Nurture Campaign Best Practices That Improve Lead Conversions by 45%

Highlights

  • Nurture campaign best practices share specific techniques to improve top of mind awareness, increase sales lead conversions, decrease lead leakage and lower the cost per lead.
  • Because lead nurturing occurs early in the sales process even small improvements to conversion rates deliver significant increases in the volume of sales-ready leads sent to the salesforce. And that delivers a big revenue impact.
  • Research shows that successful nurture marketing campaigns improve sales lead conversions by 45 percent.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Nurture Campaign Best Practices

The most recent nurture marketing research shows that only 26 percent of new leads are sales-ready when acquired. The majority of acquired leads are not ready to buy.

Passing unqualified leads to the salesforce wastes their time, lowers their productivity and exacerbates the perennial and often hidden problem of lead leakage.

The better approach is to nurture leads until they demonstrate buy signals and then pass them to the salesforce.

However, lead nurturing isn't easy, and most programs deliver disappointing results. According to the Demand Gen report, titled Lead Nurturing & Acceleration, 60 percent of respondents gave their nurture marketing programs a failing grade.

This post will leverage lead management research and over two decades of first-hand experience to share the top 7 nurture campaign best practices that improve sales lead conversions and program ROI.

Nurture Marketing Explained

Nurture marketing campaigns deliver educational and informational content to potential sales prospects over a set period. They most often send a stream of emails with high value content to new leads, that are not yet sales-ready, until they become sales-ready.

The goals are to share content that buyers find helpful to their purchase process. That creates a dialogue throughout their purchase journey, maintains top of mind awareness with those buyers and converts them to customers. In short, the goal is to get sales prospects to select your solution when they are ready to buy.

The best nurture marketing campaigns align high quality content with each stage of the buyers' journey. This process systemically advances early stage leads from initial interest to the point where they are ready to make a purchase.

These campaigns also ensure that marketing investments are not squandered for leads that have been acquired but are not yet ready to make a purchase.

The 7 Most Important Nurture Campaign Best Practices

1

Start with the Big Picture

To get to your destination via the shortest route, it's important to begin with the end in mind.

You don't need to implement everything at once. But you do need to avoid a piecemeal approach that misses steps, becomes disjointed and doesn't permit extensibility.

Remember, processing sales leads is a high-volume exercise. And just like people, leads are not homogenous. Treating them all the same degrades personalization and relevance, and your conversion rate. Poor or missing steps will exacerbate lead leakage and deteriorate your lead management program ROI.

The below diagram shows a holistic view of the lead nurturing process. Consider using it as a template or starting point.

Lead Nurturing Process
2

Implement Multi-channel Engagement

Sequential email distributions are the norm. Email marketing works but unfortunately it is most often used with generic drip campaigns sent to overly broad audiences.

Diversifying channels, or adopting multi-channel distributions, will meet more prospects in the locations they gather information or frequent, and improve lead conversion rates.

You can use your email communications to introduce prospects to social media and other channels and thereby increase engagement. However, it's important that all channels be coordinated and each leads digital footprints are captured and applied.

Multi-channel distributions may also include display and retargeting. In fact, the most recent nurture marketing research found these two methods most reduced the number of touches needed to convert leads to sales-ready status.

When helping clients we have found online display advertising to be consistently effective. And when you link your marketing automation platform with AdRoll or another display vendor you can automate the delivery of content for each stage of each leads buy cycle journey.

For example, you can display awareness ads to early-stage buyers and display comparison ads to later stage buyers. You can even display content for anonymous prospects or leads for which you don't have an email address.

Our experience has been that online display brings far more leads to the company website. This increases brand exposure which improves email conversions and total engagement, and reduces exposure for competitors.

One caution though, the effectiveness of display or retargeting correlates with the specificity of your target audience segments and quality of your content.

3

Personalize Engagement

One-size-fits-all campaigns deliver low conversions and high opt-out rates. A better approach is to personalize campaigns to deliver relevant, high quality content that makes each prospect feel unique and more likely to engage.

According to a Demand Gen Report, titled Calculating the Real ROI from Lead Nurturing, personalized content increases lead conversion rates by 20 percent.

There are three techniques to personalize the content:

  1. by target audience (i.e., persona or customer segment
  2. by buy cycle phase, and
  3. by behavioral context

Start with campaigns based on buyer persona or customer segment.

Go beyond simple email personalization (i.e., inserting prospect name, title, company information) and focus the message on target audience or role-based pain points, objectives, and interests.

Then map content to the current or next buy cycle phase to advance each lead through their purchase journey.

Prospects move along a purchase continuum from awareness to interest to consideration and then generally form a vendor short list for evaluation.

If a lead consumes interest-type content, you don't want to then deliver awareness-content as that gets ignored or moves the lead backwards. Instead, you want to deliver consideration-type content that moves the lead to down-selecting a vendor shortlist, which you are included.

You can use prospects digital footprints to determine their interests and where they are in the buy cycle.

