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Lead nurturing has a gotten a lot of attention in recent years.

Lead generation has been around forever, but with the advent of email marketing and lead tracking systems, more and more sales and marketing departments are now also focused on lead nurturing.

Lead nurturing is a wonderful idea.  It’s hard to understand why it hasn’t been embraced until recently.

In the old days (before email), we would produce a lead generation campaign and then, as an afterthought, we would introduce a multi-touch postcard campaign that would go out to all the leads just to stay in touch.   Not everyone thought it was a necessary campaign.

It only made sense to us to not let those leads fall through the cracks.  Too much money was invested in getting those leads.  Why wouldn’t you invest a little more to keep them fresh?

Most companies assumed that their sales force would take care of the leads.  In some cases, they did – but sales people are only human too.  And so many of them would cherry pick the best leads while leaving the lesser leads in the desk drawer.

But then email happened and companies had an easier, faster and cheaper way to stay in touch and maintain connection with ALL their leads.

Now, there is no excuse for failing to stay in touch.  And many more companies are now engage in lead nurturing.

But is lead nurturing just staying in touch with your sales leads or is it (should it be) something more?

I see it as a five-level hierarchy starting with the very basic “stay in touch” system and ending with a comprehensive interactive lead nurturing process that moves prospects though the sales process.  Let me explain:

Level 1 – Connection

Staying connected is the bare minimum of lead nurturing – getting someone on your email list and sending them an occasional (preferably frequent) email or email newsletter.  This is what everyone – regardless of budget – should be doing.

Level 2 – Relevance

This next level focuses on targeting your emails to segments of your list according to their needs, interests or goals.  In other words, sending them emails with relevant messages.

Level 3 – Integration

Because lead nurturing also includes telephone and direct mail follow-up, this level introduces the need to integrate your email with these other follow-up methods.

Level 4 – Engagement

Sending emails, in and of itself, is good but what’s better is getting your prospects to respond in some way.  To download a whitepaper, fill out a survey or attend a webinar.  Engagement shows the prospect is active and interested – and probably open to the solutions you are selling.

Level 5 – Movement

Of course, getting people to respond to your emails isn’t really the goal.  It’s getting people to buy.  And the whole purpose of lead nurturing – as the name suggests – is to move people along the sales process.  If your prospects keep downloading papers from you, that’s okay.  It means they are alive and kicking.  But how much closer are they to buying anything – to YOUR goal?

If you want to move your prospect along, introduce higher commitment offers or demand more qualifying information.  In other words, make it a little harder – force your prospect to invest a little more.

For example, let’s say you generated the lead by offering a free white paper.  All you asked for is the person’s name and email address.  Next time, they want to download something, ask them more about their needs or timetable.  Or instead of offering another white paper, consider offering a webinar requiring the prospect to invest some time which indicates a higher level of interest.

This last level isn’t easy.  You need to break down the various steps in your sales process, and then look at different strategies to move them from one step to another.  Get your sales people involved.  Chances are they are already doing this over the phone and in person.

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There is no question lead nurturing is here to stay.  When you consider the cost of generating a new sales lead, who could argue against any system that is going to protect that investment?

But understanding lead nurturing strategy is critical to your success, regardless of the lead tracking or contact management system you may be using.