Guide to Lead Nurturing
Lead nurturing is a central part of any thriving demand generation strategy.
If you’re a B2B organization building an inbound marketing machine, you know not every lead you capture in is sales ready.
A prospect that just downloaded your latest ebook isn’t likely to have their credit card out… and is usually nowhere near ready to talk to a salesperson.
You don’t need reminding – buyers today are more empowered than ever to educate themselves on multiple solutions to their business challenges and objectives.
But as technology enabled marketers, we can read signals and encourage behaviors that help us to both discover more about our prospects and nudge them along the buying journey.
Bringing us more users, customers, and clients.
So how do we actually do this? By establishing a well planned and executed lead nurturing programme.
This guide was written to help B2B SaaS marketers start or expand their lead nurturing initiative. While the information below isn’t necessarily new, my hope is you’ll take away something to aid you in your demand generation journey.
Lead Nurturing 101
Let’s start with the basics.
What exactly is lead nurturing? How is it done? And who is responsible for it?
If I were to define it, lead nurturing is the act of marketing to a qualified contact in your database for any of the following reasons: to build brand awareness, prove your business’ core value proposition, and encourage behavior that moves your prospect closer to a sign-up or sale.
Lead nurturing is mostly performed by the use of a marketing automation platform – software dedicated to delivering targeted messages to prospects and contacts based on their previous behavior and information gathered about them.
The core mission of lead nurturing is to provide the right message to the right prospect at the right time. And to do this, the content marketing, marketing operations, and sales development teams must work closely together to build a highly valuable and consistent revenue generator.
Is Your Organization Ready for Lead Nurturing?
All of this sounds awesome, how do you get started?
Well, you need to be sure you’re in the position to make proper use of a lead nurturing programme before you build one out.
Because as a smart marketer, one that proves value to your company’s bottom line, you need to invest your time, energy, and resources into the right things at the right stage of your business.
It may seem obvious, but if you’re not generating a decent volume of leads then you really have no reason to “nurture” them at all.
Maybe you need to work on getting more or better traffic to your website… maybe your website needs to convert potential prospects better… maybe your paid advertising campaigns need better targeting… or maybe you need to buy leads!
Regardless, until the sales team is overwhelmed with leads to follow up on, anything beyond the planning stages of a lead nurture campaign may be too much.
So, if you have a quality white paper, case study, or ebook as a lead capture device, send these leads straight to the sales team!
The Ingredients of a Lead Nurturing Programme
Now that you’ve got the what and the why of lead nurturing (and your sales team is preoccupied with following up with leads you’re already giving them) that brings us to the how.
Let’s quickly go over the main ingredients you need to prepare for a stellar nurturing programme: customer personae, buyer stages, and killer content.
Your customer persona is the representation of an ideal prospect that’s looking for (or may soon be in the market for) your service or solution.
It goes without saying that you probably already understand who you’re selling to… I mean, you are making sales right!?
But with a nuanced customer persona – one that’s deeply grounded in reality – you’ll be better equipped to truly empathize with your prospect’s struggles, needs, goals, desires, and so on…
With a detailed persona handy you can speak their language and craft targeted, relevant messaging that’s guaranteed to capture their attention.
We’re living in an attention economy now, so it’s absolutely necessary to dive deep into the mindset of your customers and create marketing that pulls them out of endless distraction.
Interview current customers you have rapport with, hang out in their digital watering holes (and listen/read intently), make notes, and draft a unique “blueprint” or “prototype” of the qualities that make up your ideal prospect.
Give them a name, develop an interesting backstory, describe their company, elaborate on their current business challenges, imagine a future where your solution helps them achieve their goals.
And if you’re selling a complex solution that requires multiple buyers, create rich, compelling personae for each kind of buyer. Trust me, it will pay dividends for you well into the future.
Like I mentioned earlier, every lead you capture won’t immediately be ready to buy what you’re selling.
In fact, it’s estimated that 20% of your buyers will won’t even be ready within a year of first connecting with your brand.
Effective lead nurturing provides meaningful interactions at whichever stage a prospect is in, for however long that prospect is there.
Also known as the “buyer journey”, buyer stages generally fit into three main categories: awareness, consideration, and decision. In “funnel-speak” these align with top-of-funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel..
At the awareness stage, one of two things (maybe both, even) is happening. First, your prospect is educating themselves of the category of product or service that your business exists in. Second, your prospect is becoming aware of you and your brand. And if you’re lucky, both are happening at the same time.
