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How to Start a Lead Nurturing Conversation

Michelle Hunter by Michelle Hunter

Warming up potential clients without being pushy or rude.

Lead Nurturing

Recently, my husband and I took my preschool-aged grandson to the local farmer’s market. As we walked together through the crowd, I was struck by the simple pleasure of this basic activity. Canopies shielded us from the sun and a warm breeze ruffled the table coverings on the rows of stands. While my husband chatted with our grandson and answered his questions about everything he saw, I found myself watching the sales techniques of the various vendors. Yep, I see marketing strategy and examples of lead nurturing just about everywhere I look… 

Many vendors simply stood behind tables loaded with produce and waited for people to approach and make a purchase. The tables were organized, the vegetables were fresh, and everything was nicely displayed. People looked over and saw something of interest (maybe fresh sweet corn, YUM!) and then approached the table to trade cash for a few items to take home.  

Other vendors offered samples to entice people to their table. We tried fresh-picked blueberries and ripe cherry tomatoes. We had a nibble of home-baked bread and a bit of farm fresh cheese on a toothpick. As we enjoyed the morsels on offer, the vendors told us about their wares and asked what we were interested in purchasing. They drew us in with a freebie, nurtured our interest through conversation, and then guided us to a very natural point of sale by asking what we might like. 

Both types of vendors were busy in the bustling morning sun. But, as the crowds dwindled later in the afternoon, I noticed something interesting. The vendors offering samples continued to attract interest while the other booths were sparsely attended. 

During peak times, it doesn’t take much marketing effort to make sales. But, when the market gets a little tight, lead nurturing makes a significant difference in sales revenue. 

This is true in farmer’s markets and it’s true in business. Building consistent revenue means mastering the art of nurturing leads so you can engage potential customers even during natural lulls in the business cycle. 

More than likely, your online business has some form of freebie or lead magnet you’re using to generate leads. You might use a downloadable resource or free video to build an email list. Or, you might simply give out material when you attend networking events or share helpful info to people you meet in person or online. 

Here’s the thing… the free offer is just the first step. In order to create revenue, you must engage the person in a dialogue. You must begin a lead nurturing conversation… one that will build trust and lead naturally to the point of sale. 

If you don’t talk to the people at your booth, for example, you’re just handing out free blueberries or tomatoes or cheese. You’re not actually engaged in marketing. So, let’s take the mystery out of lead nurturing, okay? 

Review your core message and understand the value of the work you do for your customers. 

I believe marketing is simply a conversation about the value your work provides to your customers and clients. It’s more than a description of features… it’s an expression of the benefits associated with those features. 

New clients typically come to me with a full understanding of the features of their products or services. They know that their coaching programs include several 60-minute calls or that their industrial equipment is precision engineered with the finest possible materials. The features are never the problem. The benefits are the sticking point. 

Benefits pop into our minds when we ask ourselves “why” a feature is included in the offer and how that feature will impact the customer or client. 

  • 60-minute coaching calls (features) to discuss issues and create clarity around issues so you can take confident action (benefits). 
  • Precision engineering using the finest possible materials (features) creating longer-lasting products that deliver powerful performance, even in challenging environments (benefits). 

Sure, your core message must include a few features so that people understand what you are actually selling and what your products and services include. But, the real gold in your core message is the benefits language – – > the reasons why someone would want to trade money they have now for the product or service you’re offering.

To put this in a farmer’s market context – I don’t care that the blueberries were picked this morning unless I understand that this level of freshness means a promise of better flavor and a longer life on my counter. (Believe me, I want fresh blueberries. It makes me sad when they go bad before I can get them into my tummy or into a pie.)

Okay – once you understand the benefits of your product or service, it’s time to talk about it. It’s time to nurture those leads. 

Lead nurturing begins by connecting at the point of need.

Want to make your conversation feel natural? Start with the customer need right in front of you. Connect with the person at the point of that need… and begin the conversation there. 

