July 6, 2015

5 Lead Nurturing Best Practices (and Worst Practices)

Lead nurturing is one of the most lucrative marketing practices. If you’ve done any research on it, you’ve seen the widely-quoted Forrester stat: companies with strong nurturing programs produce 50 percent more leads at a third less the cost.

That’s hard to argue with, but it’s also intimidating. What if your programs aren’t doing half that well? What if you don’t even have a program? The truth is, a lot of B2B companies are still scared of lead nurturing, and that holds them back from setting up formal processes and infrastructure.

In this article, we’ll clear up some of the confusion and provide tips for setting up a program that actually works.  

Lead Nurturing Overview

If you’re thinking, Yeah, yeah. Lead nurturing is just a fancy word for email marketing. Give me the tips already . . . well, not so fast. Lead nurturing is not the same thing as email marketing. Yes, email is the primary vehicle for sending nurture content, but email marketing usually refers to the broader use of email for brand promotion — i.e. “batch and blast.” There’s a time and place for batch emails, but it’s not here.

Lead nurturing is a more discriminate subset of email marketing. It involves segmenting leads and using targeted content to guide them through the buyer journey, from prospect, to lead, to business opportunity. By engaging and educating leads throughout the decision process, you raise the stakes of their final purchase. Some analysts claim that nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

The process usually looks something like this:

    1. Capture leads via landing pages, content assets, networking events, etc.
    2. Follow-up with an message that’s relevant to the original capture topic
    3. Place leads in different nurture tracks based on interest and behavior
    4. Use triggers to send funnel-stage emails based on certain actions or responses
    5. Deliver qualified leads to sales when they’ve reached the appropriate threshold

 Now that you have clear understanding of the process as a whole, let’s zoom in on some specific lead nurturing best (and worst) practices.

What to Do

1. Use Lead Scoring

A lead score is a numerical value that indicates how close a lead is to being sales-ready. The score may also identify leads that have gone stale and need to be reengaged, or leads that are just siphoning content and have no real purchase intent.

Content engagement (open rate, click-through rate, site browsing behavior, etc.) is one of the most important components of lead scoring. According to the Lenskold Group, 68 percent of successful marketers say lead scoring based on content engagement makes the biggest impact on revenue. Many B2B companies also use the BANT framework (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline) as part of their initial scoring.

Here’s an example of behavioral lead scoring from Marketo:lead scoring marketo

2. Collaborate with Sales

Though sales reps shouldn’t have to do the actual legwork of lead nurturing, it’s important for marketers to get their input, and furthermore, to use that input for creating content, nurture tracks, and scoring rubrics that yield qualified candidates.

Sales people know what kind of content will help them start conversations. They know all of the goals, motivations, and pain points that prospects bring to the table. Sixty-nine percent of “top performing” companies say that sales-marketing collaboration is their most important driver of marketing automation ROI. When the two departments work together to build a nurturing strategy, it makes for an easier pass-off at the critical moment.

Ken Krogue is the president of InsideSales.com. In a recent interview with Salesforce (Pardot), he put it this way:

Marketing’s job is to educate interest into need. Sales’ job is to validate need into closure.”

3. Use Targeted, Personalized Content

Don’t treat your nurture tracks (or “drip programs,” depending on your persuasion) like assembly lines. The success of lead nurturing is largely predicated on the notion of one-to-one engagement. That doesn’t mean your leads will really believe they’re getting an exclusive, one-off email, but it does mean they need to feel understood.

You can do this by sending content that’s relevant to their needs and interests, mentioning previous interactions (“I see you downloaded our eBook”), and through basic personalization. Here’s an example of such a personalized message:

example of a personalized marketing email4. Be Old-Fashioned

Most people are pretty desensitized to commercial emails by now. While you may think that slick HTML template with the colorful graphics is appealing, it’s probably the wrong choice for nurturing. If your email looks like an advertisement, people won’t think you’re trying to educate them or start a conversation; they’ll think you’re trying to sell stuff. That’s usually an immediate turn off, and can put you on thin ice above the spam folder.

So be old-fashioned. Go with rich text format (RTF) or plain text, and address each lead as a human being. This also ensures your emails can be read in a variety of applications and on mobile devices.

5. Teach Your Leads

Your focus should be on moving leads incrementally through the sales funnel, from one stage of qualification to the next (interest -> relevance; relevance -> need; need -> urgency, etc.). The best way to do that is through education.

Send them new research findings, tip sheets, eBooks on how to improve their workflows, and so on. Keep in mind that calls-to-action (CTAs) are more effective when they come after informative content.

What Not to Do

Those were the best practices, the ones that will boost your success rate and speed up conversions. But all of the lead nurturing best practices won’t make up for using some of the following tactics. Here are three worst practices to avoid:

Email Too Often

In our recent email marketing study, we found that almost half of all subscribers would like businesses to email them less frequently. Experienced marketers usually suggest emailing leads anywhere from once a week (at the most) to once a month. Essentially, you want to stay in touch with them just enough to be at the top of their mind, but not enough to be irritating. An easy way to gauge this is by looking at your unsubscribe rate — which should generally stay below 0.5 percent.

Blast People

Don’t just barge-in to your prospects’ lives. This type of spraying and praying will only get you so far. If you need to send batch emails, keep them separate from your main nurture tracks. You could even create a separate track for top-of-funnel prospects that haven’t expressed interest in a particular category (maybe they just signed up for blog updates, or the company newsletter). One study found that “relevant” email can generate 16 times more revenue than broadcast email.

Get Stuck on the Small Things

Speaking of revenue, it’s important to stay focused on the metrics that really matter. The number of qualified leads you generate — and the revenue they produce — is the most important indicator of lead nurturing success. Click-through rate, open rate, unsubscribes . . . those are all important to track, but don’t miss the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter how high your open rate is if your drip campaigns aren’t producing any sales qualified leads.

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Lead nurturing can be a lot to manage. You need to have the right technology in place and should have at least one full-time specialist, supported by various team members from other departments (sales, content, design, IT) to really get a campaign off the ground. If you’re a smaller company with limited resources or have too many irons in the fire to launch a dedicated program, don’t be afraid to seek help from a third party agency. 

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