“61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to Sales; however, only 27% of those leads will be qualified.” This statistic, per a MarketingSherpa study, is painful in two ways.

First, in terms of sales and marketing alignment.

Your sales team lives and dies by winning or losing deals. Their efforts, driven by management’s pressures and their desire to eat, is to maximize the time spent on deals with the highest probability of winning.

If the sales team is given 20 leads by marketing and allocates sacred time reaching out to each lead only to discover that just 5 are even qualified to engage – well clearly they’re going to be upset with marketing. Repeat this every month and soon, sales will ignore marketing’s leads and start prospecting entirely on their own. I would too if my livelihood depended on it.

Second, in terms of major missed opportunities.

If your marketing team (or whoever is responsible for lead generation) is working hard to attract and engage target buyers, even in the best case scenarios, only a small percent is ready to buy now. Naturally, a majority of leads just aren’t in the market to buy right now. But “now” isn’t “never”.

Chet Holmes, in his book, “The Ultimate Sales Machine,” broke down rules-of-thumb for lead quality as follows:

  • 3% of leads are ready to buy now
  • 6-7% are open to possibly buying
  • 30% are not thinking about buying
  • 30% don’t think they are interested in buying
  • 30% know they’re not interested in buying

So, if marketing is sending 100% of leads immediately to sales, only 3% are actually sales-ready. Another 6-7% are within a window where sales’ expertise and relationship-building prowess could spark a willingness to buy.

Yet, this leaves 90% of the hard-earned leads left out in the dark!

At least 60% of those are in the game but need to know more. They need help to recognize, prioritize and create a sense of urgency around solving a problem they probably know they have but aren’t ready to pursue a solution. These leads are ripe for sales lead nurturing!

What is Sales Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing enables you to guide the journey that the buyer takes from being a lead to becoming a customer. Its goal is to accelerate leads to convert to customers faster by providing the extra information they need to recognize, prioritize and create urgency for solving their challenges and achieving their goals.

Proper lead nurturing is like having a good tour guide on auto-pilot. If you’ve defined your buyer personas and you have plotted the common buying journey, you can anticipate what information, tools, and assurances these buyers need to engage further in finding a solution.

Lead nurturing integrates multiple marketing channels including emails, paid advertising, phone calls, and direct mail to systematically reach out to leads not yet meeting sales-ready qualifications. In a simpler approach, a DRIP email campaign is less sophisticated than lead nurturing but is a great place to start for many industrial manufacturing and technology companies. Recognizing that every lead isn’t sales-ready and doing something about it, is a great first step!

How to Setup Sales Lead Nurturing?

In general, there are five steps for setting up a lead nurturing program.

Choose your target persona(s) and buyer journey

As referenced above, your lead nurturing should specifically target a buyer persona. If you can segment your buyers by common attributes whether title, industry, engagement depth, or other criteria, the better you’ll be able to communicate effectively. The more relevant you be with these leads, the greater chance you have of converting their latent need into a known and urgent one.

Establish your growth infrastructure

You’re going to need a 3rd party platform to conduct a lead nurturing program. If you prefer to settle with a simple DRIP campaign, platforms like DRIP work well. However, lead nurturing ideally leverages a marketing automation platform like Hubspot, InfusionSoft, ActiveCampaign or Pardot.

These platforms also provide offer fulfillment via landing pages and content downloads. These “touchpoints” provide an opportunity to track the conversion and monitor your program’s performance.

Set Goals

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The point of a nurturing program is to move leads through the stages of their buying journey into a sales-ready qualification. It may take time for a movement to happen but when it does, you want to track it. Your 3rd party platform should be capable of tracking the movements and providing the data to assess stage transitions.

Craft your message(s) and develop your content

Besides setting up your buyer segments appropriately, crafting your messages and the content offers is critical. It’s where magic either happens or fizzles out.
If you have spent the time digging up details about your buyers to understand their buying requirements, you should be fairly well armed to craft relevant messages and content offers. Start with something and test to build better performance.

For the leads you are contacting, remember where they are in their process. They’re not ready to buy. They are either not thinking about buying (but may be interested in learning) or don’t think they are interested in buying (but may be open to hearing more.) Know which type you are serving and tie your messaging and offer to each one effectively.

Execute, monitor and optimize

You won’t get it right the first time. If you have the 3rd party platform in place to track movement, you can monitor and make changes to optimize the outcomes.

Realize it will take time. Some studies suggest a new lead nurturing program will take 6-9 months before consistent results are seen.

Lead nurturing programs I have built started to generate decent gains in sales-ready lead conversions in about 6-7 months. But those often involved a lot of data clean-up and segmentation work before actually executing the programs. Although it’s extra time, it is time well-spent to ensure the assets are structured correctly. If not, it’s “garbage-in; garbage-out” which is not the right way to start a new lead nurturing program.

Quick Tips for Planning Sales Lead Nurturing Right

  • Attention to detail is really important to be effective at lead nurturing. Whether its details uncovered about your buyers that help create better segmentation or carefully crafting the right message and offer to entice and engage your leads, the details make or break the results. Here are a few general tips to get you started.
  • Start small, don’t get overwhelmed – the key is to get started. See what works and iterate from there versus setting up the ideal world with many scenarios
  • Collaborate with Sales to find the best nurture strategy and messaging
  • Teach your leads – education helps move them through their journey
  • Be patient – it takes time to see movement – up to 6 – 9 months
  • Length and complexity of the sales cycle should impact the length of your lead nurturing campaigns – if you have a 2-year sales cycle, you should consider building a much longer lead nurturing program than if you have a 2-month sales cycle

What Result Could Sales Lead Nurturing Deliver?

Lead nurturing is a way to remain engaged with your buyers while they progress (at their pace) through their buying process. And get this, according to DemandGen Report, “Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads.” I have witnessed this in practice. One B2B client went from 0.2% lead to sales-ready lead conversion to a 7% conversion in seven months after establishing an effective lead nurturing program.

And for sales leaders, CSO Insights found, “Companies that excel at lead nurturing have 9% more sales reps making quota.” So your salespeople will be thrilled too!
I highly recommend you start nurturing your marketing leads today. Get started now!


Kevin Gold is a B2B acquisition marketing and growth consultant with more than 18 years of executive marketing and business leadership experience.