Which Comes First: Lead Nurturing or Inside Sales?

For a long time, “lead nurturing” was thought of as something you did with the leads that sales didn’t want. The theory was: leads come in, the sales team gets the hot ones, and the rest go to lead nurturing.

lead nurturing inside salesToday, of course, a comprehensive lead nurturing strategy is much more than that. Yes, effective lead nurturing can educate, cultivate, and maintain brand awareness over time with a group of prospects that aren’t quite ready to talk with a rep. But where lead nurturing often has the most impact – on conversion rates, funnel velocity, and demand generation ROI – isn’t mid-funnel, but rather immediately when a lead enters the system.

It’s when a prospect first expresses interest that nurturing can help highlight hot leads, filter out the junk, and increase the rate at leads engage with sales. If nurturing is instead relegated to a “clean up” role – i.e. making the most of those leads rejected by sales, its value will be a fraction of what’s possible.

I was reminded of all this by a recent question from a prospective client:

“Currently our lead management process is designed so that our SDR team have primary responsibility for qualifying leads. In a nutshell, the process is: lead comes in, SDR contacts leads, if no response, he/she moves that lead to the nurture program. Currently we have a bunch of leads sitting in that “contacted” stage. Our SDR manager wants his reps to qualify all the leads rather than put them immediately in the nurture program. However, reading your content it sounds like we should be putting leads in a nurture program before qualifying them. Do you agree?”

My response:

“Without a doubt those leads should NOT be sitting, dormant, in an SDR queue without being nurtured. SDR follow-up and lead nurturing are not mutually exclusive – most of the “new lead” nurture programs we design are intended to run concurrent with, and complementary to, SDR follow-up.

It’s not so much that you should put leads in a nurture program before you qualify them, but rather that the nurture program should launch concurrent with SDR follow-up. The result will almost certainly be a higher engagement rate, and therefore a higher qualification rate, for the SDRs.”

This isn’t the first time that we’ve come across a company that insists on letting SDRs “have a crack” at leads before, in effect, turning them over to marketing in the form of a nurture program. But, in my view, to do so implies that nurturing has no role to play in the lead qualification process. Quite the contrary – lead nurturing can greatly enhance the initial qualification process and increase SDR productivity in a number of key ways:

• Highlight those leads that most merit immediate follow-up
• Filter or flag those leads that are either junk or have less immediate interest
• “Warm up” leads and make them more receptive to sales follow-up

Neither does a lead nurturing program have to equate to a “marketing” email, and everything that implies (HTML design and all). In the context of a “new lead” program (or, as we sometimes call it, a “Welcome Series”) automated emails can be much more informal, and even personalized from the SDR. In that way, nurturing actually relieves SDRs of much of the legwork of lead follow-up, and allows them to focus their time on leads that show themselves to be worthy of the effort.

For a more detailed discussion of this and related topics, see our white paper on “Top 10 Tips for Lead Nurturing Success.

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