Whether you’re single, married or dating… if you’re growing a brand or business… you, my dear friend, are on the dating scene.

“What… what?” You might be thinking.
That’s right. You are on the dating scene.
…for your business. 
If you’re anything like me, then you:

  1. are constantly coming into contact with new people (intentionally and unintentionally), and
  2. want to boost sales for your business.

(And, if number 2 is true, and number 1 is not… then that’s kind of a problem, but feel free to take a look at my last two posts on lead generation – here and here – to begin to take control of that and fix it.)
But, let’s assume both are true.

So how do we actually make that situation work toward accomplishing our goal of boosting sales?

Well, we need a system to turn the new people we meet into loyal fans and customers…

  1. Most people are not in the market for your product/service when they first come into contact with you.
  2. Some of them might naturally, eventually be in the market for your product/service, and might be your ideal customer/client.
  3. But, if they aren’t destined to “need” your business by their own natural devices, you want to be able to create demand and interest so prospects find an emotional need (aka desire/want) and logical context (rational reason/need) for your product/service.
  4. You want people, not only to remember you, but to remember you first – and like you, of course – when they are looking for a business like yours.

And that system, my friend, is called “Lead Nurturing” – which basically equates to courting your prospects, or dating, for business.

What is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of wooing your leads, to turn them into viable prospects, and building caring relationships with them, so they will trust you, feel comfortable with you and appreciated by you. So they will be happy to buy from you, at their own pace, and only when they are ready (of course). (And then they WILL buy from you.)
Or, if you prefer a a more textbook definition, according to Marketo,

Lead nurturing is the process of developing relationships with buyers at every stage of the sales funnel, and through every step of the buyer’s journey. It focuses marketing and communication efforts on listening to the needs of prospects, and providing the information and answers they need.

Ok… So, why is this necessary?

Well, this is why I’m comparing lead nurturing to dating.
Imagine you’re out at a party, or waiting in line for your double espresso, and someone comes up to you and asks you to head over to City Hall to get married.
You’d probably be a little freaked out, right?
Ok, I’ll speak for myself… I’d be like “What?!” and feel really uncomfortable – and walk away as quickly as possible.
All cultural standards or beliefs aside, we can probably all agree that it would be really awkward, and pointless to do that…
But, that’s essentially what’s happening if you, for example, go to a networking function, or cold call someone, and either directly ask for a sale without building a relationship, or just spout information about your offer without even inquiring about the person’s needs, to find out if they are even looking for you.
(Note: It’s one thing to have an “elevator pitch” aimed at informing people about what you do, but it’s another thing to assume people need what you are offering (and care about you) and make sales pitches to strangers. …Don’t worry… I know that I’m not perfect, but I’m constantly trying to do better at this. Sorry if I’ve made you feel like this.)
I know, if you’re a restaurant owner, you’re probably not making cold calls or attending networking functions to get sales. But, surely, if you’re doing some kind of lead generation, prospects will sometimes be ready to buy and sometimes not ready to buy when they come into contact with you.
Lead nurturing will help keep those not-ready-to-buy folks engaged, so when they are looking for a place to host a fun get together or business meeting, they’ll think of you first … and call for a reservation!
So, basically, lead nurturing helps bridge the gap from “just meeting” to “buying” – just as dating bridges the gap from introduction to life partnership – by consistently providing value to prospects in order to:

  • Create Context for your Product/Service
  • Build Trust
  • Stay Top of Mind/Keep People Engaged
  • Create Demand
  • Increase Conversion Rate of Leads to Sales.

So… How do I “nurture” my leads?

Remember back in my post on Authenticity in Marketing, when I said marketing is like a gift?
Well, this is where it comes to play. Just like in dating, when a romantic guy brings his date flowers, your business needs to offer something nice to impress your prospects… regularly and consistently.
That “something nice” could be:

  • your professionally created marketing materials,
  • social/blog posts,
  • email newsletter,
  • special birthday or holiday recognition,
  • personal meetings/phone calls (depending on your business), and
  • special offers or contests.

The key here is to create a system that allows you to be doing this regularly – or with enough frequency that it’s appreciated and desired, but not overkill.
For example, if one of the ways you nurture leads is through email marketing, it’s important to consider just how frequently you send out emails, and what kind of content is in them. Do you send out an email daily, weekly, once a month, quarterly, etc.? How much is too much? What do your prospects want, what do they need? (Hint: talk to them and see.)
We’ll go through this more in the next post.

Understanding the 5 Goals of Lead Nurturing

Now that we understand some of the basics, let’s dig a little deeper into each of the main goals of lead nurturing.