When your prospect is in the awareness stage, your marketing goals are: to position your business as the category leader, to educate prospects on your high level value proposition, to build trust in your brand, and to pitch your core company mission and values.
In the consideration stage, your prospect is wanting to learn more about how specifically your company can solve their needs.
Here, you can showcase how well you understand the particular challenge your prospect faces (because you created a stellar buyer persona) and how your solution solves them.
And finally, at the decision stage, your prospect is deciding whether to pull the trigger with your solution, a competitor’s solution, or any solution at all.
Here you want to go deep with how specifically your solution fits into their ecosystem. Some prospects are looking for definitive proof, some are looking for technical feasibility, some may be looking for reasons to rationalize a decision they’ve already made in their mind.
You can make your buyer journey more or less complicated, but the intention is to understand your prospect’s psychology as they make their way from first touch to first purchase. What were they thinking about when they signed up for your newsletter? Or watched your webinar? Or read your case study?
Speaking of webinars and case studies…
Now that you have your persona and funnel stages handy, it’s time to create some killer content!
Content is how you tell your brand story and convey the value your business brings to the world. With content marketing being the discipline of creating engaging experiences that educate, inform, and even entertain your prospects.
Having a skilled marketer that can synthesize buyer persona and buyer stage, as well as craft meaningful messaging across different mediums will make your lead nurturing efforts a breeze.
Let’s quickly go over content that’s appropriate for each buyer stage:
When prospects are in the awareness stage, you’ll want to invest in content that educates them on the kinds of problems you solve. An infographic or blog series would be a perfect fit.
Or if you want to share more of your company’s history, use video to capture your founder or CEO telling the story.
Another great use of video for this stage is customer testimonials. Get people that love your company to share their experience and how they’ve benefitted from your service or solution. High quality social proof will help you quickly establish authority in your niche.
At the consideration stage, introduce your product or service as a solution to your prospect’s challenges. Webinars are a perfect fit for prospects at this stage of the buyer journey. When an expert presents the problem in detail, shows prospects that they “get it”, then introduces something that solves that problem, AND leaves time for Q&A, that’s a home run for your company.
Other great content pieces for the consideration stage include case studies, video series, or, if you’re ambitious, a “university” or educational hub.
The decision stage is when you want to start getting live humans involved. Sales development reps will be called in to engage with prospects and consult them on how to solve their problems.
Any content that can prove your business case will aid at this stage. Implementation details, user manuals, pre-onboarding materials, help documentation, etc.
Knowing what each buyer type will need to move forward with your product will help you make the right kind of content for them. A CTO, CEO, and VP of Marketing may all be involved in the sale and each one will need to know something different to make an educated decision. If you have a complex sale like this, help each of them out.
Start Where You Are
Hopefully you already have content handy that speaks to your prospects at different buyer stages. If not, start where you are, with what you have, and build from there. Aim for about a dozen pieces of high quality content; that’s enough to begin putting together a lead nurture programme.
And if you feel overwhelmed with the amount of content you could make, just understand that the real aim isn’t to drag each and every prospect all the way from the top of the funnel to the bottom, it’s to discover who your prospects are (and how engaged they are with your content) so you know if – and how – you should approach them to start the sales conversation.
Let’s Build Your Marketing Machine
Now the fun really begins, it’s time to build your marketing machine!
If you haven’t invested in a marketing automation platform yet, it’s about time you do so. Marketo, Pardot, and Hubspot are mainstays for wiring together sophisticated nurture programmes, but there are plenty more out there.
Get yourself or your marketing ops specialist on G2Crowd, watch a few webinars and YouTube videos, sign up for free trials, and eventually you’ll be sure find a solution that fits your business’ size and needs.
So now that you have your tools locked down, let’s start getting your hands dirty. Our MAP fulfills four core functions: to capture leads, to market to them, to score them, and to deliver them to the sales team.
Let’s go over how to orchestrate each, starting with why and how to score leads:
On “Scoring” Leads
One of the main value propositions of marketing automation is the ability to “score” your leads. Scoring leads means giving your prospects a “grade”, usually in the form of a number, based upon what information you’ve captured and the level of interaction they’ve had with your content.
You can assign numeric values to pieces of content, and when your prospect engages with that content you increase their score by that amount. Simple and powerful.
For example, if a lead downloads an ebook from your website, you give them points. If they attend a webinar, that’s more points for them. If they tell you they’re the VP of the department your product is made for, bonus points! If they visit certain high value pages, like your pricing page, you guessed it… more points.