Some marketers apply customer journey mapping to align content to buy cycle phases. Others apply dynamic content on the website, landing pages or emails to display different versions of a webpage, message or offer based on the reader profile. This later method is easier to maintain because it allows you to modify or adapt content blocks and templates instead of creating multiple artifacts.

Finally, engage in context. For example, if a buyer suddenly increases content consumption, you should decrease the lapse period between scheduled email distributions. You want to strike while the iron is hot.

Or if content regarding a topic or product gets ignored don't continue to deliver more of the same. Instead estimate the next best topic or switch to a different nurture campaign.

Or if the lead score suddenly spikes, deliver content designed for later buy cycle stages.

4

Content is King

Content is the fuel that powers the nurture marketing engine. It comes in many forms such as blog posts, white papers, research insights, case studies and informational videos. Regardless of form, good content solves a problem. Showing how to fix a pain yields the highest conversions.

Your goal here is to deliver useful content that aids your prospect's purchase process and positions your firm as an expert or thought leader. Because your buyer's purchase journey is a progressive process, you content should be as well.

Content Marketing Phases

Content should be categorized by topic, target audience and buy cycle stage. This will allow it to be easily accessed, sequenced, applied to lead score calculations, and measured for effectiveness.

Making it easily searchable also opens it up to salesperson access which avoids salespeople creating their own content and saves countless hours.

Remember, the content goal is not to sell or pitch. It's to help your buyer throughout the purchase journey, be perceived as a trusted advisor and become the go-to source when they are ready to buy.

It's a strategy that works. According to Forrester, salespeople who become trusted advisors and understand the needs of economic buyers are 69 percent more likely to win the deal (source: Forrester US and Europe B2B Marketing Tactics and Benchmarks Online Survey).

5

Communication Cadence

Marketing content frequency, or the periods between email or other distributions, should be logically calculated.

You want to maintain a cadence that keeps the prospect engaged and your brand top of mind but avoids being perceived as too salesy or contributing to brand fatigue.

According to Aberdeen Group, it takes an average of 10 nurture marketing distributions to convert a lead into a revenue generating customer. That may be true, but our own research found the right number of touches depends on your average sales cycle duration and where the lead is in the purchase cycle.

For example, if you have a 60-day sales cycle, sending weekly distributions probably makes sense. However, if you have a 9-month sales cycle, sending weekly distributions would likely overwhelm your prospect.

If you are unsure of the right communication cadence, divide your average sales cycle by 9 and use that figure as the average period between flights. From there you can test and refine.

Don't send more than one interaction per week as that will skyrocket your unsubscribe rate.

We've also found that you can decrease the period between flights if you deliver multiple forms of content. So, compared to just sending email texts which can get monotonous, using a combination of email, audio and video can keep the engagement more interesting and active.

Finally, when scheduling distributions, be mindful of holidays and other dates that should be avoided.

6

Lead Scoring

Getting an accurate lead score is critical to knowing where the lead is in their purchase cycle, when the lead should be removed from the nurture marketing campaign and when the sales lead should be transferred to sales.

The nurture campaign best practice here is to use lead scoring to define where each lead enters the sales funnel, measure lead engagement and track their purchase journey progress.

I’ve written about sales lead scoring best practices elsewhere so won't repeat those here.

7

Real-Time Reporting

Set-it-and-forget-it nurture marketing campaigns will always disappoint.

Real-time reporting is needed to understand what's working, what's not and when to intervene to implement course corrections. You also have to surface under-performing campaigns to determine if they be quickly improved, or should be abandoned so limited funds can be reapplied to higher performing programs.

Industry benchmarks are another valuable information reporting tool, especially when they can be extrapolated for predictive analytics.

Lead Conversion Benchmarks

No list of nurture campaign best practices is complete without referencing the metrics that matter. For each lead you will want to track the following:

  • The lead acquisition source
  • The top buyer content topics or interests
  • All content consumed
  • All flights or other interactions received from your company
  • All communication engagements with the lead
  • The frequency of engagement
  • Lead score

For overall program performance, the top lead key performance indicators (KPI) including the following:

  • Lead receipt disposition (i.e., what percent of acquired leads are sales-ready, not yet sales ready and not qualified)
  • Monthly conversion rate (by lead type)
  • Average conversion velocity
  • Engagement rate by channel and content asset or artifact
  • SAL (Sales Accepted Lead) rate
  • Average lead recycle rate, and
  • Lead leakage rate

The Point of Nurture Campaign Best Practices is This

Managing a nurture marketing program need not be a daunting task. These nurture campaign best practices can be applied individually and incrementally. The most important best practice is to get started and make continuous improvements.

And the proof is in the payback. Research published by MarketingSherpa in their Lead Generation Benchmark Report advised that, "marketing departments with a lead nurturing campaign reported a 45 percent higher ROI than marketing departments that did not utilize lead nurturing."

"Marketing departments with a lead nurturing campaign reported a 45 percent higher ROI than marketing departments that did not utilize lead nurturing."

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Forrester research quantified the payback by showing that even top performers convert only 1.54 percent of all marketing qualified leads to revenue. So, when nurture marketing is applied to the remaining 98 percent, companies "generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost."