Friday, June 20, 2008
Keep Prospects Engaged Over Long Sales Cycles With Drip Marketing
By Geoff Rego, CEO, Market2Lead
If you sell a product over a long sales cycle it is essential for your marketing program to keep in touch with those prospects. You can’t let them forget about you or your competitor could easily win the sale. Case studies have shown that the best strategy to stay fresh in your prospects’ minds is with a carefully-crafted drip marketing campaign.
Drip marketing involves a series of marketing tactics that nurture a prospect from the initial contact until the prospect is ready to be engaged by an inside or outside sales representative. For example, a campaign might offer white papers, webinar invitations, free trials, etc., one at a time, over the course of your sales cycle. The success of such a campaign depends on several factors. Chief among them are obtaining the prospect’s permission to send email messages and enforcing strict cadence rules, so you don’t communicate too often or too infrequently.
Permission can be a “Catch-22” situation. You need a prospect’s permission to send email, but how do you get it without sending email? You can obtain explicit email permission by using pay-per-click ads to draw prospects to a landing page, on which they exchange their email address (and permission to use it) for something of value. You can also send unsolicited email messages to addresses you obtain from a purchased list of leads. If you are a U.S. company, such messages are legal, as long as they comply with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Refer to online resources such as the Federal Trade Commission’s site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/canspam.shtm for more about the Act.
Whether you use online ads or a purchased list of email addresses, the key is to provide sufficient incentive for the prospects to explicitly grant permission for you to send future email messages. Offer a newsletter that provides valuable information, for example. Or offer access to an informative white paper. Although the CAN-SPAM Act permits the use of implied permission, you gain more credibility with forthright communication. Obtain explicit permission from your prospects by providing the right kind of offers to the right people.
Once you have permission, the next step of your plan involves cadence – that is, how often you communicate. Successful marketers have learned that monthly messages are too infrequent. You’ll lose too much mind share if you wait that long before sending the next “drip” in your drip marketing campaign. Bi-weekly messages, on the other hand, are too frequent and can cost you sales by annoying the prospect. The best practice, therefore, is to reach out to a prospect every 21 days. Companies commit a common error when they have more than one person working from the same database. For example, one staff member might send a white paper offer to a prospect and another staff member, not knowing that message went out, could send a webinar invitation two days later.
The most successful marketers do more than enforce a 21-day cadence. They go a step further by scheduling messages based on a prospective customer’s explicit preferences. For example, they allow the customer to specify what day of the week is best to receive the messages. Then, instead of sending all their second stage messages at one time, they spread them out over a week, depending on the prospects’ expressed preferences.
STAGES AND OFFERS
As you plan your first drip marketing campaign, define stages (drips) based on what you already have (newsletters, white papers, etc.) For initial campaigns, three to five stages is optimal. You can always add more tactics after you get your campaign up and running.
When you plan what to offer during each stage of your drip marketing campaign, consider the amount of time a prospect is willing to spend at different stages in the sales cycle. For example, when a person first begins to look for something their business needs, they are really at the “tire kicking” stage. They will spend five to 10 minutes on each vendor’s Web site as they begin to determine which vendor’s products might solve their business challenges.
This is not the time to invite the prospect to a 30-minute Webinar. Instead, provide a Web landing page from which the prospect can quickly receive the most essential information about your product and on which he can provide the most basic information about himself (including permission to send future messages).
With each visit, the prospect is further along the sales cycle and willing to invest more time. On a second visit to your Web site, a prospect might be willing to spend 30 minutes to obtain in-depth information. This is the time to offer a detailed white paper. For your third offer, an opportunity to participate in a live webinar or view a recorded one might be appropriate. If you can provide a free trial of your product, that would be an excellent fourth stage offer. This might also be the time you’ll want to provide the person’s information to your sales department as a qualified sales lead.
A good drip marketing campaign is a living thing. Successful marketers regularly change their campaigns, adding tactics that work and removing those that don’t, for example. This requires some kind of measurement. For example, you should measure how many prospects (by percentage) complete the transition from stage to stage. Determine what offers are most effective in driving such transitions. Optimize the messages and offers that are working, replace the ones that aren’t, and add new stages as necessary. Effective software tools can automatically provide the reports you need to make such decisions.
You can plan and execute a drip marketing campaign using manual tools, such as a spreadsheet application. But if you run more than a few programs, each having three to five stages, you’ll quickly find that doing it with a spreadsheet can become overwhelming. As a result, you’ll have trouble maintaining your cadence. In addition, you probably won’t be able to respect prospect preferences such as the day of the week and you probably will find yourself never getting around to measuring the effectiveness of each stage in each program.
Marketing automation software allows you to perform complex segmentation of your prospect database by analyzing data that prospects provide themselves as well as behavioral information, such as how much time each prospect spent on each of your Web pages. This kind of segmentation is difficult if not impossible to do manually.
Geoff Rego is CEO and Co-Founder of Market2Lead, Inc. Rego has rich and extensive experience in building software technology. Prior to Market2Lead, Mr. Rego led the technology build-out of the world’s largest insurance lead generation platform at InsWeb (INSW). Geoff also held various management and architect roles at technology companies including Oracle, Microsoft, Apple and Cisco Systems. Rego holds a MSCS from University of New Haven and MS Chemistry from Loyola College. He can be reached via email at email@example.com; or via phone at(408) 907-2821.