This past April I presented on behalf of Bold Commerce at The Advertising Association of Winnipeg three lead nurturing strategies that I thought every B2B business should consider. This blog post is a recap of the day, and some of my thoughts.
When was the last time you were nurtured?
For the past 5 years, we have seen an increased need for companies to automate their lead funnel to qualify more leads to become sales-ready.
And I think this can be attributed back to eCommerce companies that really kicked this off with automated funnel emails. When was the last time you received an email letting you know that you had items left in your cart, that you were due for an upgrade, or that your favourite item was back in stock?
In the world of B2B, there was an opportunity to develop a brand new process using this methodology, but since you often have a longer sales cycle and more stakeholders involved, this led the way in utilizing email lead nurturing strategies.
What is Lead Nurturing?
Simply put, lead nurturing is the strategy of taking an individual lead and moving them closer towards a purchase or other type of conversion.
In this example, we are sending the newly opted-in lead a welcome email, and then using lead nurturing to qualify them and move them further down the funnel, automatically. If leads show interest and are engaged, we can make the assumption that they want to schedule a sales call or a demo, and if they engaged and maybe click through to the demo or sales page, we might want to further nurture them with a video or next steps to getting started.
On the other hand, if the lead has shown zero interest and no engagement, we want to end the campaign for them and remove the lead for now.
Drip Campaigns vs. Nurture Campaigns
Lead nurturing often confused with another form of email marketing called “drip campaigns.” And while this is not necessarily wrong, drip campaigns are sent regardless of recipient interaction, whereas nurture campaigns are based on the recipient’s behavior.
Every lead that is generated will receive all emails – regardless of whether they have taken the next desired action. With lead nurturing, you are building your automation rules to reduce friction, decrease drop-off or drive that lead to take the next action. A lead nurturing strategy breaks down the touchpoints a lead goes through and organizes these points into sequential starts and finishes that link together.
In this example, the email drip is running regardless of engagement. An example of when you’d want to use a drip campaign is for onboarding - by providing resources for a client to get started with your company after a close. And an example of when you’d use a nurture campaign is by using it as an opportunity to introduce yourself to potential customers (without being too sales-y) to create a pattern of engagement.
Email-based lead nurturing is (in my professional opinion) the most common and effective way of driving a lead down the funnel.
Lead Nurturing Strategies
Your email lead nurturing strategy should contain emails that are both proactive and reactive. Proactive emails are meant to anticipate the next intended action or need, and to get in front of the individual to stay top of mind to ultimately drive the action downstream. Reactive emails are meant to play off of an engagement the customer took, or didn’t take, that is causing you to reach out.
In email marketing it is critical you strike a balance between both in order to build a relationship with the customer. If every email you send is reactive, then your emails can feel creepy (and people don’t like feeling like their information is being misused) or be too late to make a difference. And that’s where I think eCommerce companies do it really well - items left in cart - gentle nudge - or hey, you’re due for an upgrade.
So how can we do that in B2B?
Content nurturing is a strategy marketers use to stay in front of prospects, providing relevant, worthwhile content to warm them up until they are ready for sales. According to MarketingSherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert to sales. Lack of lead nurturing is the #1 cause for poor performance.
Break up the customer journey into content topics or persona-based journeys to organize your messaging strategy. From there, build automated email based on the phases of intent of your prospect.
An example of this could be a nurturing track for prospective customers for a marketing automation platform. When they download a comparison guide for the top marketing automation platforms, kick off a nurturing sequence towards starting a trial on your platform.
As you can see from this example, some leads will download a piece of content and immediately want to schedule a demo with your sales team. Others will click-through but not follow through, so in this case we’ll want to continue nurturing them until they are sales ready. Other leads will download a piece of content and never hear from them again, and that’s fine. What a content nurturing strategy will look like will depend on your own goals, but if the goal is get demos or sales calls from a particular piece of content - say a comparison guide - there is no better way to stay top-of-mind than by nurturing your leads with contextual and relevant content that compliments what they originally signed up for.
In my opinion, you can (and should!) create email nurturing tracks for each phase of the process in order to combat drop-off and accelerate your funnel velocity.
Customer onboarding is the nurturing process that gets new users and customers acquainted and comfortable with your product. An exceptional customer onboarding program involves step-by-step tutorials, helpful guidance and support, and celebrations when a customer achieves success milestones using your product or service.
The first days, weeks or couple of months after making a purchase can be the most critical time for many B2B products and services. In this time period, companies need to quickly plan, implement and convert over to their new product or service, and doing this successfully can make or break the relationship.
Where human onboarding doesn’t make sense or to supplement your customer success strategy, developing an onboarding lead nurturing drip to provide perfectly timed useful resources, training materials, tips or reminders can provide the additional support your customers are looking for.
As you can see from this example, the goal is to get our leads product qualified so sales can reach out. When a new lead signs up for a free trial or a demo, we want to push them further down the funnel with helpful emails so they are comfortable enough and ready to speak with sales. Of course, not everyone who signs up for a trial will convert, and that’s why we will include our content nurturing strategy from the previous slide that will continuously provide perfectly timed useful content and resources
Losing a prospect to a competitor or due to internal turnover can be disappointing – especially after you spent valuable time working on closing the deal. In some cases though, these lost leads can become valuable opportunities in the future. A win-back email campaign is a series of targeted and personalized messages you send to your lapsed customers. If they’re dormant, they often just need a gentle nudge to wake them up.
As we can see from this example, when leads are not engaged, one way to automate your winback process is to add the “Inactive subscriber” tag to this segment. A win-back sequence is typically ran at the end of the campaign as a last chance to win back these lost leads. If leads re-engage here, you can begin nurturing them again, and if they are still stale, it’s probably best to remove them from your list altogether so you’re not hurting your sender reputation and being spammy if they don’t want to engage with you.
There are several types of emails that you could send in a workflow. Your first win-back email could be about any recent product or service updates. Or, you can tell them about lower prices or deals. You could even share your brand's story to engage with sentimentality.
As you can see, there are many ways to use lead nurturing emails to drive increased engagement, conversion and revenue throughout your funnel – and I’m only scratching the surface. Many of the strategies above can also be applied across business types with some message tweaking and creativity on how it applies to your business. And you can even put them all together to automate your entire journey!
Christian Baun is a marketing automation specialist with a background in demand generation, content marketing and email marketing.