Nurturing Customers – From First Contact to Sale

Why nurturing your customers is critical 

Nurturing customers is an important function for any customer-facing business. It involves the process of responding to initial expressions of interest from prospects by channelling them into a sales funnel ultimately leading to purchase of your products. It can also apply to the process of retaining existing customers and motivating them to make further purchases from your company.

Outlined below are the steps you need to nurture your customers from initial contact to sale. Once they become customers, providing excellent customer service begins the sales cycle again. If customers feel that they are well taken care of, they are likely to look favourably at your company and its products and be encouraged to return to you the next time they need to make a purchase.

But first, the following questions need to be answered. Answering them will provide greater insight into the nurturing process. By learning the steps to attracting customers and converting them from prospects to clients, you will increase your company’s prospects for growth.

  1. What is customer nurturing?
  2. Why is it important?
  3. What are the steps to customer nurturing?
  4. What are the insights into my buyers?
  5. What’s a persona and how to build one?
  6. Creating killer content; webinars, infographics, podcasts, videos
  7. Producing a content calendar
  8. The sales funnel – tracking customers from visitors to leads
  9. Identifying qualified leads
  10. Asking for the sale

What is customer nurturing?

Customer nurturing is the practice of providing prospects with all the guidance and information they need to make them customers. It can also apply to providing customers with excellent support and service once they buy from you in order to motivate them to make further purchases (the easiest sales come from existing customers, so doing everything possible to keep your existing customers happy makes good sense). When it comes to nurturing prospective customers, the idea is to build on their initial interest in your company’s products with a focused process to move them through the sales funnel to become customers.

Why is it important?

In today’s business world much of the sales process happens online. Customers can do much of their own product research by themselves. As a result, it has become increasingly important to deliver excellent service and support to both leads and customers in order to set yourself apart from competitors. Additionally, with such a wealth of information available to consumers on the web, they can easily fall into “analysis paralysis” and defer making decisions unless nudged in that direction by well-timed and helpful reminders.

What steps are involved in nurturing customers?

The customer nurturing process may differ depending on the type of marketing being used, however, the overall procedure will retain similar elements. A typical nurturing process might go like this:

  1. Initial contact with customer
  2. Follow-up email or phone call with a call to action.
  3. Another follow-up email or phone call.
  4. Customer takes action in response to the nurturing process and either purchases a product or sets up a meeting/phone call to discuss doing so.
  5. If the prospect fails to take action initially, he or she may be may be contacted again after a time in an attempt to repeat the nurturing process with a successful outcome.

Inbound marketing typically involves less of a “hard sell” approach than outbound marketing. The process involves providing information about a company and its products via a website, blog or social media with the intent of inducing a prospective customer to contact the firm for more information. Once this occurs, the customer is placed in the firm’s sales funnel for further follow-up.

“Drip” email campaigns are a well-known example of the customer nurturing process. Once a prospect has joined the company’s email list, he or she is presented with a series of emails designed to convert the prospect’s initial interest in the company and its products into a conversion or purchase over time.

What are the insights into my buyers?

As you collect information from your customers you will gain insights into your buyers and their habits. This can include a variety of information, including:

  • The type of products they buy: Characterising customers by the type of products they buy allows you to accurately target future marketing efforts based on a customer’s product preferences
  • The time of day they buy: Tracking the times of day your customers are most likely to make purchases can help in running marketing campaigns. For instance, if you are sponsoring a pay-per-click (PPC) banner ad campaign you might structure it so that ads only ran during the most productive purchasing times.
  • Their geographic location: Acquiring data as to the geographic dispersion of your customers is valuable for helping to determine the most promising areas to cover in your marketing campaigns.
  • Demographic data: Tracking demographic data allows you to determine what types of customers your business attracts, whether categorised by income, age, ethnicity or any other demographic category.
  • Time of the year or month they typically make purchases: As with time of day data, metrics related to what time of the year or month purchases are made can help in structuring your marketing and advertising efforts for maximum impact.
  • Characteristics of repeat buyers: Data applicable to repeat buyers is another valuable metric when it comes to designing your marketing campaigns.

What’s a persona and how to build one?

