A Guide to Lead Nurturing

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By Kurt Buttress - November 20, 2017

Nearly 80% of marketing generated leads don't end up closing as sales. (Source: MarketingSherpa) It's shocking, but true. All your marketing efforts that went into generating those leads have a good chance of amounting to nothing. Why? Simply put, a lack of proper lead nurturing. 

Without good, solid nurturing your leads are left feeling less than convinced about your product or service, and not ready to make the commitment to buy. Which naturally is one of the main purposes why marketers exist in the first place. Fortunately, it's never too late to make the change to better lead nurturing, and to see those sales numbers rise. Before addressing how to nurture leads, let's first break down what exactly lead nurturing is. 

What is Lead Nurturing Anyway?  

Nurturing leads means guiding your leads along their respective buyer's journeys, closer to a point where they're willing to 'sign that dotted line' to purchase. Each buyer's journey is unique, and as marketers our job is to provide our leads with relevant content that educates, informs and guides them as they search for solutions to meet their specific needs.  

Depending on how far they are in buyer's journey, leads need different content. The goal is to make sure they receive the right content, at the right time. One of the best ways to do so is via email marketing.

Lead Nurturing Starts with Great Content 

Email marketing is a powerful tool, in your arsenal of lead nurturing tools. It is great for moving leads along the sales funnel, but in order to succeed, it must be based on great content. It's these valuable content offers that draw a lead to volunteer their information in return for your content after all.  

But first - how does lead nurturing fit into your buyer's journey?

There’s a fine line between pushing a prospect in the hopes of a sale and nurturing them within the inbound flywheel. Getting it right often depends on following a few industry best practices, to guarantee the successful fostering of each prospect.

I am prone to sunup irritations. The daily drabness of getting out of bed, followed by the tiresome struggle with morning traffic can leave me exasperated. By the time I open my emails I am often out of patience. And, when I finally think that I have reached the safety of my office desk, I open up my Microsoft Outlook, only to be greeted there by tons of unsolicited emails, that I have neither the time, the patience nor the interest to read.

Ultimately, the senders of those outbound emails have shot themselves in the foot. I will not only ignore and delete these but will make a mental note of the sender. And woe be to them if they send again, as they will get blocked and added to my spam filter list.

Lead nurturing and lead generation

Margaret Heffernan, the notable entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker, once was quoted as saying: “Everyone I know feels harassed by email, which has invaded their waking and sleeping hours”.

Sounds like an endless nightmare to me. But, can it be avoided and can email be seen as a dream rather than a torment? Of course!

Being a key component of inbound lead nurturing, incorporating inbound features to your email is bound to see them being received with greater favour once they reach their recipients. Here are five key attributes that make an inbound email stand out:

  1. Value received – The first email sent out should have nothing to do with the sales process and sales cycle. It should be an information-rich communication, that answers some frequently asked questions about the topic. It must provide clear guidelines on the decision-making process relating to the service offered. This type of email will commence the nurturing of the prospect and guide them to the sale.
    • Define your goals – A simple question about what you plan to achieve with your email should precede any of your lead nurturing emailers.
    • Establish relationships – The outcome of any lead scoring strategy is to develop relationships with your prospects.
    • Align formatting with function - Experiment with various email formats, until you discover the one that your prospects are most responsive to.
  2. Subscription option flexibility – All outbound emails give the recipient an option to pursue the call-to-action or to unsubscribe. The unsubscribe option gives your email further credibility making it less likely to be seen as spam and the option is appreciated by the recipient.
    • Call-to-actions - A call-to-action should rouse the reader towards a certain desired action, that’ll result in the achievement of the nurturing goal.
  3. Opt-in contact lists – Get the opt-in from your prospects before you start blasting out your communications (e.g. via blog posts and social media). A list of potential clients that are happy to communicate with you will boost your engagement rate and prevent you from being labelled as a spammer.
  4. Timing and frequency of emails – Inbound emails tend not to be too regular. An email sent out once a week or once every two weeks, ought to do the trick. Also, avoid sending email during the weekend and in the evenings, as these might be seen as intruding on the private time of the recipient.
    • Optimisation and measuring – Continuously monitoring how your audience engage with your campaign and doing the necessary modifications based on your results, allows you to generate better campaigns in the future.
  5. Targeting – A key aspect of inbound is segmentation. By sending out blank-emails to all your contacts, you are looking for a grain of gold in a mining pan. Instead, direct your communication towards a specific audience that you are sure need your service and leave out the ones that will likely delete your email.
    • Data reliant – The lead nurturing strategy is fuelled by the implicit and explicit data you’ve collected from your prospects. Personalised offers are much better received than any generic communication. Try to segment your database of contacts according to the information you’ve gathered (e.g. geographical location, age, gender, etc.). You can personalise your emails which will afford them greater credibility in the eyes of the recipient.

Additionally, always try to remain current and savvy. Make use of marketing automation tools like HubSpot and all the information you have about a specific contact, to both personalise and customise your email optimally. Don’t stop at the subject line or the name field. Use as much information as possible, to put your recipient at ease, when they read your email.

The key to a planned and well executed inbound marketing and lead nurturing campaign is strategic targeting. This targeting must be based on the collected information about your prospects and then optimally formatted.

Also remember that lead nurturing doesn’t only yield possible marketing qualified leads. 

