If the concept of lead nurture brings to mind a watering can held above some newly blooming flowers or fragile young plants – perhaps with some cartoonish dollar signs floating in the sky – blame overused stock photos and technology provider imagery from the past 15 years or so.

That classic image makes the complex process of B2B lead nurture seem deceivingly quaint – giving false hope to demand marketers who might think that a single step-by-step formula and a sprinkling of Miracle-Gro can yield a predictable garden of lead advancement.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality, said Laura Cross and Erin Bohlin during their keynote presentation “Nurture in a Demand Unit Waterfall World™” at SiriusDecisions Summit in Las Vegas.

Demand Unit Waterfall“This image promised marketers that if they chose the right amount of soil and added the right amount of water – and the sun shone for the appropriate amount of time, up sprouted demand,” said Laura. “And then, of course, with the appropriate amount of nurturing, the demand grew and grew into pipeline.”

In the real world of B2B nurture, however, engagement rates have declined in recent years, as buyers shy away from the product-centric messaging, excessive email volume, outdated Web sites and irrelevant information they often find in nurture programs. Many selling organizations also fall in the trap of creating their nurture flows in isolation from overall demand program objectives, resulting in a loss of alignment and an absence of concrete success metrics.

Finally, the most common and serious issue with the average B2B nurture program today is overemphasizing systems – i.e. using nurture flows in an attempt to control buyers and focusing on advancing leads to the next stage without considering other goals – rather than supporting a more organic buyer-led experience.

“The magical power of nurture has been misused and overused, with demand marketers creating linear nurture programs and trying to manage the buying process of individuals,” Laura explained.

We know from the SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall™, introduced at last year’s Summit, that buying decisions are not made by individuals or accounts; organizations must thoroughly understand and track demand units to successfully source demand and close deals.

So, how can the concepts of the Demand Unit Waterfall translate into a modern, more effective approach to lead nurture?

In their keynote, Erin and Laura unveiled the SiriusDecisions Buyer Treatment Plan, a new model for lead nurture powered by buyer insights. The plan aligns nurture to the Demand Unit Waterfall while accommodating the context of three distinct demand objectives and program types: activate, validate and accelerate.

“The demand units give us insight into the personas within buying groups, the needs associated with the groups and the solutions that best align to this need,” Erin explained. “Demand units provide the buyer context for nurture programs that help support buyer-led experiences.”

The plan also incorporates three elements – signal, response and next action – that together give marketers the ability to create a nurture program that treats each person differently according to the account, individual and buying group context intelligence. While the details involved in each step vary depending on whether the nurture goal relates to activation, validation or acceleration, the overall sequence forms the backbone of any successful nurture program.

The first step – evaluating signals ­– involves looking at available contextual data on target buying groups and associated personas (e.g. intent data, scoring model fit, organizational needs).

Next, marketers develop the appropriate response for each buyer by adjusting offers and delivery channels as needed to accommodate buyer roles, personalization needs and other nuances. The goal is to help the buyer connect the dots.

Decisions for the third element – next action – should incorporate buyer behaviors (or lack of behaviors) as determined on the account, individual and buying group levels to determine whether or when each buyer should be moved to another nurture program or sent to the sales team.

Throughout the process, technology plays an important role; in fact, an instant poll at Summit showed that 50 percent of attendees plan to augment their tech stack to operationalize buyer-led nurture programs. While everything from content marketing software to performance analytics to Web content management can help power and enhance nurture programs, Laura urged attendees to let buyers’ signals dictate how technology is used, rather than allowing technology to determine program design.

SiriusDecisions Resources

SiriusDecisions Research

The Demand Unit Waterfall™

Aligning the Demand Waterfall® to the Buying Decision Process (client access)

Defining Demand Creation Programs (client access)

Demand Creation Program Implementation Guide (client access)

Applying Predictive Analytics (client access)

SiriusDecisions Learning

Core Skills: Demand Management SiriusPathway®

Core Skills: Demand Programs SiriusPathway®