Introduction

Lead nurturing accelerates sales by engaging with your prospects and customers at scale. Done right, it’s one of the more effective programs in any marketer’s toolkit. But how do you do it right? In this guide, you’ll learn how to produce the right lead nurturing programs for your audience and increase your marketing pipeline and MQLs.

Understand Lead Nurturing

A typical visualization of the sales funnel might show the funnel moving downward, creating the illusion of an inevitable gravity, as though your prospects WILL eventually become buyers:

In reality, the funnel should be flipped: gravity is pulling your leads backwards through your sales funnel like this:

It takes effort to move leads through your funnel, and without this effort they will not likely become customers. This is what Lead Nurturing really looks like:

Throughout this guide, it will help to keep in mind this visualization, and remember: leads don’t become customers by default, they become strangers by default.

Outline of Part 1 – Lead Nurturing and the Sales Funnel

  • Lead nurturing in one sentence

  • Do your leads need to be nurtured?

  • How lead nurturing helps sales and marketing

  • Industry trends that facilitate and promote lead nurturing

1.1. A Short Definition of Lead Nurturing

1.1.1. The most straightforward explanation

Lead nurturing is “the process of guiding prospects through the buyer’s journey (both the marketing funnel and the sales funnel) through automated messages offering the right information at the right time.”

Note what this definition doesn’t contain. Lead nurturing need not be via email (although this is the best channel today). Lead nurturing is not limited to the marketing funnel.

In this guide, we’ll focus mostly on email-based lead nurturing, using some sort of marketing automation software, but many of the principles can be used in other scenarios.

1.1.2. Industry definitions of lead nurturing

The most common definitions of lead nurturing come to us from product vendors, and you can see their biases when you compare their definition and their features:

Company

Definition

Focus

Related Features

HubSpot

Lead nurturing is a system that allows you to send an automated series of emails to an early-stage lead in order to pre-qualify them before handing them over to your sales team.

Improve the quality of marketing leads

– Minimal CRM integration until recently
– High quality marketing priority over reporting and visibility

Eloqua

B2B lead nurturing focuses on educating qualified sales leads who are not yet ready to buy. The key to successful lead nurturing is to deliver content that’s valuable enough to keep your audience engaged.

Engage leads until sales opportunity is realized

– Enterprise sales focus
– Strong visualization tools

Marketo

Lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with qualified prospects regardless of their timing to buy. Over 50% of leads are not yet sales ready, so nurturing those leads can help you maximize results rather than throwing them away.

Maximize marketing outcome through an automated process

– Reporing
– Marketing management
– Automated marketing
– Consumer engagement

All these marketing automation providers seem to be talking about different things when you read their guides to lead nurturing. One mentions a marketing focused process, another is discussing a collaborative effort between sales and marketing, and the latter stresses over increasing revenue without defining whose role lead nurturing is.

The differences in definition stem from the size of the using company and the level of communication and coordination between your sales and marketing teams. But it’s interesting to note that HubSpot, for example, doesn’t mention a sales person being involved in a nurturing campaign, while Eloqua does. The reasons ‘why’ are fairly obvious, but the involvement of sales in a nurturing campaign (or not, as the case may be) is interesting as it tells you about their target clients, and the type of sales organization they have.

As such your definition may differ. Do you have ten people in inside sales, or do you have zero? How big is your marketing team? Do you have somebody working on Sales Operations? All of these questions will change how you define lead nurturing, and what exactly it means to your company.

Also, there is no single best practice of lead nurturing, and what works with one company might not work with another. This is because of the differences in company goals, audience persona, quantity and quality of content, the technology used and sometimes the philosophy lying behind the campaigns. This is sad because if you first start with lead nurturing, you don’t have a framework to follow. But on the bright side, you have enough room to design creative lead nurturing campaigns and stand out from the rest. There are principles to remember, but there are also opportunities to test and experience what you can do to nurture your own leads.

Takeaway
Lead nurturing is a process of guiding marketing prospects to sales qualified leads by using a series of automated emails offering the right information, at the right time. The execution focus of a lead nurturing campaign must be customized to your company target and team strength.

1.2. Do Your Leads Need to Be Nurtured?

1.2.1. Lead nurturing helps leads identify issues and solutions

You pass leads to the sales team, but they don’t convert. Your leads are not ready to buy, or they don’t understand what your product can do for them.

When you implement lead nurturing, you help leads identify their issues and solutions by educating them with content that aligns to their goals and challenges. These leads start from being slightly aware of their issues to actually knowing what they can do to solve them. This helps them make better purchasing decisions when they’re ready.

Think of every batch of leads as a banana crate in which there are both green and ripe leads. With lead scoring, you can identify which leads can be moved to sales, and which leads need to ripen through tailored education and timely nurturing. Green bananas are no less valuable than ripe ones – they just need more time and care.

Also, think of brown, overripe bananas which have past their prime. These old leads can be recycled in a variety of ways to turn into a tasty dish (anyone wants some banana bread?). Giving old leads useful information and tempted invitations through effective drip nurturing campaign will send them back to the sales funnel, sometimes with a higher conversion rate.

1.2.2. Lead nurturing is about building BANT, and Trust

In sales we typically talk about qualifying a buyer with the BANT criteria: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline. The fifth criteria you may have missed is Trust, and this is the implicit focus of marketing and lead nurturing.

