Lead nurturing, done well, can yield TREMENDOUS results. A few stats to consider:

  • Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost. (Source: Forrester Research)
  • Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. (Source: The Annuitas Group)
  • Lead nurturing emails get 4-10 times the response rate compared to standalone email blasts. (Source: SilverPop/DemandGen Report)
  • Companies that excel at lead nurturing have 9% more sales reps making quota. (Source: CSO Insights)
  • Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads. (Source: DemandGen Report)

So what, exactly, is lead nurturing, how does it work, and how is it “done well”?

According to Oracle and a few others, lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with leads who are not yet ready to buy.

We agree, and would add a bit more to that sentence.

Once and for all, here you go:

Lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with leads who are not yet ready to buy, by providing them with valuable information relevant to their specific interests and their decision process, in a sequence of emails delivered over time, so that YOU will be top-of-mind when they’re ready to become someone’s customer.

Now that we have it defined, how, exactly, does it work?

If you do a web search on “lead nurturing” or “define lead nurturing,” you’ll find a ton of information – and, sadly, much of it is… well, it’s not wrong, but it’s not strong either. Right on page 1 of search results is an article from Oracle that states, “Successful lead nurturing anticipates the needs of the buyer based on who they are (using profile characteristics, such as title, role, industry, and so on) and where they are in the buying process.”

I mean, you *could* do lead nurturing based on profile characteristics (easy to get, so fairly simple to implement), or on where they are in the buying stage (less easy to discern, thus making the job complex and therefore less likely to be done), but why would you do that when there a MUCH better – and much simpler – way to do it?

Let your leads tell you how to nurture them

As I mentioned above, lead nurturing is a sequence of emails, otherwise known as a nurturing sequence. Nurturing sequences are triggered when a lead takes a specific action (in the case of automated nurturing sequences) or has taken a specific action (in the case of manual nurturing sequences).

That key word there is “triggered.” A “done well” nurturing plan works in response to triggers – the actions that are taken by the people in your list. How is that different from how Oracle suggests?

Imagine that you sell leadership training to large companies, and you have a sequence of value-packed emails linking to blog posts designed to deepen the conversation around leadership training.

  • A “not wrong but not strong” nurturing plan arbitrarily decides that everyone with the job title of “HR Director” is the decision maker for purchasing leadership training. That could be entirely wrong for a large percentage of your potential clients.
  • A “done well” nurturing plan triggers the nurturing sequence based on a known lead’s visit to a specific page on the website, to a specific blog post on the website, or in response to the download of “The Definitive Guide to Leadership Development,” your popular eBook.

See the difference? In the second scenario, you’d be nurturing the people who are interested in leadership training, regardless of their job title. Could that be why, as quoted above, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost? (Yup.)

Lead Nurturing, in Real Life

Take FitGolf as an example. Fitgolf helps golfers with three specific issues – consistency, distance (power), and mitigating pain. After we showed them the simpler way to do lead nurturing, they created a practice of segmenting their leads into those three interest buckets. New leads either choose their primary interest (bucket) right on the website, or they receive an email (called a segmentation email) asking which issue they feel is impacting them the most. FitGolf then created a series of three nurturing emails for each interest segment.

Their words, after implementing the segmentation and nurturing sequences:

“We went from zero engagement and zero active to 600 engaged and 50-60 new leads. We are experiencing Click rates are in the upper 30% when they were about 5-10% in the past. There are 600 people engaged, and 10 percent replying with “this article was great”. 

FitGolf is exceeding the statistic we quoted above – “Lead nurturing emails get 4-10 times the response rate compared to standalone email blasts.” Zero to 600 in nine emails – can you imagine what that kind of increase has done for their business?

Or look at Adaptive Road, who hired an outside firm to send emails to a huge list of likely targets. After sending to approximately 14,000 leads, the outside firm had booked 62 meetings for the client.

Sounds great, right? Until you realize that is less than half of one percent (0.4%, to be precise). But that’s not the worst of it… of those 62 meetings, only 8 of the leads were actually qualified. So a sales rep held 62 meetings – 62 hours booked off of his calendar – to basically disqualify 87% of them and only move 8 leads forward (12.9%).

