This sponsored post is produced by David Karel, CMO of Bizo.

It used to be that educating prospects and shaping their purchase decisions was the responsibility of salespeople. They nurtured prospects by taking them to lunch, letting them know about the latest and greatest, and moving them toward a sale.

In the digital world, much of the nurturing process has fallen to the marketing department, which educates and engages prospects typically via email – and often via marketing automation software. Almost 95 percent of marketers say lead nurturing is important to their strategy, according to “The State of B2B Lead Nurturing,” a Bizo survey.

In fact, today, marketing is the primary driver of B2B company revenue. More than half of the respondents to the survey said that marketing sourced between 20 and 60 percent of company revenue.

Here are six trends C-level executives should understand about how lead nurturing is changing marketing and business:

  1. Changes to the B2B buyer’s journey elevates Marketing’s importance.

Buyers are doing much of their research online before ever contacting a salesperson. In fact, some data from Forrester suggests that 90% of the purchase process is over before a salesperson has a chance to engage. The implication of this trend is that marketing needs to fill this gap in order. And the best marketers are using their nurturing programs to reach prospects and keep their brand, messaging, and content in front of potential customers from the very start of the buying process.

  1. Marketing automation continues to grow in importance.

The key to great prospect nurturing is programmatic nurturing. And programmatic nurturing requires embracing data and systems. Marketing automation software eases this process, putting scaled methodical prospect nurturing in reach of any marketing organization. It also puts marketers in a very strong position to scale the impact of their investments in programs and people. According to ClickZ, more than 50 percent of B2B Fortune 500 companies have deployed marketing automation software – up 25 percent from a year ago.

  1. With marketing automation, lead nurturing’s impact on the bottom line is finally measurable.

Email nurturing tracks known prospects via their email addresses which makes it entirely measurable. With this data, the marketing department can track which leads turn into sales and can measure ROI. And this kind of intel leads to smarter budgeting of marketing dollars based on what is actually working.

  1. Be aware of the drawbacks of lead nurturing via email.

Email is a powerful channel but it’s inherently limited. 95 percent of website visitors don’t hand over their email addresses. And even when prospects do share an email address, the vast majority of them don’t read your emails – open rates hover below 20 percent. If your website were a storefront, you’d quickly go out of business if 95 percent of the people who came through your door, looked around, spent no money, and left, never to return. This is pretty much what your anonymous website visitors are doing. With email nurturing, you’re telling your story to only a handful of every 100 people who click through to your website/storefront.

  1. Lead nurturing expands beyond the inbox.

Multi-channel nurturing is now making it possible to reach anonymous prospects – without relying on email. One way to get beyond the inbox is with services like Bizo Multi-Channel Nurturing, which allows marketers to deploy display ads and social media ads to reach anonymous website visitors. In this way, you can engage not just the 5 out of 100 who signed up for your email newsletter but the other 95 percent who are clearly interested in your company – they visited your website after all.

Nurturing is core to how effective B2B marketing is done today. Expanding lead nurturing beyond the email inbox to include display and social advertising can stack the deck to ensure that when your prospects are ready to pick up the phone, they’re dialing your sales reps. For more information on lead nurturing, download this new guide, “Multi-Channel Nurturing: Beyond the Inbox.”

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