People come to your work with an interest, need, or question. They become a lead by acting on that initial point of need. Maybe your lead magnet answers a burning question or perhaps your website informs them about a point of interest. Maybe those blueberries on your table are impossible to resist, especially as breakfast fades into a memory. 

Don’t make too many assumptions. Don’t jump ahead in the conversation. Just start by connecting at that point of need. 

I recommend connecting the topic of the first email of your lead nurturing campaign back to your lead magnet or opt in. Clearly answer the question asked in an email inquiry or during a networking event before talking about anything else. Start where your potential customers begin the conversation… rather than pushing forward too quickly. 

Build your lead nurturing strategy on a single step. 

People walk forward one step at a time. Build your lead nurturing strategy with a similar steady pace. After you’ve answered the initial question or connected around the original need, expand the conversation just a bit. 

You might offer an additional resource. You might share an email with a bit more insight or a related topic. You could extend an invitation to a quick chat – either in person or virtually. Select the next step based on your understanding of your ideal client and their behavior prior to working with someone like you. 

Make sure each email you send moves only one step closer. Meeting for a chat? You can likely move a little faster, but make sure you don’t jump ahead. Confirm that your potential customer is engaged as you talk, and back off a bit if you can tell his or her interest is lagging behind. 

Trust grows when you demonstrate understanding and empathy before you actually start to sell. 

Want to know what feels rude and pushy? Asking for something that is outside the bounds of the current relationship. When my neighbor asks me to watch her cat for the weekend, I am happy to say yes because we live next door to one another and I know she would watch my dog if I had a similar need. But, if a casual acquaintance asked me to drive across town to care for her cat, I would find the question a bit rude under normal circumstances. This “relationship principle” applies to sales and marketing, too. 

Potential clients are pretty savvy people. They know you’re in business to sell stuff. At some point, they expect to receive a sales message of some kind. The question is actually one of timing. 

Share a strong, direct call to action too early in the process and you’re perceived as rude. Share the same call to action after demonstrating understanding, connecting around a point of need, and walking together over several intellectual “steps” and you’re simply offering an invitation.

Build the relationship. Express empathy and demonstrate understanding. Answer questions with clarity and compassion. Offer useful advice and resources. Lean into the “nurture” part of nurturing by providing helpful assistance and value. Then, when the time (and the relationship) is right, invite the lead to make a purchase. 

Let instinct guide you to a natural lead nurturing conversation. 

You’ve likely noticed there’s no formula in this article. That’s because I believe effective marketing is built on relationship rather than a formula. As social humans, we communicate with one another using a variety of social cues, both verbal and non-verbal. Study these cues and the behavior of your potential clients as you practice lead nurturing conversations. 

  • Create email nurture campaigns based on what YOU would want to receive if you were in the market for your products. Then watch the results… and refine based on the engagement metrics you gather. 
  • Listen on inquiry calls and phone conversations for inflection and tone of voice. Train yourself to hear the emotional temperature of the other person and to adjust your conversation accordingly. 
  • Learn to read the faces of the people you meet with one-on-one. Smiles and eye contact often mean engagement. Open body language points to interest. If the signals say someone isn’t really very interested, maybe you’re moving too quickly. 

While you build the relationship, set clear expectations. 

As you move through this process, be sure you are setting clear expectations. Talk about your work and the people you serve. Make sure you create clear boundaries so people know when the free ride ends and the paid one begins. In other words, sprinkle a little indication of the future into each conversation. 

You can do this subtly. I often say something like, “Feel free to ask questions and don’t worry about overstepping. I’m really good at letting people know when they need to pay for the answer.” See what I did there? In my own natural voice, I created an expectation of future payment. This is worded in an authentic way for my personality and business… so identify a few statements that seem right for you. 

Not sure how to create a lead nurturing system that is aligned with your personality and your business? My work helps creative entrepreneurs clarify their marketing strategy, nurture leads, and feel confident about their sales process. Let’s talk

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