The higher a prospect’s score, the more you can assume they are somewhat interested in your brand. At some point you’ll want to hand the prospect to the sales team so they can engage them with a personal touch.
We’ll cover lead handoffs more later, but setting up the threshold for sending leads to sales is an iterative process, maintaining a balance of quality and volume.
Share Your Content & Capture Leads
Now you need to create a great landing page for your best content. Offer a high quality asset in exchange for a bit about them and their email address.
There’s an art and a science to asking the right amount of information from a prospect. More form fields usually result in a lower conversion rate, and fewer form fields usually spell more unqualified prospects.
Many marketing automation platforms solve this problem by “progressive profiling.” This lets you request additional information for each piece of gated content your prospect engages with, creating a healthy balance of quality UX for your prospect and vital information captured in your database.
Getting traffic to your forms and landing pages can be the topic of a whole other article, but you’ll want to promote your killer content as much as possible. Search traffic, paid traffic, social media, email marketing, events, etc.
Share your stuff with world in whatever way you can!
Deliver The Right Message To Your Prospects
We’ve been leading up to this moment this entire time… now you have fresh contacts and you have great content, it’s time to market to your prospects!
Email marketing is, and forever will be, the main channel for delivering content. But setting up a regular email newsletter is table stakes. With a MAP there’s so much more you can do.
Let’s take a look at a few nurture campaigns types:
Follow Up Lanes
Once you’ve captured a lead from a piece of gated content, one common tactic is to continue sending them content that naturally follows what they received.
A blog post revealing a unique angle, a PR piece showing them who you are, a webinar that dives deep into the topic, and so on.
It’s clear they were interested in what you had to offer from downloading the first piece of content, so sharing more of the same would be expected.
Another option is to set up different campaigns based upon lead score. We discussed the buyer stages and appropriate content earlier, now put them to good use.
Let’s say, for example, you hand leads to the sales team when a prospect achieves 150 points. A great way to move prospects along the funnel is to market to them where they are.
Make three separate nurture campaigns for 0-50, 50-100, and 100-150, each “lane” representing a different buyer stage: awareness, consideration, and decision.
Only send awareness content to prospects in the 0-50 range, consideration content to 50-100, and decision content for 100-150. As long as you add content for each buyer stage on a regular schedule, you can continue to add these pieces to each campaign, and regular marketing to your prospects.
Marketing automation software can capture all sorts of data points about your leads. One interesting one to consider is how quickly and how often leads engage with your messages. We can use that data to adjust the frequency marketing materials is sent.
Let’s say, for example you usually send emails to prospects once a week. Consider setting up a lane for prospects that tend to open your emails the same day, and email that group twice a week. Give them what they want, which hopefully is more of your content!
Conversely, for prospects that seem to interact with your content less, make a lane for them too where you send material only every other week or once a month.
A good way to keep your database clean (and open rates high) is to remove prospects that don’t appear to be engaging in any way with your content. If they haven’t opened the last nine emails you sent them, do you really think they’d open the tenth? Don’t spend time or money on leads that go cold, unsubscribe them yourself!
While email remains the default channel for nurturing prospects in your database, you can take your campaigns to the next level by creating an integrated multi-channel marketing strategy.
Online ad networks that allow for retargeting custom audiences (like Facebook, GDN, and now LinkedIn) offer you the opportunity to nurture prospects outside their inbox.
Setup retargeting campaigns based on which pages prospects have already visited and retarget them with content that would move them one step further in the buyer journey.
Another tactic is personalizing your website with dynamic content based on a prospect’s segment. A great example is saving space for a “featured piece” on your website then showing different content to prospects based on their title.
Some MAPs integrate other channels like SMS, direct mail, and messenger style apps. So if your product and marketing is fit for delivering through those channels, experiment with them!
Warning: Don’t over engineer your automation. It’s initially exciting to construct elaborate multi-channel nurture campaigns, but consider the time you’ll spend putting it together, testing it, and maintaining it. That time is likely better spent on other projects.
Deliver Your Leads to the Sales Team
If you’ve done your job well: identified the right leads, provided them great content, and kept track of the right kinds of engagement, you can pass these highly qualified leads to the sales team.
Your MAP’s integration with many CRMs makes it easy to automatically send over leads that meet certain criteria.
These leads each have a unique story that’s been recorded in your marketing automation. Vital information such as where you first captured their information, which web pages they’ve visited, what pieces of content they’ve downloaded, and so on.
SDRs prospecting into these warm leads can leverage this information to craft unique messages based on their history with your brand so far.
