Opportunity Nurturing: Sending “Stuff” Isn’t Always the Best Solution

October 18, 2011

Yesterday, I reconnected with sales gal pal, Trish Bertuzzi, President and Chief Strategist of The Bridge Group, Inc. As a sales mentor, Trish allowed me to pick her brain about best practices for “opportunity nurturing” — this is a challenge that has come up time and time again with the expansion stage technology companies in our investment portfolio. While there isn’t some magic equation/program for opportunity nurturing, Trish has brought to light some ideas that will help your sales organization foster relationships with top prospects in a non-threatening manner.

DM: What are some key issues in the ways that companies are nurturing their “stuck” opportunities?

TB: Let’s take a step back. Why are the opportunities that you are nurturing “stuck” and not closing?

I always question when someone comes to me and says, ”I’ve got things stuck in the funnel, so should I put them into nurturing?” … Well, what is nurturing? Nurturing is sending more stuff. Is nurturing the solution to the problem, or do you need to back up the bus, go all the way back to the beginning of the sales process and re-qualify this opportunity? Have you truly done your job and understood what the decision making criteria was? What impediments to success were? Who should be involved? Maybe that’s where the problem lies.

If you are not dealing with a qualified opportunity, nurturing and sending the prospect “stuff” isn’t going to fix your problem. Salespeople need to go back and really ask the hard questions.

DM: Who should be sending nurturing content – marketing or sales?

TB: It depends on how far along you are in the sales process. If you are intermediate, then marketing should be coming into play. If your opportunity is later in the sales process, the message needs to be personal from the sales rep because, at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Also, the salesperson needs to be viewed as the thought leader, not just the company.

DM: Should the sales rep nurture opportunities, or should the opportunity be handed back to the lead qualifier from him/her to nurture opportunities? Who is the better person to do so?

TB: If you are still in the first 40-50% of the sales process, your lead qualifier should be helping you with your nurturing activities. But when you’ve got to the point where the competitive landscape has been laid out, and you are building a business case with your champion — the salesperson needs to keep it and manage it.

DM: How can you call in without doing the standard, “Hey! I’m just checking in!” and completely annoying your prospects?

TB: Here’s what you say: “Hey I am going to send out an article – it was great, I know you are going to like it, I would love to chat with you about it – give me call when you have a moment.”

DM: So call before sending materials when you are nurturing?

TB: It’s definitely not a bad idea to give the person a call before you send the content.

Also, another thing that I do with those who are going quiet, is send something along the lines of, “Hey Mr. Prospect, we were going down the path, you were very interested, understood our value, and you said you needed to talk to your president. Shoot me an email with a number on it, 1 through 4 (with 4 being highly likely) that denotes how likely we are to move forward in the next 30 days.”

We get so caught up in nurturing and relationships, we forget that it’s okay to ask non-threatening direct questions. If now is not the time, you know to put them in a different nurturing bucket, and you now know that this opportunity will require a different level of nurturing/attention.

For example, if your prospects tells you they are a 2, you know you have some work to do; maybe you need to take that walk back to the beginning of your process. At the end of the day, sales people need to be creative and direct. Allow your prospect to tell you “Not now” or “No” and do it in a way that doesn’t make them uncomfortable.

DM: Thanks for the insights, Trish! You rock.