I was recently at a loose end and found myself milling about a computer technology shop, as I invariably do. I had no real aim in mind except keeping out of the British rain and avoiding offering opinions on the complete range of women’s dresses in a nearby store.

No sooner had I stepped inside the store and began looking casually around than a smart young man in a suit clearly ironed for him fresh that morning flashed a big smile that said ‘I’m paid to smile like this, what’s your excuse?‘ and asked me how he could help me. The immediate but fortunately restrained response was ‘by going away‘, but what I actually did was thank him and explain I was fine.

A few minutes later I rounded a corner and another chap sidled up to me with another plastic grin and asked me if there was anything he could do. A few suggestions flashed through my mind, some of which might even be anatomically possible, but again I gratefully thanked him for interrupting my peaceful reverie and continued browsing.

By the time the third man approached me I decided that offering opinions on dresses which I may very well end up paying for wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

This is the problem with lead nurturing, because we’ve probably all been in this situation. When you don’t really need help and just want to browse, you seem to be inundated by offers of help. Then when you actually do need help, you can’t ever find someone to ask.


The Importance Of Lead Nurturing In The Inbound Cycle


It’s much the same online, and it is vital that you nurture your inbound leads as carefully as possible so that you can maximise the percentage of enquiries which become converted into sales. But how do you do that properly?

Understanding The Three Stage Process All Customers Go Through

Although there have been many different analyses taken of the way in which customers approach making a purchase, it can really very simply be broken down into three easy to understand stages:

1. Awareness
2. Evaluation
3. Purchase

The first stage, awareness, is when the potential customer either first becomes aware of your brand, service or products, or becomes aware of a particular need he or she has. This is a very speculative stage, and it is of course essential that potential customers at this first awareness stage are given every chance to become aware of your brand, but without being pushed or forced into taking the next step before they are ready.

The second stage, evaluation, is when the customer has decided that they do have a need for a product or service such as the one you are offering, and that they are probably going to go ahead and make a purchase, but not necessarily from you. This will be the stage when they start comparing products or services, comparing suppliers, and weighing up the benefits of making a purchase. Again, it’s essential that you make the customers aware of the right information at this stage without being too pushy.

Finally there is the purchase stage, when potential customers have identified a need or product, weighed up the benefits, and informed themselves of the options and alternatives, and are ready to consider making a purchase. This is a stage when it is still perfectly possible to lose a customer, and many people do, but there are ways in which you can help to maximise the chance of customers at this third stage choosing to go ahead and make a purchase, and to make that purchase from you.

So at each of the three stages it is important to make sure that your brand is highly visible, and is there to nurture the leads. But what is perhaps of even greater importance than being visible at each stage of the buying process is to make sure that you present the right approach at each stage. It’s important not just to be visible, but to make sure that the right things are visible at each stage. Let me explain by providing a few examples to illustrate the point.

How To Nurture Online Leads Differently At Each Stage

When I went into that computer shop I was a potential customer. Because I wasn’t ‘nurtured’ in the right way, not only did I leave without making a purchase but the experience may very well dissuade me from going back anytime soon. Instead of sidling up to me the moment I entered the shop it would have been better to allow me to browse. Only once I had settled on a particular area, started to pick products up, try them out and show a distinct interest would it have been better to head my way. But how do you do that online?

Stage 1: Awareness

At this point it’s all about visibility. Not being pushy, not even trying to sell anything. Just focus on visibility in a way which will encourage people to take a moment to absorb your brand. Perhaps you could create a useful resource such as a tip sheet or checklist which addresses a need which customers may have, even if they aren’t aware of it.

Videos work well here, as long as they are educational, informative and interesting without being a replacement for a pushy salesman. Many businesses have also found that giving away ebooks is a great way of gaining visibility in this overtly unintimidating way.

Stage 2: Evaluation

Once the customer has become aware of their need, and of your brand, they’ll want to spend some time evaluating what you can offer them, comparing it to alternative solutions, services or products, looking at how you stack up compared to other suppliers and just how effectively your product or service meets their need. It’s important that at this stage you don’t simply carry on providing the same sort of information you did in stage one. Neither should you become pushy.

If you make the mistake of simply continuing to provide videos, webinars, how-to sheets and ebooks then you’ll lose the chance to capitalise on their more defined and purposeful investigation of your products. Become too pushy or expect a sale and you’ll find many customers will walk away from the deal rather than be pressured.

So at this stage it is best to provide information such as case studies, data sheets or FAQ resources. Perhaps you could put together a good demo video, or even provide samples for the customer to see for themselves how it works or the quality it offers.

Stage 3: Purchase

Don’t make the mistake here of thinking it’s all over. Nurturing leads means carefully approaching the customer at each stage in a very focussed way, and when they are ready to consider making a purchase there are still things that can be done to help clinch the deal.

So here you might consider making available such things as a free trial or demonstration, perhaps offering information regarding booking a consultation, offering a free estimate or even making a voucher or coupon available. Whilst some customers may launch themselves at you armed to the teeth with credit cards desperate for you to take their money, in the majority of cases customers will go through each of these three stages, and this third stage is often ignored or overlooked.

Just because a customer has decided that your product or service does meet their needs doesn’t mean that they are ready to commit to making a purchase yet. Providing more reasons for them to stay with your brand a little longer will help convert more leads into sales.

As you can see, taking this three stage approach is the best way of making sure that every possible lead is nurtured in the right way. Often you’ll find that you have plenty of material and spend plenty of time focussing on just one aspect. Perhaps you push plenty of coupons and vouchers out there, but unless your customers are already at stage three then that’s going to be of little benefit. Perhaps you provide a great many webinars or free ebooks, which is great, but then what next?

“By taking time to analyse what you have to offer at each of these three stages you can start to create a more structured and more effective approach to converting those inbound enquiries and visits into something which ends up on the bottom line.”

Found this post useful? Why not share it now on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and let others know about how to nurture leads as part of the inbound cycle. If you have any comments please do jot them in the box below.