Meet with the SDRs Regularly
Now that your SDR team is interacting with your MQLs, you can get some direct feedback on the quality of your leads.
Ask the inbound team about the conversations they’re having, the stories they’re hearing, which messaging resonates, if prospects truly get your value proposition, how motivated they are, etc.
This is also a great time to answer any questions the SDRs may have about the campaigns you’re running. Say you introduce a new webinar series that prospects are highly engaged with, you could collaborate on a good angle to reach out with.
Also learn the conversion rates at the bottom of the funnel: the number of warm leads that engage in conversation, how many convert into business opportunities, and the win rate on those opportunities.
Keep Tabs on Your Leads
If you would believe it, there’s actually another journey after the sale: from new customer to brand evangelist. I won’t be going into it here – it’s another great topic for another whole article. Regardless, it may be useful to keep tabs on the leads you won with your lead nurture sequences.
Besides the satisfaction of knowing which customers purchased as a result of your marketing machine, you gain legitimacy as a revenue driving marketer. Double down on your effective campaigns.
Analyse and Optimize
By now you have a consistent marketing funnel working from beginning to end; from sourcing leads to delivering them to the sales team. Treat yourself! It takes a lot to get all the pieces together and working smoothly.
The work isn’t over yet, however. The next project your team should undertake is getting the machine to work better. Just image the number of things you can improve in a multi-touch, multi-channel marketing campaign.
Lift Each Touch Point
From testing fresh subject lines in your nurture emails, to switching up the arrangement of your content, to adding new images on retargeting display ads, to experimenting with the days and the time of day you sent emails… there’s many points of leverage to squeeze more juice out of your campaigns.
But it’s best to take a “Kaizen” approach to optimization. Meaning, don’t change everything at once! When you make drastic changes it’s hard to track what worked and what didn’t. Continuous, incremental improvement across each touchpoint will go much further than you think.
Just consider, each percent you increase engagement on each touch point directly affects your contribution to the bottom line for the company. If that’s not an incentive to turn over every rock you can, I don’t know what is!
See the Patterns
While learning the whole story of a individual prospect is easy for the SDR and sales teams, learning the whole story of a segment of prospects is a little more challenging.
Here’s where implementing a tagging system can help. When you’re setting up your nurture campaigns, tag everything!
Here’s a best practice: think of the questions you’ll likely ask yourself at the end of the month or quarter. Like: which content did prospects interact with most? Which conversion points provided the most leads? Which campaigns were effective in moving prospects along the buyer journey?
You’ll want to know these answers – and tagging is one way to do this kind of analysis.
Each tag is a data point. When you add tagging functionality, you’re capturing little bits of data. Once a segment of prospects has made their way through your marketing automation, learn the answers to your questions by running the numbers on their tags.
You may need to fire up Excel and spend an afternoon reacquainting yourself with Pivot Tables, but it’s worth the potential headache. Time and energy you invest in doing this kind of analyzing will reveal what’s working and where the opportunities are.
Push Your Score
Finding the right time to hand leads over to the sales team is something you’ll also want to test.
You can send more or less leads based on the threshold you set for MQLs. In this sense, Marketing Qualified Leads are the most “gameable” – you can dictate the definition of an MQL by simply adjusting a number in your MAP.
One suggestion is to start the threshold low and increase it over time. Meaning send more leads first then tighten the criteria for sending them after establishing a certain rhythm and a certain volume of leads.
As you optimize your automation campaigns, and prospects are becoming more engaged on average, raise the score required to become an MQL. If you do it right, you may be able to keep the same amount of leads but have them be a higher quality.
I’ve read that for SaaS companies, conversion rates from MQL to SQL are anywhere from 7%-20%. Work to always increase that number. That’s how you get on sales’ good side.
That about covers, very broadly, everything you need to execute a lead nurture programme.
As most things in marketing, it starts with understanding and empathizing deeply with your buyer persona. Knowing their buyer journey and creating killer content for them for each stage is how you drive engagement with your brand.
Setup your marketing automation platform to capture the essential information about a prospect and put them on a path that educates them on who you are, what value you bring to customers, and similar brands that have had success with your service or solution.
Optimize your campaigns for maximum engagement and test everything. You’ll never be out of things you can try to drive open rates, click through rates, webinar attendance, and so on. Go multichannel and include SMS, retargeting ads, or direct mail.
Do this and you’ll deliver more and hotter leads to the sales team over time. You’ll now have a predictable revenue driver for your business.
Good luck with the journey!