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.
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.
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.