Lead Nurturing

By Jason Konopinski

The cornerstone to the success of any organization are leads.

They feed the pipeline of proposals, contracts, and cashed checks.

If you know someone is investigating your product or service, you can contact them directly, deliver your most well-crafted and benefits-oriented pitch, and use your conversational and negotiation skills to close the sale, and ink the contract.

But there’s an elephant in the room. Too often, organizations are focused on the quick-turn transactional sale and not all leads are created equal.

Lead Nurturing

One of the assumptions marketers often make about web analytics and traffic is that website visitors enter the sales funnel at the top and move neatly from one step to the next, ideally making a purchase decision that nets you or your organization the sale.

They believe, perhaps foolishly, the traditional sales funnel translates easily from offline to online activities. Load up the top of the funnel with unqualified prospects and *voila* – sales fall out the bottom.

The problem with this reasoning is website visitors rarely follow a linear purchase pattern, moving in and out of the sales funnel at various stages.

The model is still useful for visualizing ways in which we can focus our efforts on optimizing the path to purchase, but it doesn’t fully reflect the modern buyer, one armed with open access to information and searching savvy.

A recent study by Latitude found 87 percent of consumers now travel a less linear pathway to final purchase, and paths to purchase may require more steps. Technology has influenced our buying processes, and the modern marketer needs to realign their tactics to align with this new purchase consideration cycle.

You’ve done the hard work to optimize your website with just that right mix of keywords, created valuable educational content for the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel, and converted a decent portion of your web traffic into a list of leads.

Now what? You need a well-planned and thoughtfully executed nurturing campaign to cultivate those leads into customers and/or clients.

What is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing is communicating consistent and meaningful touches with viable prospects to keep your business top-of-mind when it’s time to buy. It’s relationship building via email. Full stop.

By helping prospects understand the value of the work you do, educating them about options, and arming them with the knowledge to make an informed decision, you’re making it easier for them to say “yes” to your offer.

Like a seedling just put into the soil, a captured lead needs a little TLC before it’s ready to bear the fruit of a sale. And just like overwatering and too much sun will kill a seedling, too much attention can leave a captured lead with a bad taste in their mouth — and they’ll go running for the hills.

Set Your Goals

Focused and effective lead nurturing campaigns aren’t born out of nothing. They’re built on specific, tangible goals and deliver unique content drips to lists segmented on behavior.

Leading with a goal will direct the entire campaign — who is receiving the email drip (audience), which assets you are delivering to them via email (content), and the metrics you’ll be using to determine the success of your campaign.

Trying to wake up a dormant list? Generate a whole new slew of leads? Increase the overall quality of your leads?  Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

Know Your Audience

Until you know who you are trying to reach and the business problem you are helping to solve, you’re shooting in the dark. Think about pain points, how your audience views the world, the things that annoy them, and how your product or services makes their life easier.

Buyer personas will help you create valuable, relevant content — and now you can deliver personalized content assets to every single one of your leads in a way that will resonate with them.

Map Content for Personalization

A complete nurture program maps content, offers, and messages into specific segments. The core function of any lead nurturing campaign is education, but you have to deliver the right content at the right time. A lead who downloads a worksheet is top-of-the funnel, so don’t make the mistake of offering bottom-of-the-content such as a free trial or product demo in the very first email you send.

When I sit down to map out a campaign into specific nurture flows, I fire up diagramming software such as Gliffy, identifying the triggers and pathways that brings a lead into the system, and charting out the content, offers, and messages they’ll receive once they are there.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Content-centric lead nurturing isn’t set-and-forget. You won’t know how your campaign is performing unless you have the metrics to tie it back to specific goals. A nurture campaign designed to reinforce branding and awareness can use direct traffic as a success metric.

If you’re looking instead to increase conversions, click-through data from content downloads is your golden goose — and they’ll tell you which content pieces are working and which need a tweak. Building your email newsletter subscriptions? Measure the increase in opt-ins against the lead nurturing campaigns.

Just remember the golden rule of lead nurturing: Like nearly everything in digital marketing, it’s all about relationships.

Meaningful relationships take time and effort to cultivate from those scraggly little seedlings fighting for light into something heavy with fruit — and you have to go into lead nurturing knowing that you’ll never get 100 percent yield.

Some relationships — and leads — never fully flourish, so prune them away and focus on the ones that matter.