Each lead you attempt to nurture will fall into one of three buyer stages at any given time during the nurturing process. Nurturing a lead in one stage requires different content to one in another stage, so it's important to tailor your nurturing to each stage of the buyer's journey. With that said, nothing can ever really start without a solid foundation, plan or map. So how do you go about setting up a content map to design your lead nurturing around?

What's a content map and how does it work? 

As individuals, we're all unique - we have our own quirks and preferences that define us. This makes creating one-size fits all content a terrible idea (at least if you're hoping to keep generating and nurturing solid leads). Your content needs to reflect the diversity of your buyer persona profiles, and their buyer journeys - but achieving this can be tricky if you don't have a guide to keep you from missing the mark.

There's a common misconception that creative and brilliant content occurs like a thunderbolt from the blue - you're just sitting down at your desk when suddenly creativity and genius zaps you and you create phenomenal content. Well, it doesn't work this way. The best content creators know and understand the value of planning, planning and then some more planning. Which is where content mapping comes in.

A content map outlines your plan of action for your content creation based on the lifecycle of your specific buyer persona. In other words, you're going to want to map out your content for each persona based on the lifecycle stages of awareness, consideration and decision for this lead nurturing campaign.

It All Starts with a Content Audit

Can you honestly say you've been delivering the right content, to the right person at precisely the right time in your content marketing? Chances are fairly good that like most of us, you've got room for improvement in this area. So take the time to give your current content a once over. Assess whether or not it can continue being used, be repurposed, or needs to head for the stale heap.

Begin Plotting Your Course

The next step is taking your content and mapping it to the stages of awareness, consideration and decision for each of your buyer personas - essentially into ToFU, MoFu and BoFu offers and content. You'll find gaps in your map initially, which lets you know the areas you'll need to focus on creating content for first.

Remember that each persona is unique, so you may notice a wealth of content that meets the needs of one, but realise you've got very little in the way of content that addresses another. The whole purpose of content mapping is to see these imbalances corrected and to help you plan and launch effective campaigns going forward.

Start Nurturing Those Leads

As mentioned above, once you've completed your content map, you'll start to spot both gaps and opportunities in your content marketing strategy - lead nurturing campaigns you can get out the gate pronto, and others which may need some work before you can see fruit from them.

Create a scheduling and prioritisation system for lining up these efforts in the order they need to take place, and start launching your campaigns, optimising your pages and creating content that speaks to your individual buyer personas in message and format.

By breaking down your content strategy into a clearly defined map, you're highlighting areas where you can nurture leads with greater efficiency and efficacy. So take the time to create your very own content map, and then start boosting your campaigns with exceptional lead nurturing emails.

Wait, wait, wait ... it seems I jumped the gun again, almost forgetting to mention an important process in lead nurturing best practices, structuring your campaign around the buyer's journey. This helps to inform every piece of content you create and personalise your approach to lead nurturing based on where each individual is in their journey. 

Using the Buyer's Journey to Build a Strong Lead Nurturing Campaign

The buyer's journey has three stages, each defining the position of the lead and their immediate concerns and needs.  

Awareness Stage 

In the awareness stage, your leads have expressed and realised the existence of a potential opportunity or problem in their situations. These guys aren't looking for a sales pitch, but rather information that will help them come to grips with their problem or opportunity. Emails that offer educational content such as eBooks, guides or whitepapers work well to give your them a deeper understanding of their challenge or opportunity.  

Consideration Stage 

When leads move to the consideration stage, they've acknowledged their problem or opportunity, feel comfortable that they understand enough about it to start researching possible approaches or methods for dealing with their situation. In terms of your lead nurturing campaign, now would be the time to offer them comparison whitepapers, expert guides, podcasts or videos revealing how they can solve their issue or harness the opportunity.  

Decision Stage 

By the time they reach this stage, leads will have defined their solution or strategy, and they're looking for information or research to help them make a final decision. They're sure of the solution they want, and they're entering the final stages before deciding who to buy from. This is the time that you can get meaty in terms of your product or solution. Emails offering case studies, product literature, demos or a free trial are used to convince your lead that you're the best choice they can make.  

HubSpot makes lead nurturing a breeze with workflows. You're able to pre-plan the sequence for content delivery based on an initial action, and state the time delay between each. A workflow may look something like this:  

  • Lead downloads eBook A and is added to my workflow  
  • 3 days later they receive an email offer for guide B and they download it  
  • 3 days on they receive an email offer for comparative whitepaper C and they download it  
  • 2 days later they get an email for case study D and they download it  
  • 2 days on they receive an email with an offer for a demonstration and they accept  

Considering the fact that my lead has moved through each stage of the buyers journey (as indicated by the fact he has downloaded or accepted my offers in sequence) I am now able to hand this lead over to sales to 'seal the deal'. I am confident that he has exhibited sufficient buyer intent to be considered a good quality lead by sales.  

With lead nurturing best practices covered off, take a look at what lead nurturing workflows look like in the handy HubSpot portal in our blog.   

The Value of Good lead nurturing

The importance of a great lead nurturing strategy cannot be overstated. It will add significant value to both your leads, in terms of receiving information in a timely manner, and your business in generating 'warmer' leads for the sales team. The leads are naturally more likely to close as a customer, and result in good revenue and the possibility of a high quality referral.

If you find you're generating a fair amount of leads but most of those land up stale, perhaps it's time to look into lead nurturing to ramp up those numbers. Follow all the steps above when working within HubSpot to easily get your lead nurturing set up. Learn more about how to transform your sales and marketing team, and boost your numbers in our handy eBook on Getting to Grips with Marketing and Sales

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