One approach to lead nurturing is to consider each of these five criteria as a goal for your campaign. For example:

  • Do your prospects need to develop a budget for your product? Help them develop this budget by sending ROI-based case studies and calculators.

  • Do your prospects lack the authority to buy? Empower them by figuring out what they want to share with their boss, and send them this.

  • Do your prospects need your product, or do they consider it a nice to have? Develop their need by articulating their pain points through stories of buyers like them.

  • Do your prospects lack the urgency to buy? Focus on creating urgency, or just staying in touch until your product fits into their more immediate goals.

Developing the nurturing for the BANT criteria is important (and underutilized), but mostly lead nurturing is about Trust. Sending valuable messages, on a consistent basis, demonstrates the reliability of your company to be there when they need help. For many buyers, this is the most important criteria in any purchase.

Takeaway
Leads don’t need to be spammed, but they often need to be nurtured. Done right, lead nurturing can solve the specific challenges faced by both your sales team and your prospects. Sending timely messages to address the TBANT criteria will empower your prospects to make the right purchases and (hopefully) buy from you.

1.3. How Lead Nurturing Helps Sales and Marketing

The following conversation of the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” reflects the relationship between the typical sales and marketing teams:

“Blake: You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them. You can’t close the leads you’re given, you can’t close shit, you are shit, hit the bricks pal, and beat it, ’cause you are going out.

Shelley Levene: The leads are weak.”

“Glengarry Glen Ross”, a 1992 movie by James Foley

Lead nurturing is not a cure-all for the adversarial nature of sales and marketing teams, but it can reduce these tensions by allowing the marketing team to contribute to the pipeline by accelerating more leads to a sales-ready position.

1.3.1. How lead nurturing supports salespeople

Salespeople are busy, and the savviest ones understand the senselessness of manually repeating the same work. By automating the customer education, lead nurturing can free up time for them to engage with the best prospects and close more deals. You make sure that the sales team are only speaking to people who want to be sold to and who understand the key aspects of your product.

You’re also removing prospecting out of their schedule, which is especially useful for companies without an inside sales team. This is an idea we’ve picked up from Aaron Ross, author of “Predictable Revenue”.

“Making the field salespeople do cold calls means having your highest-cost (per hour) sales resource perform the lowest-value (per hour) activity.”

Aaron Ross, Predictable Revenue

Lead nurturing in many ways replaces the conversation your prospects would otherwise have with salespeople. It prepares your buyers to make a purchase, usually by presenting educational content, with the aim that a salesperson steps in when your prospects are ready to buy.

This reduces somewhat the responsibility of the sales team in the nurturing process, and because it is automatic, the overall sales organization can scale more easily. While before you might have needed a large sales organization to support your product, now you can automate the early stages of the sales process, making the process faster, more standardized, and easier to A/B test. Your remaining sales team will be more agile and more focused on closing deals.

1.3.2. How lead nurturing supports marketing

Modern companies are adopting a Demand Generation function within marketing, tasked with a quota of leads to generate every quarter. As these teams are new, they often struggle to provide the right quality of leads to the Sales team. But what is lead quality? Often, a lead that arrives in the salesperson’s inbox too soon is forgotten, while a lead that arrives too late is discarded.

The ideal leads of course are primed for the sales team, ready to buy, and already recognize your brand. Unfortunately, your company doesn’t likely have many of these leads to choose from, and you likely cannot see the best leads within your own database.

Lead nurturing resolves this problem by helping to identify these leads within your database, and by engaging with the early leads to prepare them for sales.

With the right email campaigns, marketers can identify leads early and build the demand for the product, before handing the warm leads to the sales team. This allows the marketing team to purchase lower priced leads (or make a strategic investment in inbound marketing) because the yield over time will end up better.

1.3.3. How lead nurturing supports sales and marketing alignment

The sales and marketing teams both want the same thing: to increase revenue for the company and be the best in the industry.

Why then is Sales – Marketing alignment so difficult?

If you compare the values of the sales and marketing teams, this is easy to explain:

Sales

Marketing

Ultimate goal

Increase revenue

Increase revenue

Ten years ago I was measured on

Sales against quota

Percentage of budget spent

Ugly stereotype

Used car salesman

Hippie who failed math

Trade show leads are…

People who love candy

Hot leads!

A green lead is…

Garbage

A future customer

My secret weapon

Account based sales

Inbound marketing

Lead nurturing done right…

Saves me time and brings more warm leads

Proves those trade show leads were good

There are few things sales and marketing agree about. One thing they can agree about is lead nurturing, in an education-focused approach. For sales, it gives them a way to stay in touch with more leads while focusing on the most promising immediate prospects. For marketing, it gives them a method to prove the value of the leads they already have (often tens of thousands or more) that the sales team has already disqualified.

Takeaway
Lead nurturing lets sales focus on closing deals and avoids involving them in the prospecting process necessarily. Input from sales while developing your nurturing campaign is important to ensure nurturing content is at its best. With fine-tuned communication between sales and marketing, your marketing team will be able to deliver more qualified leads that potentially grow sales revenues.

1.4. Industry Trends that Facilitate and Promote Lead Nurturing

1.4.1 Marketing automation

Marketing automation makes it easier and creates more dynamic options to nurture leads. If you have to hand select which leads to send this email to, or attach the same file to send to different leads, lead nurturing may not help with reducing time and effort of your sales and marketing teams.

