Lead Generation and Nurturing: Where Are the Inflection Points Between ‘Give’ and ‘Ask’ for Your Brand?
All of life’s a balance. Between saving and spending. Risk and reward. Work and life.
Marketing is no different. Leaders must balance segmentation and resources. Automation and the human touch.
And when it comes to using content marketing for our lead generation and nurturing strategy, we must successfully navigate the customer relationship to determine when to “give” and when to “ask.”
A common flaw in lead gen marketing is asking too much too soon — going right to the product demo or application at the first touchpoint with an overly intense call to action.
Balancing Give and Ask
At a basic level, all marketing has a give and an ask. For traditional marketing, the editorial content of a newspaper is the give. While the ads in the paper are the ask.
Content marketing gets a little more complex. It is, after all, a product in its own right.
If you don’t give at first, you have no traffic. But if you don’t ask at the right time, you get no sales.
Each discrete piece of content likely has points of micro-giving and micro-asking, but at a macro level for your customer’s journey, you have to decide where the inflection points occur. Where should you start asking more than you give?
To aid in answering that question, it helps to have stages clearly defined for your client journey so your team understands how your brand acquires an audience and a customer. Do they register at some point to become more known to your brand? When do they become a lead? How do you appeal to leads vs. other traffic, and where in your funnel?
To help you optimize the customer journey, let’s take a look at a very general, simplified example. The questions in this example are sometimes actively expressed by the customer (whether in search, an email question, a social media response, or on a sales call) but are often unasked questions that customers may not even consciously realize they have.
I chose electric vehicle fleet management software to illustrate the journey:
Customer Enablement in the Need Identification Stage
If you’re in lead gen marketing, you’re probably familiar with the term “sales enablement” — give your sales reps the content, information and tools they need to be successful.
But what about customer enablement? If the term is used at all, it usually refers to a post-purchase experience (and we’ll get to that). Content marketing should enable customers from the very beginning, helping them address whatever need they have. Early in the funnel, the focus of the content is more about helping the customer, whether they buy from you or not. If you focus intently on trying to get too much from the customer too early in the relationship, you will likely undermine your content’s effectiveness at just getting the customer’s attention and beginning to build a relationship.
In other words, sell too early and they will bounce.
At this stage of the customer journey, the relationship is far more give, then ask. You’re primarily focused on what the customer needs, not on what you’re trying to get. But that doesn’t mean you ignore the ask. There are smart lead gen asks along the way.
Take a look at the customer journey map example. In this case, content that serves the customer to help them answer key questions doesn’t begin when the customer realizes they need a software to manage an electric vehicle fleet (the example product), it begins at the earliest known periods of customer need identification.
In this example, before they know they need a software to manage an electric vehicle fleet, they likely have to first decide whether they should even begin to grow an EV fleet for their company (“Are companies using electric vehicles in their fleets?”). Early questions probably start with general curiosity, just wondering how realistic or feasible it is. An ongoing email newsletter can help serve them at this stage, and you can begin to include soft lead gen asks introducing the product. At this stage, your content strategy is broad.
As they get deeper, they may wonder how this change would affect them in their current role (“How is electric vehicle fleet management different than traditional vehicles?”), moving on to how it will affect the company (“How are companies using EV fleets to meet sustainability goals?”), and then how it ultimately affects the bottom line (“What is the ROI of EV fleets?”).
When they have these types of general questions, it would likely be a waste of the human touch to send them directly to sales. Marketing departments with a lead nurturing campaign reported a 45% higher ROI than marketing departments that did not utilize a lead nurturing track.
To nurture customers, your content strategy goes from broad to deep at this point, with a soft ask encouraging them to sign up for an email drip focused on these specific topics (powered by evergreen content you were already creating) and/or deeper guides, whitepapers, and other specifically helpful content. The lead gen asks get more intense as this point, but the focus is still on the give, not the ask.
However, an inflection point is looming.
There’s an inflection point with content marketing where it gets into the actual marketing and then sales conversation. Companies might internally define this as a transition to MQL (marketing qualified lead) and SQL (sales qualified lead).
