Picture this. You’re at an event where you meet a member of the opposite sex. The conversation goes well, until for some unknown reason you blurt out that you want her to marry you. Shocked by your proposal, she immediately gets up and leaves. Your hoped-for outcome of getting married is gone and you’ve ruined any chance of restarting that relationship.

Now picture the same situation, but this time, you stick to small talk and eventually ask for her phone number. She happily gives you her contact info, a few days later the two of you talk on the phone and agree to go out on a date. Over the course of the following months and years you go steady, get engaged, and get married. Your hoped-for outcome was achieved not in a single conversation, but over time, incrementally.

It’s easy for us to see why it was wrong to propose marriage in the above example. But this comedy of errors happens routinely when the people your company is eager to have a relationship with visit your website. Our inclination is to jump all over site visitors, demanding all their contact information for the purpose of having sales contact them. What we should do instead is work incrementally towards that sales call; warming them up to it over time.

In B2B, it’s rare to take a relationship from complete stranger to sales prospect all in a single encounter – no matter how persuasive your pitch is. Se we use an approach that’s tailored to both strangers (who are cold to us) and familiar prospects (who have warmed up to us) alike. This approach assumes a longer sale, it assumes that someone must move from knowing you, to liking and then trusting you before they are ready for your sales overtures.

So is it better than the straight-up approach? Let`s look at the economics here. B2B Marketing with an up front, buy-now offer assumes that all people receiving your offer are already warmed up, ready to buy right now. You run a Pay Per Click campaign and pay for people to come to your website, but because only a few of them need to buy right away (known as in-market buyers), only 1 out of every 50 you paid for turn into serious prospects. In-market buyers are in short supply, and with many advertisers want them, the cost-per-click bids are upwards of ~$40. Factoring in your 1-per-50 conversion rate, your acquisition cost is $2000/lead an amount most companies would rate as outrageously high.

By the numbers, the approach that warms-up cold leads looks completely different to the straight-up approach. Once you assume your digital advertising reaches buyers who aren’t ready to buy, you’ll offer them information instead of a sales pitch. There are a lot of companies out there researching their options, and this high supply means a low acquisition cost for you. Your PPC cost would be around $4-5/click and supposing you acquire 1 lead for every 25-30 paid visitors, your acquisition cost is less than $150/lead, versus the $2000/lead cost of the straight-up approach. Marketing that warms leads up is clearly less costly.

Start looking at your site to see what opportunity it gives ‘cold’ visitors to stay in touch if they don’t contact you right away? Most of us have offers catering to ‘warmed-up’ visitors, but what offers on your site will keep ‘cold’ first-time visitors from being one-time visitors?

In order to correct this problem, we need to examine the needs of these two audiences. The cold audience are just forming their thoughts about the problem, and they know little or nothing at all about you. On the other hand, a lead that has self-identified as warmed-up has a clear idea of the problem, sees your product/service as a solution and wants to know what makes your company’s solution unique. Now that we see how different their needs are, we can divide up what we offer to each segment, giving each of them what they want. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to guide you in how you use content.

People waiting in line outside of nightclub

Don’ts

– Don’t push prominent ‘talk to sales’ offers on your site. Visitors who are already warmed up should be able to find your site’s contact us form. Start off assuming every lead is cold (evidence suggests most are), don’t turn them off with such blaring sales offers.

– Don’t ask for too much information right away. They aren’t ready to divulge all that on their first visit. You can get this information progressively over several visits, using platforms from email service providers and marketing automation vendors.

– Don’t presume they are warmed up automatically after receiving your first piece of content. Check for behavior like opening your emails, attending your webinars or revisiting your website. Only after you see these actions should you assume you have an interested, warmed-up prospect on your hands. If all goes well, your offers will softly and incrementally engage them until they are ready to start the sales process.

Do’s

– Do offer open-access content on your site about the problems your buying audience faces – it`s the key to warming them up. It builds credibility.

– Do ask site visitors to download long-form content (i.e. a whitepaper) in exchange for their email address. As a fallback, ask them to follow your social media stream,subscribe to your blog feed, see content you’ve put on Slideshare, Vimeo, or a podcast you put on iTunes/Stitcher. Even the coldest of the cold audiences will be receptive to this.

– Do Drip campaigning to those whose email you captured. Over time, you can ask your Drip Email recipients if they want to talk to sales. A fairly high percentage of leads convert to sales opportunities this way.

– Do put at the end of every piece of content a call-to-action that takes them towards a sales interaction. For example, end your whitepapers with a link to your demo signup form. Those who have warmed-up to you, on seeing the offer in that content, will likely indicate their interest by taking that action.

– Do have a clear internal process for defining each audience (i.e. cold leads go in your ‘house list’ and when warmed up, they are flagged and moved to your CRM).

Slow and steady wins the sales race

For best chances of success, think about warming-up your audience as part of a broad customer lifecycle, not a narrow campaign. Don’t try to sell to cold leads, use marketing content to warm them up incrementally and then try to move them to sales.

Next time you initially come across a lead, treat it the way Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) did in the movie Casablanca when he said,“this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”