Marketing automation software and systems range from managing lead database and content to personalizing messages to different leads. When done well, automation ensures every lead follows his own customer decision journey, and you don’t lose any prospect due to mistakes in the manual process. Furthermore, you have a chance to move past your competitors in building trust with leads and buyers if you utilize automation skillfully.

That said, automation creates risks as it scales to replace many functions that were previously carried out by humans. First, software is getting more complicated, and few marketers are trained to tackle automation-powered tasks, while pure technicians often don’t understand marketing goals and strategies. Second, software is only as good as its inputs, and if your data is expired or your workflows overlap, your automated relationship building can easily become automated relationship demolition.

1.4.2 Lead prospecting

In the early stages of prospecting, there’s a lot of wasted effort: a lot of qualification, fake email addresses, unsuitable buyers, and tire kickers. Why waste your time searching through your list to send personalised emails or trying to call them when they don’t want to hear from you? A proper lead nurturing campaign means there is theoretically no limit in how many leads you can reach, while also gather more buying signals from them. You can afford to have a wider funnel at the top, but not lose on quality by stretching your team too far.

Besides saving you time and effort, deep lead segmentation also prevents you from pushing immature relationships and ignoring close relationships. At the top of the funnel, generic emails are better received than creepy personalized emails. At the bottom of the funnel, meaningful 1-1 email contacts are much more engaging than newsletters.

1.4.3 Personalization

In the past, automation meant you lost the personal touch. It doesn’t have to anymore. Those days have gone. Now you can segment to your heart’s desire, sending one message to free trial users who activated your product and another to those who didn’t; one message to trade show attendees and another message to trade show booth visitors. As an aside, it’s very important that you’re building buyer personas to help support your nurturing. Every person has a specific set of behaviors and preferences, and even with automation you can craft and deliver the right content to the right person while relying on this knowledge.

For many companies, personalization means adding your lead’s first name to the salutation.  But there are many better methods to personalize:

  • Making sure your offers are relevant to their interests and issues.

  • Improving email copy so your emails don’t look like they’re sent by a robot.

  • Creating reasonable workflows that send different content, in different frequency, depending on leads’ engagement and behaviors.

  • Employing software to automatically identify leads that need special care, and moving them to the right nurturing paths.

Takeaway
Marketing automation, lead segmentation and user experience personalization are the three trends that influence the developing implementation of lead nurturing. While there are available infrastructure and tools to apply these practices in your campaigns, your marketers need to be aware of the risks of overusing or underusing them, depending on the persona of your target customers.

More Resources

Beachhead Blog: Don’t Call Me an Emailing Robot

Brainstorm Lead Nurturing

Now you know that lead nurturing is focused on automated emails. But what are the specific ideas you can carry out to nurture leads? What kind of marketing activities can support your campaigns?

Let’s drill down in Part 2 where you can find yourself an idea of which campaign to choose depending on your target audience. Also, you will discover additional suggestions to leverage an typical email-focused campaign.

Outline of Part 2 – Brainstorm Lead Nurturing

  • Four stages of lead nurturing

  • Channels that support lead nurturing

2.1. Four Stages of Lead Nurturing

To simplify things, and give a basic framework to build from, we’ve broken down lead nurturing into stages. Once you can find the stage that matches your needs, designing your lead nurturing campaign will become easier. We’ll begin with the most common lead nurturing, which is pre-sales. Here, the goal is to prepare a lead for the sales team to have a meaningful conversation.

For example, in a nurturing campaign for new leads, educational content is key, so we need to focus on ‘learn’, and to not use ideas from the ‘decision’ stage to avoid putting a sales tilt in our communication. Similarly, when you’re creating a campaign, depending on your goal and target audience, you may have a long ‘learn’ section and nothing in the ‘think’ section, or vice versa.

2.1.1. Learn

Leads think they might have a problem. They think you could know what the solution is. But they’re not sure how big the problem is, or if you can solve it.

While customers are learning, they want to take on information that seems balanced and neutral to different vendors. So focus your content more on general advice around your product, than specific recommendations. Build trust by giving good, appropriate advice. It is important to sound objective throughout the learning stage.

The best content to help this has an air of neutrality, or independence, while remaining educational:

  • eBooks

  • Content from field experts (internal, or external)

  • White papers

  • Videos

Remember that the aim of this content is to help the customer expand their mind, and take on new information relating to their business, but without it feeling like a product pitch. You should not be selling anything yet.

2.1.2. Think

Leads know they have a problem and they know that you could solve it, if they want to deal with it.

Now they know what’s wrong. They understand that the problem needs to be solved, and they think you could be a solution. Their main question is, ‘how important is this problem?’.

Here the customer is researching on a long-list of options, considering all different angles. You need to still remain educational, but can be less objective in the information you’re presenting and start to talk about your solution.

Here the content you have is similar, and remains educational with an impartial feel, but compared to the ‘learn’ stage, this content can be more focused on how you solve the problems:

  • Webinars

  • Comparison whitepapers

  • Podcasts

  • Videos

2.1.3. Decide

Leads have decided to solve the problem, and now they’re deciding if you, or another solution will fix it.

Now your audience has decided to solve their problem, and they know you can help. All the pretense has gone, and you can now present them with direct answers to what you now know they want.