By contrast, however, the marketing team set up a nurturing sequence designed to get people enrolled in the subject matter by providing valuable information over time. They didn’t get many leads carved out of the big list to experiment on, but look at their results.

They engaged with 328 people, booked 5 meetings (1.5%), and of those 5 meetings, 4 were qualified and moved to the next sales level – an 80% qualification rate.

Based on those statistics, the same 8 qualified leads could have been achieved with 10 meetings, keeping 52 hours free on the calendar for other sales pursuits. No wonder, as quoted above, “companies that excel at lead nurturing have 9% more sales reps making quota.

The Keys to a “Done Well” Nurturing Plan

There are a few things to get right to implement a “done well” nurturing plan, and once you get these pinned down, you’ll have them forever (or until you have a substantial change in your business). Get these right and you’ll have a “done well” nurturing plan in place in no time.

  1. Understand your segments. This is more than demographics, as we’ve discussed in prior posts. Personally, I like to think about segments in terms of the different conversations I might have with someone based on what they’re interested in, what particular problem they’re trying to solve, or what motivation they have to make a change or learn something new. For example, if I were selling workforce development programs, I might have a different conversation with someone who is trying to advance in their career versus someone who is trying to break into a new career.
  2. Get leads to tell you what segments they’re in. You can do as Fitgolf has done – send a segmentation email and/or add a “choose here” section to your website, or you can simply watch what pages people view, what documents they download from your site, what posts they read, and what they click in an email. (You should be able to do all of that automatically. If you can’t, get a system that allows that, like ours does).
  3. Create the sequences and set up the triggers. We went deep into how many emails and their content in another post, here: Nurturing Sequences Are… How Many Emails? The most critical thing is to set up the triggers so that you capture the people who are actually interested in a specific topic. You can (or should be able to) trigger a nurturing sequence when:
    • A known lead views a specific page or post on your website
    • A new or known lead fills out a form on your website
    • A new or known lead opts in to receive a download
    • A lead clicks through a particular link in an email you’ve sent
    • A lead completes another sequence
    • A lead lands in a particular lead type (list) for some other reason

Bottom line – when you leverage the data you collect from what leads tell you by their actions (also known as first party data), you can engage leads based on their interests. No more assumptions based on demographics. No more blasting the list to get people to do something. No more guessing about what interests people. They’ll tell you everything you need to know when you “listen.”

A Few Final Important Notes

Lead nurturing campaigns and drip campaigns are not the same thing. A drip campaign (fortunately that term seems to have fallen out of common use, but still) is simply a series of emails, delivered over time. The emails in a drip campaign might not even be connected to each other, and likely are related to what the marketer wants to say, not what the lead is actually interested in.

Nurturing campaigns and autoresponders are also not the same thing. We go into that in depth in this post: An Autoresponder Is Not What You Want.

And finally, the cherry on top of this lead nurturing sundae:

Just like you want to automate the triggering of nurturing sequences, you also want to be able to SUSPEND nurturing sequences if a lead takes the action you want them to take.

That’s right. Think about it. How much do you love getting emails asking you to do something that you’ve already done? (Not at all, right?) So if you have a nurturing sequence designed to move people along their buying journey – and they BUY before the nurturing sequence is complete, you want to have an automated way to turn off the nurturing sequence (and maybe start a new one related to their purchase). Easy when you’ve got the right system.

Master Lead Nurturing

Is it worth building a “done well” lead nurturing strategy? You bet it is. It’s proven in the case studies we’ve shared and borne out in the statistic we’ve gathered from a variety of sources. What would happen to your business if any or all of these things came true? What if…

  • You could generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost?
  • Your customers made 47% larger purchases than they did before you were using “done-well” lead nurturing?
  • Your lead nurturing emails were getting 4-10 times the response rate compared to your standalone email blasts?
  • You had 9% more sales reps making quota?
  • Your leads represented a 20% increase in sales opportunities?

Do lead nurturing well, and these types of results could be yours.