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Best Practices

The B2B Marketer’s 4-Stage Guide To Better Lead Nurturing

I love lead nurturing. I really do. I’m a demand gen guy, so that’s expected, but I also talk to a lot of demand gen marketers who aren’t doing lead nurturing, and that makes me sad. Why?
Lead nurture programs are amazing on many levels.

They have the potential to:

  • Be a top driver of funnel performance, sales pipeline, and revenue
  • Take a fairly cold database and warm it up
  • Keep people engaged with who you are and the problems that you solve
  • Hum happily along in the background, even during those lighter times of year (like the summer and over the holidays)
  • To capture latent demand that exists in your database by staying present and top-of-mind
  • Provide easy ways for people to engage with you

That’s a lot of potential!

The reality is that most lead nurture programs aren’t really living up to their potential. According to the 2017 Demand Gen Report Lead Nurturing & Acceleration Survey, 77% of marketers state their lead nurture programs ‘need improvement’ or are ‘average’ at best. We can do better than that. As we hit the ground running in 2018, let’s make this the year we commit to nurturing better so we can get the most out of our lead nurture efforts!

We’ve seen success with our lead nurture program at PathFactory, so I’ve taken our learnings and boiled them down to a simple 4-stage formula. Use this to evaluate and level-up your existing lead nurture program or build something new from the ground-up:

Stage 1: Targeting

Proper targeting ensures the right lead gets the right message at the right time. There are many ways to slice your data so you can build nurture tracks around what your audience is looking for. There are several attributes to consider when deciding how to segment your audience:

Solutions

If your company has several solutions sold in different spaces, you can take a solutions approach. In this case, you’d want many independent nurture tracks for each solution

Persona

If you sell into different levels or functional areas of an organization, develop nurture streams specifically for each persona.

Funnel stage

People at the top of the funnel should receive different content than those at the bottom. It makes sense that prospects ready to sign on the dotted line want different information than someone who’s never heard of you.

Topic

Segmentation based on topic area is a newer trend many cutting-edge marketers are exploring right now. If prospect’s show engagement in a particular subject, build out a nurture track around that specific pain point or idea.

Industry

Many B2B organizations have several industries interested in their service or product. A conversation with someone in forestry would look very different than a conversation with someone in data storage, so it makes sense that your nurture tracks should treat them uniquely as well.

Segmentation will only work if you have the right data available. You need to accurately identify which prospect falls into which segments or else your nurture tracks won’t have their intended effect. So where does this data come from? There are a few possible places:

  • CRM and MAP: If you’re using customer relationship management and/or marketing automation software, you already have great data at your fingertips.
  • Data Append: If you don’t have those tools available, you can use something called a data append. Examples of these solutions include players like Datanyze, DiscoverOrg, Dun & Bradstreet, DataFox, and many more!
  • Engagement Data: What each prospect is actually engaging with indicates what they’re interested in learning more about (much like the Topics segment described above). This is where platforms like PathFactory or Vidyard can provide helpful content engagement data.

Stage 2: Mapping

Now that you know who you’re trying to reach, it’s time to figure out how to get the right piece of content into their hands at the right time. To nail the delivery piece, consider the following:

Take a content inventory

Many marketers are under the impression they need net new content for every nurture track. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Think about all the content you already have–the webpages, blog posts, eBooks, videos, PDFs, third party reports, customer stories, and more. It’s important to prioritize your BEST content, not just your newest content. Use available data to learn which content performs best, what’s underperforming, and how each asset fits into the the segments you outlined in Stage 1.

Map out email touches

Once you know where all of your best content fits, it becomes easy to map out your tracks. When mapping your email touches, think of it as a journey. Ask yourself: What is the order of content you want to walk prospects through? Every aspect of each email touch and the order in which they are delivered should be very deliberate.

Stage 3: Build

Once you have your high-level considerations in place, it’s time to start building.

Copy and artwork

Email copy and artwork is always the best place to start. Look back over past emails and see which have performed well. For example:

  • Which ‘from’ names have worked best?
  • How long are the subject lines of the top performing emails?
  • Which call-to-action copy gets the most click-throughs (and which gets the least)?
  • Do certain email lengths resonate better with your audience?
  • When it comes to artwork, does your audience prefer colorful, splashy banner images, or more straightforward, simple ones? Does artwork featuring real people get more engagement?

In order to answer these questions, you should Always Be Testing (ABT).

Image: lightbulb Text: Pro Tip: ABT (Always Be Testing) A/B test a few or all of your emails to continuously optimize your programs when emailing large groups.

 

Build logic

Now it’s time to pull everything together. In its most basic form, a nurture program delivers one email per week to everyone in the database. But we know better than that! Different segments of your database are interested in different types of information and want to consume it at different rates. For example, buyers who are more sales-ready typically consume a lot of information faster (at PathFactory, we call these ‘fast moving buyers’). In this case, it’s better to create nurture streams that certain buyers can fall into to receive the messaging and email cadence that suits their needs best.

At PathFactory, we first segment our database by funnel stage. They fall into 3 groups: top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. Within each group, there are 3 streams. The email touches are the same for each stream; the only difference is the speed at which they’re delivered. We’ve built logic into our MAP to identify when prospects seem interested in self-educating faster so we can adapt our email cadence to match their consumption habits.