Content here is focused on your product, and why it’s better than the other products:

  • Product comparisons

  • Case studies

  • Free trials

  • Product literature

You talk through the benefits of your product, and why it answers all their problems. By this point you should know exactly what they want through researching and tracking engagement history. Also by this point, the lead has been educated about a problem, realized that they suffer from it, and come to the conclusion that your solution is the best solution to solve it. When the opportunity comes, sales can join the conversation and finish the deal off.

2.1.4. Post-purchase

Leads have been converted and become your customers – does that mean their lead nurturing path ends successfully? The answer is Yes, and No. Companies with upsell and cross-sell options can quickly build a continuing nurturing campaign because they have multiple things to market. However, customers are very easily neglected by your marketing team if they already max out purchasing options at your company.

If B2B companies buy your product, they are structurally loyal due to contractual agreements, but the emotional loyalty comes from the people, not the account. When this contract expires, there may be hidden factors affecting their decision to replace your product, such as new personnel changes and a shift in perceived needs of the company. But it can also be a shift in the loyalty of the people in the account.

Organizations don’t develop feelings toward your brand, individuals do. You need to continue nurturing your customers to ensure they keep engaging with you and influence the decision to buy your product. If done right, “post-purchase” nurturing (together with good customer support) can also turn common buyers into brand advocates.

Content here is focused on user’s experience, and long-term relationship:

  • Product using tips and best practices

  • Regular 1-1 relationship checkup

  • New product or development updates

  • Transaction and interaction-based emails to increase engagement with your product

Takeaway
When you get a new lead, that lead enters your marketing and sales funnel and start their purchasing decision journey. At each stage of the journey, your leads will have a different need for content, so you have to build separate nurturing campaigns in order to achieve your goals. Remember that buyers don’t end their journey after the purchase; instead, they restart it.

2.2. Channels that Support Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing need not be limited to Email. Here are some channels where we’ve seen effective nurturing:

  • Social media: be active in topics and groups that your leads usually engage. You don’t have to directly talk to them, but your positive presence is enough to enhance brand awareness. You can also discover their behaviors for better lead segmentation and lead scoring.

  • Website: one recent trend promoted by leading marketing automation providers is website and application experience personalization. For example, Intercom.io offers a tool that will send targeted in-app messages to your customers.

  • Sales follow up: an important part of lead nurturing is the smooth transition from marketing to sales, and vice versa. In many cases, your prospects and customers develop other problems where your company may be able to assist. As marketers, consider implementing the processes to ensure regular follow up from your salespeople. Something as simple as one day of cold calls to customers can make a difference in your engagement.

  • Customer support: Customer support is becoming a strong function in modern startup, but often they are trained to think differently from marketing. Companies who see the holistic connection between customer support and marketing report more engagement, happier customers, and more upsells.

  • Targeting blogs: we typically think of guest blogs as a source of fresh leads, but they are also useful to stay in front of your current leads and customers. When you appear on another media different from your blog, your audience will qualify you as having both the expertise and the influence in the industry.

  • Retargeting ads: similar to targeting blogs, this channel gives you the ability to engage your audience in multiple media. When you send an email to leads, they think you target them. But when leads see your offer on a Facebook ad, they think your solution can help people like them. This can be an effective channel to address specific issues where your leads get stuck in the funnel.

There is no specific guideline of how many touches, or how many media in which you should engage your leads. But the key point is that you create seemingly “innocent” contexts to access leads, otherwise the effort will become a premature sales pitch.

Takeaway
Although lead nurturing content is mainly delivered through emails, you can improve the efficiency of your campaigns by supporting them with other marketing media. On one hand, it helps you remain objective throughout the conversation. On the other hand, it further strengthens your leads’ impression about your brand and product, making you standing out from your competitors.

Implement Lead Nurturing

By this point, you have identified your goal with the next nurturing campaign, and have an idea of who you will target as well as what kind of content you will send. But where exactly should you start? What is the first thing you have to do? There must be some solid ground to build the campaign over.

In Part 3, we will walk you through the six necessary steps to build a lead nurturing campaign, together with specific requirements to guarantee success.

Outline of Part 3 – Execute Lead Nurturing in Six Steps

  • Categorize leads for nurturing

  • Prepare nurturing content

  • Optimize email copy

  • Set timing and cadence

  • Test variations and follow up

  • Assess campaign result

3.1. Categorize Leads for Nurturing

Think of your relationships with leads as personal relationships. You don’t talk to your close friend the way you talk to a person you have just met. While an email blast makes sure you contact everyone, it can’t help you level up the relationship and keep it warm.

The point of lead nurturing is moving your lead forward in the sales funnel. Every activity aims to encourage leads to move to a stage closer to sales decision, or a stage more suitable to their purchasing needs. The amounts of nurturing effort differ in different engagement stage: sometimes your leads need to learn more about the issue and solution, while sometimes they need content to empower their decision. Due to this dynamic range of needs, email blasts can’t satisfy all leads at once.

This doesn’t mean you have to write unique emails to everyone. In the best case, you segment your leads into reasonable segments, and engineer unique messages to every segment.

3.1.1. Segment leads by source

Which source is this new lead from? Is he connecting with you on social media? Or maybe this person used to buy from you when he was working at his old company. It’s quite obvious that not all new leads are the same, and sometimes not all new leads are “new”.

Segmentation based on the source lets you know which leads are more valuable based on where they came from. For example, we’ve found leads from LinkedIn are more valuable to us than those from Twitter. Besides, you are able to skip unnecessary lead nurturing steps if a new lead is more engaged than usual.