A persona is a description of a customer type that allows you to understand what motivates that customer to buy a product. Some examples of customer personas are as follows:

  • Impulse buyer:
  • Researcher
  • Dual income no kids
  • Provider
  • Budget shopper
  • Aspirational buyer
  • Lifestyle buyer
  • Price sensitive shopper

You can build personas by asking questions designed to provide information about your customers during lead generation and nurturing and during the purchasing process. These questions can uncover details about your customer’s buying habits, location, preferred products, demographic data, and more. As leads convert into buyers, match the data you have collected about them to construct personas characterising your buyers by type.

Categorising your buyers by persona allows you to determine which types of customers generate the most revenue for your company. You can then use this information to drive your marketing campaigns by appealing specifically to the buyer personas that are most likely to purchase from you.  

Creating killer content: webinars, infographics, podcasts, videos

Motivating a prospective customer to enter your sales funnel and keeping them there generally requires a well designed campaign consisting of a variety of informative and interesting content. The following content can be used in the customer nurturing process in a variety of ways.

Webinars: Webinars provide an excellent low-cost method of informing and interacting with consumers who are interested in your company’s products or services. They can involve a variety of presentation materials such as infographics, charts and powerpoints. Because of their low cost webinars can be run on a frequent or regular basis if there is sufficient demand.

Infographics: Whether used in conjunction with other material or in isolation, infographics provide a powerful means of demonstrating important points about your company and its offerings. They can be embedded in a presentation, used in social media or sent directly in emails or letters to prospective customers.

Podcasts: When explaining detailed product features or functions, sometimes hearing is preferable to reading. For consumers prone to multitasking, being able to listen to an informative presentation gives them the chance to perform other tasks in the meantime.

Videos: The popularity of free video hosting services such as YouTube and the debut of inexpensive do it yourself (DIY) video creation solutions makes it fairly easy to produce videos for use in your customer nurturing efforts. That being said, not putting out a video is better than distributing a poorly produced one, so make sure that the production value of any video used in your marketing campaigns is at least adequate. It should enhance and not devalue your brand.

Producing a content calendar

Content calendars are utilised by marketing teams to plan out their content over a certain period of time, often over the course of a year. It is a shareable resource that allows marketers to visualise the progress of a content marketing plan over a selected time period.

Producing a content calendar provides several benefits, including:

  • The ability to coordinate content production with major industry events and other significant occasions.
  • Interactivity and adaptability – typically a content calendar can be altered without having to redo the whole calendar.
  • Enhances your ability to produce a continuous stream of material by making it easy to spot gaps in the content production schedule.

To make the best use of your content calendar, take the following into account:

Evaluate the topics/subjects that appeal to your audience: Rather than choosing what you believe are the most important features of your company’s products or services, you should first check to see what the relevant audience is focused on in this regard. Once you have done this, you can best determine how to talk about your company’s offerings in the context of what potential customers are most likely to care about.

Analyse your sales cycle: Producing content that helps in the sales process is the ultimate goal. Ideally, you should produce content on a schedule that improves your company’s ability to close sales.

Select content assets: A long term content production program will require a variety of assets such as blog posts, white papers, infographics, videos, articles, etc. Before publishing your content calendar you should review your existing assets to see which pieces can be used in your upcoming campaigns. Some of your existing material may be suitable for revision to work with current campaigns you are running or plan to run.

Publish and update the calendar: Once you have outlined your initial content publishing plan establish your content calendar and then update it as changes are made. In addition, be sure to track and monitor the results of all published content to aid you in making adjustments to the plan as necessary going forward.

The sales funnel – tracking customers from visitors to leads

A sales funnel provides you with a method of tracking your leads from an initial expression of interest in your company’s products or services to the time they become a customer. Performing this tracking is important because it allows you both to analyse future business prospects and to provide each lead with the necessary services at the proper time. This can include sending follow-up emails, scheduling a call, sending reminders, and the like. The ability to service your leads in this manner can help improve your close ratios.

A number of CRM (Customer relationship management) software programs offer detailed sales funnel functionality. Such programs can precisely report where your prospects are in the sales stage from an initial website visit or phone call to evaluating a sales proposal.

A sales funnel can provide valuable details about where your most promising leads originate by tracking how many leads received from specific channels ultimately become customers. You can also assign different parameters to each channel to more accurately track the progression of leads from particular channels.