An Inflection to Solution Vetting and Prioritizing the 'Ask'
At some point, the customer realizes they need more than just a bunch of Nissan LEAFs, Chevy Bolts, and Teslas to make this work. They start questioning whether they’ll need specific software to manage this fleet. Will their current software, which is focused on gasoline-powered cars, still cut it?
This is the key inflection point, the key change in the customer’s mind, indicating your brand should shift from give to ask. You create a landing page specifically focused around this question (“Do I need software to help me with EV fleet management or can I do it on my own?”). The landing page has a hand-raiser form so prospects can ask for more information. Or perhaps it includes a white paper or other gated content piece that shows software use cases.
As they get deeper in their customer journey, this is where you start to introduce the product/service itself.
Now that you have the prospects’ information, you want to still help them with more information (you’re never 100% give or 100% ask) but your communication focus has shifted toward prioritizing the ask.
So this is where you introduce the sales rep. While the sales rep makes a key ask (usually a phone call, but perhaps an in-person meeting or just an encouragement to use an e-commerce purchase page) the drip campaign from the sales rep still feeds key information to help the prospect answer questions they have about the company.
Your sales reps don’t ask without a justification. They discuss relevant pain points that your product solves related to your brand’s content categories (in the case of this example, fleet management, sustainability goals and ROI). And then, based on their previous activity (usually tracked through a marketing automation platform or email service provider) you send them relevant, automated sends. As content marketing maturity increases, you might also map this relevance to personas and industries, as well.
The big asks — call-to-action for these emails — depends on your sales process. It could go directly to a product page. Or it could be to get on a sales call with a rep (in which case, the email would actually be “from” the rep). The asks are increasing and requesting more from the prospect leading up to the ultimate ask — the purchase.
But during this time, keep in mind the prospect will have key (sometimes unexpressed) questions about your product and company, as well. Things like:
- What specific services do you actually offer? (e.g. does your company install and manage charging infrastructure?)
- Can you actually do what you claim? (e.g. is your product really good?)
- How much does it cost? (This is universal across all purchase decisions. Even if your company is an early-stage startup just trying to set up a free pilot, the customer will want to know how much time it will take, how much headcount she must dedicate to the implementation, how much political capital she must spend to convince colleagues to agree, etc.)
- Can I prove to my boss or board of directors that investment in your product is a wise choice (e.g. will I get an ROI from your product specifically?)
If you don’t proactively answer these questions while showing how your company can address key paint points, prospects will ghost your sales reps and abandon their customer journey.
To alleviate this anxiety, the main supporting content that can help your sales reps in this stage is case studies mapped across key customer concerns, pain points, industries, solution sets, personas, etc. Short of fully fleshed-out case studies, even just showing actual examples of well-regarded customers can establish credibility and build trust.
Customer Enablement in the Solution Implementation Phase
If your team does all of the above well, then bam! Your company earns the sale.
But our customer’s journey is far from over. A new journey is beginning. There should be another inflection point from “ask” back to “give.”
The relationship with the customer likely transfers from a sales rep to a customer service rep, account executive or an aptly named customer success manager.
Your team can create a helpful customer onboarding journey, beginning by answering the general customer questions (“How do I use this software?”), getting specific to their use case (“How do I track vehicle charging?” or “How do I optimize vehicle maintenance?”), helping them understand how to track and prove success with the product (“How do I monitor ROI?”) and ultimately shifting one last time back to prioritizing the ask at just the right time (“Should I upgrade/make a repeat purchase?”).
Not only does a customer success approach help increase the likelihood of a repeat purchase and increase customer lifetime value, a customer-first approach increases the likelihood customers will give your company a second chance if something goes wrong during solution implementation
Where Are the Inflection Points Between 'Give' and 'Ask' for Your Brand?
The example used above is intentionally focused around a fundamentally transformational business shift to show how early in customer need identification stage the customer relationship can begin with your content marketing.
Depending on your specific product, the inflection points can vary significantly. For example, a fairly simple and commonly used product might have this inflection point within a single blog post. However, if the expense is large, the implementation is complex, there are many layers of stakeholders, or the change is deeply transformational, there may be many inflection points (and branches of that straight line for key personas) along the way.
But every customer journey has a fundamental commonality — you must give before you ask. Maximize perceived value before getting value in return.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.