3.1.2. Segment leads by content consumed

Does your lead download the infographic or the trial? Knowing the type and topic of content consumed let you know which relevant nurturing track you should engage your leads with. Doing this benefits your leads because they get what they want. It also benefits you because you don’t waste time distracting leads with irrelevant offers.

There are also cases where your leads are interested in one topic when they are first acquired, and in another topic when they move forward the funnel. Here, you’ll need to discover what their issues are and decide which nurturing tracks fit them best.

3.1.3. Segment leads with lead scoring

While lead scoring is another (big) topic itself, we would like to mention it here because it plays a vital role in segmenting for lead nurturing. If two leads consuming the same content have different roles in the company – one with authority and the other without, their buying potential differs, and therefore they need different nurturing tracks. For another example, you will discover leads you don’t have to nurture strongly now because their budgets are not the right fit to your product.

There are many criteria that you can score your leads:

  • Relationship status (stage of engagement)

  • Role in the company

  • Industry

  • Size of the company

  • Size of the buying team

  • Topic of content consumed

3.2. Prepare Nurturing Content

Generally lead nurturing campaigns have an educational feel to them. You’re priming your leads so they can be approached by sales and to do this you have to explain why your product is right for them. You’re going through the features that benefit them the most.

Here are the things you need to think about when looking at the content:

3.2.1. Buyer personas

Do you have them? How good are they? If you don’t have them then you risk alienating some customers during your lead nurturing campaign. The better they are, the more effective your nurturing becomes. You can also use your nurturing campaign to help fine tune the buyer personas you have. When you see 90% of the CMOs you email opening that email about ‘strategy’ you know it’s a keyword that resonates.

We think that time should be put into developing thorough buyer personas, because it will help you target your content much more effectively, and increase the chances that your campaigns will be well received, and won’t be sent straight to spam. Marketo, have a great ‘cheat sheet’ to help you get started.

3.2.2. Existing content

Can you adjust your posts/ eBooks/ webinars to fit in with the campaign? If you can save writing new content it will obviously save you time and effort. Here you need to be honest with yourself about what is ‘educational’ content and what is a product pitch. If you can see through it, your buyers will be able to as well.

If all of your content reads like it’s come from the instruction manual to your product, we would suggest a thorough re-draft if you’re using it for the early stages of nurturing, or starting again from scratch with more balanced content.

3.2.3. Answers to leads’ questions

What questions do your buyers ask? – Do you have a FAQ? If you do, this is what your campaign should be explaining. If you don’t then consider approaching your customers to find out why they’re working with you. It’s important you’re educating them on topics they are interested in, when they need it. This will tie into your buyer personas, if you’re building them, then you should have a thorough list of the objections and queries that your clients are sending you.

3.2.4. Answer before being asked

Put the content in order of when the questions are asked. Do people always ask about number of user accounts immediately? Put that in your first email. Your job is to give the impression of giving them what they want just before they’ve realised they want it. You’re aiming for inception.

3.2.5. Different content, different stages

Linking back to the four stages of lead nurturing, what is also important is the timing of the content. What you send to someone in the ‘learn’ stage, is different to what you would send someone in the ‘think’ or ‘decide’ stage of a campaign. So if you need a refresher, then check the mail we sent yesterday.

That way you’ll always be saying the right thing, at the right time.

3.3. Optimize Email Copy

3.3.1. Plain text vs HTML

Should you send plain text or HTML emails to your prospects when applying lead nurturing? It depends on your message, the content of your campaign, and the rest of your communication. We like the idea of mixing formatting. For example, if you’re sending some messages from your Marketing team to nurture leads, but then you begin sending emails on behalf of the sales team, it can help to use the different formatting as an easy distinction. The emails from the marketing team are HTML, but the email from sales is plain text. This difference will emphasize the personalization of the email from the salesperson.

As we’ve said earlier in this guide, don’t be overwhelmed by decisions. If you want to get a campaign up and running, stick to plain text to get it running, or pick a simple template. You won’t win or lose a campaign on email formatting alone.

3.3.2. Subject lines

So you’ve got great content, on beautiful emails, being delivered to excellently segmented client lists. But none are being opened! Subject lines are more vital now than ever. When you’re emailing someone who’s getting 50 emails a day, you need to look appealing. A good strategy works better if you use a bit of gimmicks to trigger it.

So here are some useful headline hints. We can’t promise they’re original, but it’s always good to have a reminder: learn from the dark arts, by looking at websites like Mr. Hiltons, or the Huffington Post and the headlines they use. The main things to remember are: avoid the spam filter, and then make an exciting promise that people will want to read.

“X things that Y doesn’t want you to know” – you might not like it, but you’ll still click on it. We’d suggest being slightly more subtle than that, and would say that ‘if you make a promise, back it up’. So don’t promise five great facts on UI then only give them one and some copy about how you’re the best company in the world.

There’s a fine line between getting a small smile and a chuckle from a well titled piece that makes you open it, and a misleading title. So tread carefully.

3.3.3. Friendly names

Here is the simplest definition: a friendly name is the modification of an official name to make it more human-friendly.

Why do you need to make company names more human-friendly? Imagine you were an executive at Wal-Mart, and you receive an email that name drops your company “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.”. Would you feel like this email was personalized to you?

A friendly name of a company can be any of the following:

  • A short version of the full legal name: Cisco instead of Cisco Systems, Inc.