Important factors to monitor in your sales funnel include:

  • Time in the funnel from first contact
  • Time spent in each stage of the sales funnel
  • Position in the funnel (initial contact, follow-up contact, etc.)
  • Number of contacts
  • Type of contacts (email, phone call, meeting, etc.)
  • Source of the lead (website, PPC ad, impression, email, social media, etc.)
  • Sales rep or staff member assigned to each lead

When designing your sales funnel it is important to determine which channels are likely to be efficient at delivering leads to your funnel. For instance, social media sites may be ideal for spreading awareness of your firm’s product, while more targeted methods such as email marketing or PPC ads deliver the largest portion of qualified leads to your funnel.

Performing this type of analysis allows you to determine where your marketing efforts should be focused. It also helps you build a diverse sales funnel that draws from a variety of sources. This can prove valuable by cushioning the blow if one source of leads were to perform poorly over a certain period of time. Your sales funnel should be flexible to allow leads to originate from whatever sources your audience uses most at any particular time.

Identifying qualified leads

As leads enter your sales funnel it is crucial to identify which are the most likely to convert to customers at some point. By doing so you not only can improve your closing ratio but also save the time and money that would otherwise be spent attempting to nurture leads that are unlikely to convert to customers. A qualified lead, generally speaking, is one who has enough interest in the product that having them speak to a sales representative is worth the time and effort involved.

Some factors to look for in identifying qualified leads include:

Do they have the power to make a decision? If the lead is simply gathering information it could lead to a sale at some point, but they are not as well qualified as someone who has the power to make a buying decision.

What is their buying timeline? Even if a lead has the power to make a decision, they may just be in information gathering mode. The best leads are those experiencing a high “pain” factor or need for a product such as yours, impelling them to make a purchase in a timely manner.

Do they need your product? This is typically the final hurdle a lead needs to leap before making a purchase decision. Even if they have the power to make a decision and are motivated to do so soon, they are unlikely to purchase your product unless it meets their specific needs.

Can they afford it? Some products attract a lot of interest from “lookie-loos” who have a favourable opinion of the product but lack the means to purchase it.

Your marketing approach should take the above characteristics of qualified leads into account when it comes to adding prospective customers to your sales funnel. At various point along the funnel it is important to include features that weed out non-qualified leads. This can include “limited time” offers to identify time sensitive buyers, and information requests such as asking for emails to winnow out those who are not truly interested in a product. Information about product pricing should occur fairly early in the sales process so that those who can’t afford the product are not drawn too far into the sales funnel.

Asking for the sale

The ultimate goal of building a sales funnel and nurturing customers is to make sales. While in a few cases a customer may ask to buy your products or services, in most cases you will need to ask for the sale. Failing to do so is counterproductive, as customers understand that companies like yours are interested in doing business with them – if your company fails to offer them a chance to make a purchase it may make them uncomfortable about buying from your company.

When should you ask for the sale?

When it comes to timing your closing question there is no hard and fast answer as to when you should ask for the sale. The duration of the sales cycle as it relates to your industry as a whole and to your company in particular is the best source to use for determining when to ask for the sale.

For instance, in a DRIP email campaign, it is generally appropriate to provide a call to action (CTA) in each email in the series. However, the CTA should not come at the very start of the email. Instead, it should either come at least after a few paragraphs to familiarise the prospect with the product, or, at the very end of the email if that is most appropriate.  

For bigger ticket items asking for the sale early in the process is generally not optimal, as prospective customers often need time to become comfortable with the product. On the other hand, if you wait too long to attempt to close the deal the prospect may feel that you lack confidence in your products or service. Timing the ask somewhere between these two extremes is likely to provide the best results.

How to Ask for the Sale

The verbiage you use to ask for a sale is likely to vary depending upon the industry your company operates in and the type of audience you are targeting. Some general phrases that might be used in your CTAs include:

  • Click here to learn more
  • Click here to purchase
  • Click here to buy now
  • Take advantage of this opportunity now
  • Don’t miss this opportunity
  • Act now, this offer won’t last
  • Have we done enough to earn your business?
  • Find out more now
  • Learn more now      
  • Improve your results now