5 Keys to Getting Started in Lead Nurturing

Congratulations. You’re the proud owner of a bright and shiny marketing automation platform. Now what?

Well first, you’re not alone. Marketing automation is a hot topic (and something I’ve recommended as one of the top investments B2B marketers can make in 2009) but many companies are buying into marketing automation without a firm idea for exactly how they plan to use it.

Fact is, marketing automation is only software. And no matter how easy to use, it won’t develop strategy, or creative, or a lead nurturing plan for you. If you suddenly find yourself with the right tools at your disposal, but have no idea how to get started in crafting a lead nurturing strategy, this post is for you.

Have a Plan.

Even if your marketing automation system has all the necessary bells and whistles, it’s only as effective as the strategy behind it. So build one. First and foremost, ask yourself what your objectives are for the system. Are you hoping to:

* Convert more raw sales inquiries into qualified prospects
* Convert more free trial downloaders to paying customers
* Further qualify, and collect more information from, inbound sales leads
* Stay in touch with existing prospects so they contact you when the need arises
* Acquire more business from existing customer accounts
* Increase sales productivity by identifying “sales ready” leads?

Know what your objective is, establish clear success metrics (ex: “increase the conversion rate of raw inquiries to qualified leads by 3x”), and define a lead nurturing strategy to meet those objectives. Whatever you do, don’t just start creating emails in random fashion and figure you’ll know success when you get there.

Start Small.

It may well be that to successfully convert users who download your free trial software to paying customers you will need to create a series of 23 e-mails (each with associated landing pages and thank you pages) in 3 separate functional tracks. But however much you’re convinced of the wisdom of that plan, you’re better off implementing it in phases – say, starting with 3 tracks of 2 e-mails each – and then building out the program over time. There are a number of reasons for this:

* you’ll launch the program earlier
* you’ll weed out the inevitable kinks (or surprises) without the implications those kinks would have on a more expansive program
* you may find that response rates drop significantly after the third e-mail (or the second, or the fourth) and if you were to launch the entire program at once, you will have burned through a bunch of creative cycles for no benefit

Test. A Lot.

Lead nurturing is, at its essence, a repeatable process, and repeatable processes are ideal candidates for testing. So test everything: subject line, landing page, offer strategy, creative elements, audience segments, etc. and adjust your strategy accordingly based on those results. Even if any individual test only increases your response rate a fraction of a point, the cumulative effect over time can be dramatic.

Get Sales Buy-In.

Even if one of the primary benefits of lead nurturing is to aid your sales force and make them more productive, make sure they’re intimately aware of your strategy, its objectives, and the precise communications that you’ll be unleashing upon their precious sales leads. Be sure to give individual reps the power to “turn off” the lead nurturing program for any individual program.

If part of the purpose of installing marketing automation and lead management is to weed out unqualified leads and only post those to the CRM database that are truly “sales ready,” make sure your reps know this in advance. They may nod their head and agree with you in principle at first, but when their lead volume decreases dramatically, even if the leads you’re eliminating are completely worthless, someone somewhere will find a way to complain. Trust me on this one.

Be Aggressive.

Sure, there are best practices for email frequency and offer strategy, but a lead nurturing program is by definition highly adjustable, so in the absence of professional advice, be aggressive. If you’re offering up information of value and you treat your prospects (or customers) with respect, you may find them more tolerant of frequent emails than you expected. Besides, you can always dial back your strategy if results dictate. There’s more to lose from communicating too little (and too infrequently) than too much.

7 thoughts on “5 Keys to Getting Started in Lead Nurturing

  1. Alden Cushman

    Hello Howard,

    Very sound and helpful advice. Far too many companies and people look to technology to solve problems or improve performance, with little thought as to how that will occur. Planning, testing, and modifying are all important. So are leveraging best practices and templates that your service provider or platform vendor should have. Learn as much as you can from others and then apply that so you don’t have to repeat others mistakes. It also helps if you identify the phases of your clients’ buying cycle, know which audience members (e.g., influencers, decisions makers, champions) are involved, and which marketing deliverables are most appropriate and effective for progressing a prospect to the next phase in the buying cycle.
    Alden Cushman

  2. Steven Woods

    You’re right, lead nurturing is a key topic, and needs to be done right. The challenge I’ve seen a number of marketers face though, is that they don’t adequately take into account the fact that (a) people may enter the nurturing campaign at any time, (b) people may have seen content/offers that are in the nurturing campaign before and you need to supress that, and (c) you will, over time, want to add/remove/change content in the campaign.

    One of our clients created an interesting model of “Pachinko” nurturing that takes that into account – I wrote about it here if you’re interested http://digitalbodylanguage.blogspot.com/2008/12/nurture-marketing-vs-pachinko.html

    Thanks for a great post, much enjoyed.

  3. Christopher Doran


    I like your point about starting small.

    From what I’ve seen out there in the market, marketers can be attracted to the big shiny cadillac when in reality they need a system that’s easy to get up and running so they can have a quick time to impact – while providing room to grow as their company grows and their nurturing becomes more complex.

  4. Howard Sewell

    Christopher – I think that’s true. Functionality is important, but all the bells and whistles won’t do anything for you if 1) the product isn’t fundamentally easy to use, and 2) you don’t have the strategy in place to put those features to work.

  5. Christopher Doran

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    If by strategy you’re also including process then I’m all in. Lead nurturing/lead management is all really about marketing business process

  6. Dan McDade

    It is interesting to me that lead nurturing has become almost synonymous with automated marketing (using marketing automation). Marketing Automation is great, but companies are making the mistake of expecting software to replace human touch and it does not work that way. Marketing Automation is a tool in the bag, but the tip of the spear is still direct contact. People buy from people, not black boxes.

  7. Shawn Naggiar

    Great read Howard. One of the things that I am seeing in the marketplace is the disconnect between marketing automation systems and the usability requirement of field marketing professionals. It is one thing to put a solution in place to rationalize all your marketing efforts but when it hinders the marketers ability to be excute efficiently whats the point?

    Balancing the analytics, program and process requirements along with ease of use and ability to execute efficiently is certainly a challenge. It is what drives us to continue innovating.


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