  • An abbreviation that the company widely uses themselves: BofA instead of Bank of America Corporation

  • The text used in the company’s trademark: HP instead of Hewlett-Packard Company

Most of our clients rely on tools like Rainking or Data.com to maintain a clean database. The problem is they often provide the legal company names; even if your leads intentionally registered their friendly company names, your data would still be updated to legal names using these services.

When you use this data to personalize your audience’s email or website experience, they will see names familiar but cold to them. For example, Kodak becomes Eastman Kodak Company, Hootsuite becomes Hootsuite Media Inc. – are these different companies in a group? That’s not to mention a bunch of legal suffixes like Inc., Ltd., LLC., Corporation, etc. that remind people more of lawsuits than someone they can happily do business with.

HubSpot points out bad data and bad reasons as some of the causes that create premature personalization. Legal names are good data, yet a little too good to be human-like. And using those names in marketing shows that you personalize merely for the sake of personalizing, not because doing that improves customer satisfaction.

3.4. Set Timing and Cadence

3.4.1. How many touches should I include in my lead nurturing program?

We hear this question a lot: how many is too many? There’s no exact answer, something that works for one company may not work for you.

In general we advise companies to take the offers they have, and map them to the typical buying cycle. If for example you have six clear emails to send, and a six month nurturing cycle, you should send one email per month.

You can later add more to your programs, but consistency in your cadence more important than any specific cadence.

The exception here is when you promise a specific cadence. For example, we offer seven-day courses, and receiving these emails once per day or on alternate days is well accepted. You just need to be explicit in the sign-up process, exactly what the customer will receive.

It’s worth checking, and double checking the customer knows what you will be sending them when they sign up. This drastically reduces the number of spam complaints filed against you, and also acts as a qualification of interest. You want people who are interested to sign up to your mailing list, otherwise you’re just wasting time and money.

3.4.2. Day of the week

Again, this differs depending on what you’re doing elsewhere. For example if you have a free trial, the timing of your campaign is going to differ to a company without. In general we would suggest that your first two emails are fairly close, with the time between emails being space relatively evenly throughout, as for time, usually around 11am for educational content. But again, avoid getting too stuck on this. You can change the timing if it isn’t working, and there’s no exact science on when to send them (yet anyway). You can test time and days easily once the campaign is set up, so don’t get fixated on it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly – What do you want from your campaign? – We’ve spoken a lot about the customer, and what they’re interested in, but don’t forget to look after yourself. Do you need more information to prequalify your leads? Would you like to know their average CPL before they speak to sales? Tailor all of your communication to making the sales process easier, and faster, for your prospects.

Lead nurturing doesn’t just have to be a reactive process for customers, giving them what they want. It can help you generate feedback to create new campaigns, fine tune buyer personas, test new products, look at different marketing strategies, and many other things other than simply sell.

3.4.3. Frequency

It’s not the frequency that influences the engagement level. The real heroes are the strategies behind these email campaigns, turning them into luxury products that people want.

The time and effort spent on reading emails is what readers have to pay for your content, so make sure it’s worth the price. As long as the email value reaches or goes beyond readers’ expectation, they won’t mind receiving too many. Especially if you’re employing account based marketing at your company, high quality emails help build solid relationships with each of your leads.

Combining the findings and modifying them to fit into a SaaS context, we would propose the keys to email marketing success are as follows:

  • Focus on quality, not quantity. Thought-leadership content doesn’t come in abundance.

  • Deliver to subscribers exactly what they expect in terms of information and time.

  • Respect the recipients. Send them what they want to receive, not what you want to introduce.

  • Be brief and clear. The number of CTAs should be minimized so it doesn’t confuse readers.

  • Behave like real, friendly human beings instead of robots. Personalization should be deep but well suited.

3.5. A/B Tests and Lead Nurturing

A/B testing can be anything from altering the order of the messages, dropping badly responding messages, changing the email content or style, changing the segments you’re sending it to, the time the emails are sent, the days they’re sent on. The options are almost limitless. We think to keep it simple you should limit your A/B testing to three categories initially.

3.5.1 Subject lines

As we’ll explain in more detail, the subject line of your email is very important. If your email doesn’t get opened, then what was the point in writing it? Testing different titles, and swapping them in and out, is generally not a lot of extra work. We would suggest drafting articles with headings and subheadings when you write them, then switching them if you see low open rates.

3.5.2 Content type

Are you spending too much time educating, when you should be closing? Or, are you asking for credit card details as soon as you’ve said ‘Hello “? You don’t know where your leads will enter your funnel, so this is a great space to experiment. A better subject line will increase open rates, but a better content offer will increase engagement and sales.

3.5.3 Timing

You should look at the spacing between emails (how many days gap), days to send on, and what time of the day is best. When you first write your campaign we suggest you keep it simple, and send all the emails at the same time of day, but if you see your Friday 11am email isn’t getting read, then try switching it to 4pm when people may be more open to reading the topic.

3.6. Assess Campaign Results

3.6.1. Basic metrics you need to check

While you’re running your campaign, you need to keep an eye on how well it’s doing. As with most automation, you’re almost overwhelmed with statistics, but below we’ve outlined the ones you should focus on first to help keep your campaign optimized.

  • Click through rate – Where and when are people clicking on your links and CTAs? If this figure of an email is remarkably higher or lower than your average, you may want to try some A/B tests and find out what made the difference.

