your E-mail Lead-Nurture Effort Up to the Middle

  |  January 12, 2011   |  Comments

Build prospect relationships based on trust and value, not loose connections based upon offering the lowest price.

Over the holiday break, I became very intrigued with Scott Stratten's "Hierarchy of Buying" concept as explained in his book, "UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging."

I have always been amazed at how many B2B marketers focus on the cold call, or "telespam," which Stratten calls the "bottom of the barrel." They still create one-size-fits-all newsletters or promotional messages as if their potential customers were waiting eagerly for an e-mail to gush about the virtues of a product or service they know nothing about.

Graphic from Stratten's blog post: "Aiming Your Company at the Bottom of the Barrel"

Cold calling often is a primary strategy because it doesn't cost much. Any salesperson has myriad vendors calling to rent lists or provide "hot" leads. But what is the true cost of these efforts?

As Stratten notes, you risk annoying 99 people in search of the 100th person that would be interested in your product or service. In close-knit B2B markets with a limited number of potential customers, this can put you at a disadvantage vs. your competition. For the interested party, you are battling your competition for low-margin business from customers comparing your offering based on price alone.

I agree with Stratten's contention that you should concentrate your efforts on the middle of the pyramid, on prospects that were referred to you by a trusted source - ideally your own satisfied customers - as well as prospects who have developed a relationship with your brand but have not yet purchased, and those who consider you to be a recognized expert in the field. This will allow you to build prospect relationships based on trust and value, not loose connections based upon offering the lowest price.

Consider the following tips as you develop e-mail-marketing programs that focus on the middle.

  1. Generate key referrals. The best way to generate key referrals is to ask your satisfied customers, most effectively through a satisfaction-survey program.

    On a regular basis, survey your customers' satisfaction levels with your brand and their likelihood to refer you to others. Use questions that employ a five-point Likert answer scale.

    Follow up with customers who generate an average score between four and five to thank them for their business and ask them to refer your brand to their colleagues. Send another follow-up thank-you to your referring customers as well.

    Refer any customers who score an average two or below to your customer service group to address their concerns.
  2. Stay top of mind with your non-purchasers. You have established trust with a group of prospects, but they have yet to buy. How do you convert them to satisfied customers? Your newsletter is the perfect vehicle to keep your brand top of mind.

    Continue to build trust with case studies and how-to articles on a monthly basis that demonstrate how your products and services can solve their business problems.

    Don't hard-sell your products, however. Let your content do the talking for you by showing how your solution is the right one. Once prospects are in the market for your products, you'll come to mind as the first choice.
  3. Establish your brand as the expert in the field. A newsletter also is a perfect opportunity to help establish your brand as an expert in your specific industry. Develop an editorial calendar that allows you to promote thought leadership in your category on a regular basis. Utilize LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to get the word out and spread your content even further.

    Again, don't sell your products in your newsletter. Instead, offer solutions, and drive the conversations with your customers and prospects that help you establish trust and your expert position. When you deliver relevant and compelling content that helps your readers, they will soon become your customers.

The Last Word

As Stratten mentions in his book, many B2B marketers don't focus on the middle of the pyramid because it takes time. It isn't a silver bullet that will produce more leads and more revenue tomorrow.

But as we have learned, focusing on the bottom isn't the best strategy either. It will fill your pipeline with prospects seeking the lowest price over value.

Building trust and fostering relationships with people who see you as an expert in your industry will continually fill your sales pipeline with high-value prospects who will help you generate high-margin business for years to come.

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Mike Hotz

Mike Hotz is a senior strategic consultant for Responsys, working with clients to design, develop, and execute cross-channel digital marketing strategies that contribute to their cross-channel digital marketing success. As an industry veteran, Mike has worked in e-mail marketing since 1998, designing, building, and executing e-mail and multichannel direct marketing strategies focusing on increasing customer engagement, nurturing leads, supporting sales organizations, and driving revenue for companies such as CDW, OfficeMax, Grant Thornton, and Digitalwork.com.

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