1. Create Context for your Product/Service

Have you ever lost a sale because a prospect didn’t understand what you do or sell, why they needed it, or how it would help them?
I know I definitely have. I’ve had many a lead not understand the value and benefits of working with a professional photographer or understand why branding is so important for success – both in business and as a professional.
And let me tell you, that’s super frustrating. Not even because I lose a sale, but because that person is not benefitting from having unique images tailored to their business or personality which allow them to have more effective positioning and build better relationships.
But, there’s another way. By keeping in touch with your leads (i.e. nurturing them) and feeding them information about your business – such as the products/services you offer, why they are helpful, how they have helped other people/businesses like them/theirs, and even other related information like – how to use your product, what to do with it, samples, answering frequently asked questions and addressing industry related topics – you are positioning yourself and creating context for your business.
Basically creating context for your business means helping leads understand where you and your business can, should and will fit into their lives. You are giving them a place to compartmentalize your offer in their mind, so then when certain triggers come up later, you’ll fill that gap.
Creating context also relates to establishing your brand, in a larger sense. It is establishing your identity in the public eye, and putting out messages that relate to your business’ core values, competencies, industry and solutions.

2. Build Trust

When it comes to “doing business” and “sales” – I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard the phrase “People do business with those they know, like and trust.” about 10,000 times… to the point where it almost has lost it’s value.
But you know what? It’s true.
So, if you’ll allow me, let’s take this back to the example before – sudden, shocking marriage proposal in a coffee shop or bar.
Why would that situation make many people feel awkward, and rarely end in marriage?
Because obviously you don’t know, like OR trust (i.e. have a rapport) with the stranger (… er … creep…) who just requested you as their life partner.
In business, this happens all too often, when an eager salesperson asks for a sale or spews information too quickly – without building rapport or first showing an interest in the other person.
It makes sense though, that a sale doesn’t typically actually come out of that, because we like to feel like people care about us. Well, how can we feel that way, when the salesperson hasn’t first taken an interest in us? How would he know that what he has to offer would ACTUALLY benefit us?
And that’s just it… He doesn’t actually have a clue. He’s just so interested in making the sale… or maybe he just assumes that what he’s offering is so generic that it will naturally benefit everyone. Well, perhaps it could, but, probably not.
So, what would change that situation? How could he actually build trust?
He could be genuinely interested in helping the people that he can actually help – and be genuinely interested in us, and finding out if we’re a match.
This is pretty basic. Of course. But it’s a mistake of many novices. It’s also hard to master. (I’m definitely getting better, but it’s still a challenge for me. It’s not that I don’t care about people, but I believe my photography services would benefit most people – at least, insofar as headshots/branding portraits are concerned.)
But, this post is about the longer term trust – not just being trustworthy in an instant.
Trust takes time to develop. 
So, this is something that will come as a result of effective (consistent) lead nurturing (among other factors).
For example, if you make a simple promise – such as posting one blog per month – and you deliver on that promise by actually creating and sharing a useful post every month, you will start to be perceived as reliable, consistent and predictable (in a good way).
People will learn to expect to see your post once a month (and expect value), and every time you deliver, they automatically will trust you a little more. (Assuming your post is actually beneficial and valuable.)
However, once you miss a post, you betray the trust that you’ve built by consistently delivering on your promise.
There are so many ways to build trust and so many “promises” you can make – I am just using blogs as an example. But, other things that help people trust you are – providing the right information at the right time, sharing testimonials and case studies of other customers/clients’ experiences and results, showing vulnerability/owning your flaws,  consistently delivering on your standard of quality, and establishing yourself as an expert.
(For more on building trust – see this primer post from Bryan Kramer on Curatti. Also, read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie – and for good measure, read the updated “digital age” version.)

3. Stay Top of Mind/Keep People Engaged

If you’ve ever lost a sale because someone wasn’t ready to buy when they first heard about you, then you’ve probably also lost a sale because they didn’t remember you when they did need you.
I’ve been there. I’m still working to prevent that.
The truth is, there’s always going to be competition. And it’s always going to be an issue. And that’s fine. But… it’s up to us to do everything in our power to actually get business to come to us – and by that, I mean, actually get people to remember us when the time is right.
So, that’s where lead nurturing comes in.
Because lead nurturing, when done right, is something that’s done across platforms and frequently enough that you stay top of mind (in a positive light). Then, when your customer decides they need something that you offer, and they need to decide who to hire or where to buy, they remember your beautiful post card they got in the mail last week, or the fun Facebook post from that morning, or the email in their inbox 5 minutes ago. They remember liking what they received from you and then decide to come to you to do business – and they’re ready because they’ve been learning about your business for weeks, months or years.
This might sound a little iffy, but it’s the truth.
This is why companies like McDonalds do SO much advertising. It’s why you remember taglines like “America Runs on Dunkin'”. It’s why you go to Starbucks – because you see it on every corner and know it will be there, so you don’t even have to think about it. It’s why any time you hear something about “saving 15% or more” you automatically think of a green gecko… and I don’t even need to say the name of the company.
It’s because these things get “stuck” in our heads, like an incessant pop song. For better or worse – but I can tell you, the companies must be profiting from it, otherwise they WOULDN’T do it. Because it’s expensive.
But you know what? To them, it’s just a cost of doing business.
So, doing some type of lead nurturing should also be part of your cost of doing business – whether in money or time. And mine too. And, right now, for me, at least, it means putting in more time to do things like write this blog post, create email newsletters, post on social media, participate in weekly hashtags, have one-on-one meetings, and send personal emails. But the point is that I’m doing it, and it works. People hit reply when they see my email newsletter. They tell me about the post the next time I see them. And yes, they buy. Because they have a relationship with me and I keep them engaged.