And remember, you can start building all of this even before you’ve completed all the emails. It’s easy enough to go back to add, remove, and revise emails in the program over time. This is how we roll at PathFactory to stay fast and agile. We affectionately refer to this method as ‘Building the Plane While Flying’.

Image: Lightbulb Text: Pro Tip: You can 'Build the Plane' while flying. Meaning, don't be afraid to start building your nuture logic before every piece is 100% complete.

Capitalize on attention

Keep in mind that, while you’ve lovingly curated your buyer’s journey, it’s unlikely it will play out exactly as planned. A prospect probably won’t click through and engage with every single email touch. So, it’s important to hold their attention as long as possible when you’re fortunate enough to get it.

Buyer attention is fleeting. Remember that today’s B2B buyers have B2C lives too. In their B2C lives they purchase on Amazon, binge watch tv shows on Netflix, and are entertained by cat videos on YouTube. In short, they’re used to uninterrupted sequences of content. Why not offer them that same experience in a lead nurture program? Providing ‘next best’ or ‘recommended’ content after the primary piece helps keep prospects moving through their journey faster than if they had to wait for it to land in their inbox (and simply hoping they’ll consume it).

This may sound complicated but it doesn’t have to be. It’s super easy to write skip logic in your MAP so if a prospect has already engaged with a piece of content, they won’t receive the email touch that points to that asset. This keeps your touches fresh and your prospects intrigued.

Image: Lightbulb Text: Pro Tip: Keep it Fresh. Avoid sending emails leading to content a prospect has already engaged with.

Think outside the inbox

There are a lot of other ways people can find your content. Emerging technologies allow marketers to adjust the content offer and message dynamically depending on where a person is in their nurture. This opens up a world of possibility.

Consider going multi-channel and aligning your content offers according to where a prospect is in their nurture flow. Do this across display ads, retargeting, paid social, and even your website. This way, no matter the avenue a prospect is on, the message and content will be fresh and align to the journey you’ve mapped out for them.

Stage 4: Measure

You can pour time and resources into building a shiny new lead nurture program but, at the end of the month, how will you know it’s working?
I’ve spoken to many high performing marketers and some cutting-edge success metrics they look at include:

  • Binge rate: How many pieces of content a prospect consumes in a single session.
  • Time on content: How long a prospect is spending on different pieces of content. Here I mean your eBooks, infographics, videos–not just webpages.
  • MQLs/SQLs: How your lead nurture contributes to the generation of qualified leads.
  • Revenue: How is your content contributing to the bottom line? If your lead nurture and content isn’t moving the needle on revenue, it indicates something is wrong. Time to go back and reassess.

Down with landing pages

Considering all the moving pieces – subject lines, CTAs, email copy, cadence – be careful not to lose sight of how you will deliver your nurture program. The content delivery and customer experience side – what your prospect experiences after they click – is just as important as how they got there (if not more important). Although it may seem against-the-grain, consider removing all barriers, such as forms and landing pages. Think about it: You already know their email (you’ve just emailed them), and you know enough of their details for them to have landed in that nurture stream, so what more could you possibly need?

At PathFactory, we’ve removed every single landing page from our entire lead nurture experience. We feel landing pages create an unnecessary friction point, especially if an individual is already known to your database. We’ve found it’s far more impactful to take a prospect directly to the primary piece of content, and then provide them with the opportunity to consume even more if they’re interested. This way, they essentially self-nurture, and fast track themselves through their journey. If they’re consuming content fast enough, we create a ‘fast-moving buyer’ alert for our inside sales team so they can strike while the iron’s hot.

Using engagement as a measure of qualification (rather than clicks and form fills) has proven to be far more effective for us here at PathFactory. For a deeper behind-the-scenes dive on how we nurture at PathFactory, check out this webinar we did with Demand Gen Report.

Results PathFactory has seen using this formula

We used this formula to build PathFactory’s nurture program and the results speak for themselves:

  • Binge rate: Over 10% of prospects in our lead nurture program go on to consume more content in a single session. And these are consistently our best leads. Looking at leads that consume 2+ assets in one session proves to be a very effective way of assessing lead quality.
  • Time on content: People typically spend over 5 minutes on content after they click. Again, this is considerably higher than average! The reason for this is we always have a next-best asset available for them to consume. And that asset has been handpicked specifically for them. This way, the most interested leads always have easy access to more information.
  • MQLs/SQLs: Our nurture programs were our #3 driver of MQLs in 2017. Considering all the live events, tradeshows, paid, and partner programs we do, many of which cost a lot of money, this is a very impressive number.
  • Revenue: Marketing-sourced revenue spread across all marketing touches shows that 12.3% of revenue in 2017 can be attributed back to our lead nurture programs.

We’re pretty pumped about these outcomes and hope this inspires you to nurture better in 2018 as well. Let us know how you will supercharge your lead nurture programs by leaving a comment below!

Written By
Chris Vandermarel
Chris Vandermarel is the Director of Product Marketing at PathFactory. In his role, Chris is often called upon to “go deep” in the marketing tech stack to help solve the tough real-world challenges that sales and marketing professionals face every day. If you’re the kind of marketer who obsesses over A/B tests, loves digging into the data to prove hypotheses, and believes that no idea is too “out there” to try (at least once), Chris is your new BFF.

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