  • Unsubscribe rate – How many people are unsubscribing, and at what point? Ideally, this should be less than 1% across all segments. If it’s higher than 1%, you will need to review your buyer persona and accordingly adjust your nurturing content relevancy, quality and frequency.

  • Asset performance – What’s being read/watched/downloaded? It’s normal that some specific asset types are favored by a group of buyer persona or engagement stage but neglected by the others. You need to notice these trends to continually update your content mapping.

  • Conversion rate (Stage by stage) – At what point are people converting? Is the process too long, or not long enough? This figure varies across buyer roles and industry sales cycles, so it’s essential that you establish good lead segmentation in order not to overlook any buyer type. Moreover, conversion rate is also affected by your landing pages’ design and content, so make sure you don’t neglect these while running lead nurturing programs.

  • Lead score distribution – Is your scoring model working? And matching the nurturing data? Your lead scoring system must be agreed by both your sales and marketing team for a better conversion rate. For example, if your marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are not qualified in reality but have unreasonably good scores, after handled to sales, they won’t convert because they’re not ready yet.

3.6.2. The marketing metrics of lead nurturing

Apart from the mentioned metrics that measure the performance of your campaigns, there are some other metrics that tell you whether lead nurturing is a working strategy for your company, or just another cost. These metrics are specifically helpful when you discuss about adopting new lead nurturing programs with your CFO.

  • Sales velocity – How long did it take to convert a nurtured lead to a customer? Does nurturing make it easier for sales to close deals, or is there no impact at all? Changes in sales velocity will tell you about the effectiveness of your lead nurturing programs, and can be evidence to support more lead nurturing programs.

  • Number of additional customers – How many customers would you have lost if you didn’t have lead nurturing in place? There are customers you can only close after doing lead nurturing. They are leads that have been engaging with your brand for many years but never actually buy because they have no budget, or previous buyers that change jobs and cannot be contacted without lead nurturing effort. This figure can also be expressed as amount of additional revenue in some cases, such as existing customers make bigger purchases when being nurtured.

  • Nurturing cost per customer – How much does it cost to convert a nurtured lead? You can calculate this by summing up your lead nurturing expenses, and dividing the sum to the number of customers closed by lead nurturing. Lead nurturing costs should be low enough to create a reasonable margin per customer for your company. Typically, this cost is lower than the amount you pay for traditional marketing channels.

  • Return on Investment – This is a debatable metric in marketing, because many marketing outcomes such as brand familiarity, or long-term relationship with leads and customers, cannot be measured easily. A simple way to look at this metric is to divide the profit per customer to the nurturing cost per customer, and then compare the result to previous ROI, or ROI of other marketing channels.

Overview of Lead Nurturing Tools

Outline of Part 4 – Overview of Lead Nurturing Tools

  • Lead nurturing tool providers for SMBs

  • Lead nurturing tool providers for big enterprises

4.1. Lead Nurturing Tool Providers for SMBs

Customer.io

Hatchbuck

HubSpot

Route.to

Pricing

$0 for 400 monthly email credits ~ $1,250/month for 1M monthly email credits

$89/month for 2,500 contacts ~ $269/month for $25,000 contacts

$200/month for 100 contacts ~ $2,400/month for 10,000 contacts

$89/month for 1,000 contacts ~ $5,499/month for $500,000 contacts

Features included

Lead management, email marketing, marketing automation, integration plugs

Lead management, email marketing, marketing automation, email template

Lead management, lead scoring, email marketing, marketing automation, sales dashboard, template marketplace, content and social media marketing, academy

Lead management, lead scoring, email marketing, marketing automation

Best for companies that…

… run nurturing campaigns for free trials and want to improve lead quality

… need the system to be as easy to use as possible

… employ inbound marketing and want all inbound marketing tools in one place

… have a big lead database, and stress lead scoring

4.1.1. Customer.io

Customer.io first came to our attention when we were speaking to a client with a free trial. Their free trial was making a lot of noise and giving them a huge number of leads. However the quality of the inbound information wasn’t great (they were getting lots of [email protected]). So, they brought in Customer.io to stop that, and really help them get the best from their trial.

It’s got some great features, but we particularly like the way they use behavioral and transactional campaigns, allowing their customers to drive ROI from the information Customer.io collects, while letting them get a real understanding of trial and customer behavior. Coupling that with their simple triggered emailing system, it’s a simple, quick to implement tool that can help nurture your trial customers, turning them into full customers.

If you’re interested in looking at Customer.io, you can test the system. With up to 200 records and 400 monthly email credits for free (it’s priced on records and users moving forward), you can get a taste of how things work before getting started.

We think that, if you’re running a nurturing campaign for your free trial, Customer.io is the tool for you. It would fit in really well with a lead nurturing campaign once you optimize the triggered responses, and help the nurturing process.

4.1.2. Hatchbuck

Hatchbuck is another CRM tool that has some good lead nurturing features. They’re specifically aiming away from the ‘big business’ angle, and trying to take some of the HubSpot dollars.

We really like the way they’ve implemented an easy to use solution for lead nurturing, using their own special ‘email nurturing engine’. They’ve created a really simple and intuitive dashboard that lets you know how engaged your leads are at a glance, and allows you tag people quickly, and add them to bespoke drip nurturing campaigns.