4. Create Demand

Similar to “creating context,” lead nurturing also creates demand for your offering.
At quick glance, it might seem like creating context and creating demand are the same, but upon closer analysis, they are a bit nuanced.
Creating context is about creating a space for you and your business in a larger, birds-eye view. It’s where, perhaps a person didn’t know how to use your service or product, a blog post, or series of blog posts, could explain several situations where your product or service would solve a problem that the prospect either didn’t know they had or is experiencing now.
For example, a problem I face (at least a problem that I perceive)  is that many small businesses in my area either don’t understand marketing or need assistance with how to do it, and therefore either don’t realize how my photography and branding services will benefit them, or don’t see value in it. In order to help open up a space for my services, I talk about marketing and branding in a larger context, to help them better understand why marketing is valuable and how to do it. By doing that, they then have a context for professional marketing and branding photography.
Creating demand, in my view, is more geared toward actually creating a sale. It’s more geared toward creating a conversion from prospect to customer.
In this sense, demand is creating an immediate need for what you offer and context is about the broader brand messaging.
Both of these are necessary in order to make sales. And, they are both related. On the one hand, creating context will influence the demand, but without a context for the offer, it’s hard (quite near impossible) to have a demand for it. This is because, people will not part with resources for something they don’t understand or care about, i.e. have a context for.
So, for example, a vegan restaurant – who wants to increase its customer base of non-vegans might create context by sharing articles about the benefits of eating vegan meals and posting photos of delicious vegan recipes. Then, they might create demand by hosting an event at their space to encourage people to try out a new special and doing an email and social campaign in the weeks leading up to the event.
On the other hand, if this restaurant was promoting to non-vegans, but left out the (context creating) parts about why vegan meals are awesome (i.e. healthy, contributing less to eco foot-print, taste great – for example), then the people that are receiving the (demand-creating) event promotions probably won’t really care about going to try out a vegan meal because they are happy in their animal-eating ways and don’t see the benefits of trying something different (i.e. there is no context and, therefore, no demand).
(No, I’m not a vegan. Yes I am an omnivore. It’s just an example.)

5. Increase Conversion Rate of Leads to Sales.

Ultimately, when doing business, in addition to a larger social mission (hopefully), we aim to make sales, or convert people from strangers into repeat customers.
If our business is viable – i.e. there is a market or demand for it – the there will naturally be customers that will come and do business with you – without much effort.
But, because most people come into contact with you during a time when there’s not an obvious need (demand), or without having an understanding of your mission/purpose (context), it’s likely that those will be lost sales, if you do not have a way to keep them engaged and build trust – i.e. have a low conversion rate of leads to sales.
For example, say you are a pizza restaurant in a decently trafficked area. Let’s say that for every 100 new people who pass by your store, only 1 actually needs what you’re offering right now, because they are hungry, and are looking for food right now. That is a 1% conversion rate. But really, that is 99 sales lost. Now, obviously, not all 99 of those people were hungry and looking for food. But, probably some of them were, but they found another solution for curing their hunger, and conceivably, they would want pizza at some point. (These are made up numbers, but you get the idea.)
So, with effective lead capturing and lead nurturing, you can increase the number of sales and decrease the number of sales lost. With this example of people walking by a pizza shop, it’s challenging to capture the leads and actually get them involved in your lead nurturing system. But, if you have social media systems in place, you can post signs that have your social media links and offer some reason for them to sign up and follow/like you.
Another example would be, if you are a vendor at an event, you can offer a contest or a sample to anyone who comes to your booth – in exchange for their name and contact information. Once you have their information, you can immediately include them in a lead nurturing system that will keep them engaged, create context, build trust, create demand, and ultimately, increase your conversion rate.

Creating the Perfect Lead Capture and Lead Nurture System

Yes, it’s true – effective lead nurturing is (at least partially) contingent upon actually capturing your leads’ information.
There are ways of doing lead nurturing without capturing information – such as repetitive advertising and buying contact lists. This side qualifies partially as lead generation and partially as lead nurturing.
But, I want to focus more on the idea of the “opt in”. Advertising aside, it’s generally more effective to only nurture the people who have shown an interest in you, since they will be more open to eventually buying from you.
Remember dating? If your goal is a monogamous, life-long partner, it’s probably more effective to build a relationship with people who actually show an interest in you, because they will be more likely to develop feelings for you and want to be with you – as opposed to continually trying to ask out someone who either has different goals or has already turned you down.
It’s pretty logical.
In any case, part of lead nurturing is capturing their information and attention. There are many ways to do this and there are many ways to nurture leads. In the next post, I’ll discuss various options for capturing and nurturing leads, and how photography can and should be incorporated.

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