You are nurturing your leads wrong.
It’s ok. Everyone is.
The “traditional” way Lead Nurturing is taught is that we should use a content grid to provide relevant information to the prospect at each Buying Stage. The Buying Stage is largely determined by the marketer, not the buyer. Nurturing is then viewed as a series of “drip” emails semi-customized to the buyer persona. The reality is most content is cobbled together from whatever you have. The order of the content is often not considered deeply. And even if the order of the content is decided, it is not tested and never leveraged to keep the audience coming back for more.
A content grid often looks like this, as suggested by Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing.
|Gated?||Not usually||Yes||Not usually|
|What to Offer||Blog posts
Information relevant to the buyers’ struggles and possible generic solutions
Content related to their jobs
Sometimes gated content
Introduce your product more
The next step is to find matching content, then draft emails and landing pages. Then, decide in which order each asset is sent out. Sometimes the order of content is done by buying Stage or in staggered offers, alternating between free, gated, and free trial push. In my experience working with 40+ firms, almost no one gives thought to the order of emails within a Stream vs. between Streams. Many firms default to the AIDA: Attention, Interest, Decision, Action model of content use.
And then, you plug all of this content into the marketing automation platform (MAP). The MAP helps track response metrics as well as lead data. While a MAP can shift leads to different Stages of content (AIDA or Lifecycle), these are all guesses, and poor ones.
The reality is that AIDA or a Lifecycle stage doesn’t reflect the true nature of the buyers’ journey, nor can it in a logic driven MAP. More importantly, however, your content is not setup as a story which leverages innate human desires for stories and deep psychological triggers available to all marketers.
Wait, isn’t that a lot of work? I just need to get content out into the channels.
Said every marketer.
What if you took the time to organize current and future content like a book? What if you told a heroic story the reader (lead) could use to picture themselves as the hero bringing in new ideas and vendors (you) to further their career? Further the success of their business? What if you could tell that story at the right time, with the right emphasis, to the right person, at scale, and automatically?
(No, you don’t need machine learning yet!)
It is possible, with some work. Here’s how.
Nurturing is a Serialized Novel
Think of Nurturing as a serialized novel from the 1800s. Authors like Dickens would be paid to publish a chapter every week in a newspaper. The feedback was, for the time, fast. The characters and narrative would adjust a bit each week. And at the end, a book was made which they already knew would be successful so the readers could…”binge read” the serial novel. (Sound familiar Netflix users?).
At a tactical level, each email, each landing page, each paper is a chapter in the story. Rather than give it all away, each content piece that is shared uses plot elements and storytelling components to keep leads engaged. Calls-to-action are about continuing the story to find out what happened. Emails or papers might end abruptly, creating cliff-hangers that demand the lead find out the next part of the story. What if a demo were demanded and accessible instead of withheld in exchange for a chat with sales? What if a lead asked you instead of you pestering a lead into a demo?
Storytelling Format is Crucial to Success: AIDA is dead
At the 2016 Marketo Summit, I suggested the AIDA model doesn’t work for lead nurturing. The reason is it is too logical, which places a lot of reliance on non-logical humans; and it also places the marketer at the center (you) instead of the buyer. Another reason is that AIDA is rooted in advertising culture, looking to interrupt and attract attention for the company.
As a storytelling format, AIDA falls flat because it assumes too much rationality on the part of the reader.
The Hero’s Journey is the Narrative Structure for Nurturing
Many of us are familiar with the basics of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, or Hero’s Journey, because George Lucas used it as a deliberate framework for Star Wars. This journey should be the basis for all nurturing and content creation because it taps into the natural human desire to be at the center of a story. It also allows for a natural use of influence techniques in each chapter.
When content is serialized in the Hero’s Journey framework, it will more naturally lead someone along to the conclusion you desire as a marketer: “not just consider us, but use us to be the hero of your firm.”
Telling a story also lets you, as the marketer, feel like you are sharing something important, rather than pushing propaganda. Instead of content that’s about your firm and your needs, you will naturally begin to write more about your audience’s needs, which will be more attractive to them.
Stages and Relation to the Funnel
Each part of the narrative also corresponds to the sales funnel stages, or the Buyers’ Stage. I mention The Challenger Customer here, and we’ll talk more about that another day.
|Journey Stage||Funnel Stage||Buying Stage||Challenger Stage|
|Call to Adventure||Known||Learn||Learn|
|Mentor and Helpers||MQL||Assess Options||Frame-break|
|Challenges||SQL||Assess Options||Commercial Insight|
|Revelation||Opportunity||Are you the right one?||Insight & Benefits|
|Atonement||Closed-Won||Negotiate and Buy||Unique Benefits|
|Return and new world||Post Sale||Build new world||Build new world|
Use the Journey Stages to Determine Readiness for Next Steps
Of course, this assumes you have done this expertly. Not everyone is ready to take the threshold step or is interested in the Challengers every day. Timing is a critical component of any lead nurturing and MQL system. The use of Threshold Content and Ask for Help Content is a natural part of the Hero’s Journey here. If a Lead is actively seeking to go beyond the Threshold, perhaps it is time to accelerate content related to the new world they are trying to reach. Perhaps a chat with a “mentor” (salesperson) might help move the person forward in their journey.
With all things in Marketing, it is best to carefully test responses to each chapter in your story. Are you losing people between chapters? Do certain chapters work in a particular order? Try it!
How Should I Use Storytelling with…
- Marketing Automation: figure out key lifecycle and storytelling junctions to trigger MQLs or story pace.
- Nurturing: content drip should work like a serialized novel: in order and designed to keep leads reading.
- Content: each content piece is a chapter in a novel in which the Hero is your Lead or Account. Don’t just slice it up willy-nilly; write like a novelist, use intrigue, conflict, and cliff-hangers.
- Account Based Marketing: leverage the nurture waterfall to move leads to the right parts of the story told by email or humans.
- ABM Play: if a lead appears to be on the threshold, a mentoring chat with an SDR/BDR might help. The challenge is how to approach this chat so it’s not condescending or sales oriented. A solution consultant or message from a non salesperson may work best.
Interested in building out more? Here’s a worksheet from CampCreative.
Next time I’ll share more on how to reach deep into your audience’s mind with CEB’s Commercial Insight.