Hatchbuck offer a full CRM, so are more inline with where HubSpot are going than Customer.io, but they’re aiming for ease of use, and a high level of sales and marketing integration, which is pretty good going for a system aimed at smaller businesses.

4.1.3. HubSpot

After their recent IPO we think it’s a good time to talk about the system we use to manage our website and nurturing, HubSpot.

Aimed again at the smaller business end of the market, HubSpot have changed the face of marketing with their focus on inbound, but that’s not all they’ve done.

Here we’ll focus on the email automation side of their marketing platform (as it’s most relevant to lead nurturing), but obviously they do far more than just that.

As with Hatchbuck, ease of use is key. The platform is designed so it can be used by the tech savvy, and the technophobe alike, so their step by step process of setting up workflows and getting a nurturing campaign started are really valuable.

One excellent feature is the ability to look at the communication history you’ve had with a client at a glance, which lets you see how your campaign is working, but also fit it into your wider relationship with the client, rather than looking at it in isolation, making sure that your nurturing campaign is fitting in with your company wide communication plan.

When you couple this with the rest of their system, and the newly rebranded ‘sidekick’, HubSpot is an excellent place to start your nurturing campaigns from if you’re not using an automation system.

4.1.4. Route.to

Route.to is a new tool we’ve noticed, that looks like it’s going to add an interesting voice to the lead nurturing choir. From what we can see they’re offering a nice mixture of features that help you manage outgoing email efforts, also giving you the ability to create nurturing campaigns, and carry out lead scoring.

We think that lead scoring is an important twin to nurturing, and while you can do one without the other, they’re really best placed working together. The pared down approach that Route.to are taking helps you focus on managing your leads without distractions that other more wide reaching CRMs can offer, giving them a real sense of expert opinion.

4.2. Lead Nurturing Tool Providers for Big Enterprises

Marketo

Eloqua

Silverpop

Pricing

From $1,500/month (Standard plan), for less than 10,000 contacts From $2,000/month (Basic plan), for less than 10,000 contacts About $2,500/month for 100,000 contacts, subject to software scope

Features included

Lead management, lead scoring, email marketing, marketing automation, dashboard, CRM integration, event marketing Lead management, lead scoring, email marketing, marketing automation, dashboard, content database,event marketing Marketing automation, behavioral marketing, email marketing, social marketing

Best for companies that…

… use Salesforce.com and demand a tightly integrated, easy to use system … have a marketing team of more than 10 people and run multi-channel campaigns … combine email marketing, social and mobile marketing in their marketing mix

4.2.1. Marketo

Marketo is considered an easy-to-use tool in basic levels, but can get very complicated in advanced levels. Many elements like campaigns or assets are intertwined, and can create confusion when the admins lose control. Good news is, you can set up the roles of each user, but this also requires some knowledge about Marketo.

With years of experiences working in Marketo, we agree with other Marketo fans that its nurturing engine is very dynamic. The tool enables you to segment contacts into many lists based on a collection of customizable filters which you can easily pick out from a searchable drop-down menu. The same thing applies to campaign setting and therefore automated lead nurturing campaigns in Marketo are very flexible. Yet, again, its flexibility is accompanied by complexity and risks of doing wrong.

It seems like many Marketo users are experiencing problems with its advanced functionality, but there is a great solution to that: the Marketo Community and Knowledge Center. In the Marketo Community, your questions are answered by both Marketo employees and real Marketo users / experts, giving you a comprehensible answer in both the technology point of view and the usability point of view.

As for sales and marketing alignment, Marketo has integration with SFDC, and multiples of lead generation, lead nurturing and lead scoring software, which you can find on Marketo LaunchPoint (FYI it’s like an Apple App Store for Marketo), allowing users to transfer leads between stages smoothly.

Apart from the fact that you can’t put a new employee without Marketo experience to work with it immediately, Marketo is a great tool for lead nurturing thanks to its dynamic infrastructure and integrations.

4.2.2. Eloqua

Eloqua is like an equivalent to HubSpot, but for big companies. It promotes the philosophy of 1-1 marketing with human touches by providing the function to track customers by names and deliver the information of engagement history. All submission forms, including those on social media, can be created in Eloqua and integrated to Eloqua database.

Experienced Eloqua users praise its ease of use in setting up lead generation and lead nurturing campaigns, although reporting and analytics are said to be more difficult and limited. Overall, it’s a mature product with good features.

Integration with common CRM providers like SFDC are supported, but you may have to consider twice if your company is using a DIY in-house CRM because users in such case have claimed difficulties with the integration.

As for customer support and user knowledge, Eloqua is known to be a great provider. Eloqua University offers a steep learning curve, and there is also a Topliners Community bulletin board for users to share experiences and opinions.

4.2.3. Silverpop

The best feature of Silverpop, as claimed by long-time users, is its ease of use. Users can set up automated campaigns easily. Even complicated marketing automation requirements can be achieved, but make sure you have your requirements clearly written down, and get proper training from Silverpop.

This provider offers extensive APIs, allowing users to integrate the tool with their own CRM. However, the API documentation often differs from how the APIs actually operate in some specific cases, which causes big trouble for non tech-savvy marketers.

The drag and drop interface of Silverpop is a big plus. Users used to dislike the tool’s UI, but Silverpop has made several updates to improve it, which also gives them a client-oriented bonus point.

Takeaway
There are dozens of tools available to help with lead nurturing. Focus on principles first and technology second.