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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Feb 15, 2017 14 min read

Inbound Marketing Lead Nurturing: How To Get Lights-Out Open Rates

Create A Remarkable Experience, Not A Sales-Centric Barrage Of 'Buy'

Lead Nurturing Campaign TacticsThe series of email-related blog articles has been producing a lot of interesting conversations with readers, prospects and clients. While I’m not surprised to hear that companies are still doing cold email marketing campaigns, I’m encouraged that people are aware of their challenges and looking for ways to improve their effectiveness.

Today, I want to clarify the difference between lead nurturing and cold emailing. I also want to give you some tips on how to get lead nurturing open rates over the 50% mark and how to use ongoing lead nurturing best practices to create an experience that draws your prospects in to your company, instead of repelling them away and toward your competitors.

First, let’s get the vocabulary out of the way. Lead nurturing is the emails you send after someone has requested something from you. You had an anonymous visitor on your website and she emerged from the shadows to provide you with her email address in exchange for your latest e-book. Now you continue the conversation with a series of lead nurturing emails.

What I call cold emails are the emails you send to people who you don’t know, but somehow you came upon their email address, purchased a list or scraped the names from the internet. This is an electronic version of picking up the phone and calling someone you’ve never talked to before, simply because they might need what you do. Yesterday, I gave you some tips on how to warm up your cold emailing campaigns.

Today, we’re focusing on getting better results from lead nurturing campaigns.

Lead Nurturing Strategy

Can we agree that we’re not going to be able to change our genetically coded human behavior? No matter how great your email is, its not going to get someone to call you if they don’t have acute pain or if they don’t feel safe working with your company. Agreed? It doesn’t matter if you touch them seven times or 70 times. There is no secret number of touches to produce a sales-ready lead.

The goal of the strategy behind the lead nurturing campaign is to make people feel safe with your company and attempt to help them understand that their pain might be more acute than they thought. There are a couple of ways to do both. Getting them to feel safe is easier, so let’s start with that.

Making Them Feel Safe: No one is going to buy anything until they feel like it’s the safe decision. If you want to break “safe” down into its core components, it becomes know, like and trust. Your prospects have to know, like and trust your company before they buy. This is not an opinion. It’s a fact. Look at any of your most recent new client acquisitions and ask your new clients, “Why did you pick us?” Their answer is likely to be, “We liked you guys and we trusted your team. There might be other related comments, but if you ask them why a couple of more times, you’ll get to the know, like and trust factor.

You can help prospects know, like and trust you with lead nurturing by continuing to educate them and giving them content in context to their challenges or position in the buyer journey. You can help them know, like and trust you by personalizing the experience, differentiating the experience from all your competitors and offering remarkable opportunities to them along the way. We’ll get into more details in the tactics section of this article.

Getting Them To Feel Acute Pain: This is a little more difficult. No one really wants to change, so prospects will do everything in their power to talk themselves out of hiring you, buying your product or starting your project  until they have acute pain. Most of the time this is caused by outside influences that you have little control over. For example, if the CEO demands you get your project moving today, the current vendor messes up and you have to find a new one, or you get yelled at in a meeting because your current marketing agency isn’t producing results, now your job is on the line and so you spring into action.

Where lead nurturing comes into play here is that as soon as the pain becomes acute, you want them turning to you because they already know, like and trust you, instead of starting their search from scratch.

Lead Nurturing Campaign Tactics

Lead nurturing tactics are very company-specific. There are best practices, but I’d deploy those with care. For instance, how long should your lead nurturing workflows be? How many emails should you include? I’ve seen clients with 30 emails over the course of months. I’ve seen clients with three emails over the course of a week. The answer has to do with your sales cycle. How long is it? The longer the sales cycle, the longer your lead nurturing. It also has to do with the complexity of the sale. The more complex, the longer the lead nurturing.

Generally, I’d recommend you lean toward shorter lead nurturing campaigns. If you connect these with general educational emails that continue even after the lead nurturing wraps up, you’re sure to keep front of mind with all your prospects. If you run the lead nurturing too long, you risk annoying the prospect, and that works against know, like and trust.

You’re going to want to try and pull prospects through the funnel and out the bottom. Resist the urge to do that. If you do a good job, they’ll work themselves down and out. Instead, think about their buyer journey and match the lead nurturing to that journey. If they come in at the awareness stage, continue giving them awareness content until they engage with consideration stage content. Then, continue to give them consideration content until they move themselves into the decision-making stage by asking to speak with you.

The prospect controls the process. Don’t kid yourself into thinking your inbound marketing or sales is doing anything other than enabling them to decide. You’re not moving them through anything. They’re moving at their own pace, and the team that gets on that journey with them, guides them along the way and is the most helpful will get the business 90% of the time.

If your email lead nurturing is helpful, if it guides, if it educates, if it offers helpful options and advice, you’ll be well on your way to know, like and trust — and a new customer.

Campaign Metrics

Inbound Marketing MetricsOK, I convinced you, but how do you know if its working or not? Wonderfully insightful question. You do that with metrics. Interestingly enough, those metrics are not always email-related. In most cases, those are funnel metrics. Yes, you want to track open rates, click-through rates, opt-out rates, forward rates and the conversion on specific offers within pages that the emails are directing people to visit. These are the metrics everyone is keen to watch.

But if you really want to see how these are impacting your business results, you want to look at the conversion points across your sales process and at each stage of the funnel.

How many MQLs (marketing-qualified leads) are turning into SQLs (sales-qualified leads)? This is an indicator that your lead nurturing is moving those awareness folks down into consideration. What percentage of SQLs are actually sales opportunities? This could be an indication as to the quality of your leads, but it might also indicate whether your lead nurturing is helping prospects to feel safe and if its contributing to them understanding pain.

Sales opportunities are synonymous with people who express interest in buying something. They’ve emerged at the bottom of the funnel and are asking decision-making questions (in other words, asking for a proposal, recommendations or your agreement). If these conversion metrics are increasing, your lead nurturing campaigns are probably contributing.

Campaign Expectations

These are important. If you think lead nurturing is the difference between success and failure this year, you’re going to be disappointed. Lead nurturing is simply one of the many tactics that need to be executed as part of your orchestrated inbound marketing program. It won’t work without it, nor will lead nurturing work without the other components.

You need great content to highlight in the nurturing. You need a great website to drive prospects back to. You need compelling, emotional stories and messaging to include in the emails. You need the sequencing to be correct, which means testing and experiments. You need the technology to automate the creation, distribution and tracking of all these tactics. Your expectations should be that the metrics we talked about above and the business results associated with the effort are improving slowly, month over month.

If you can improve the numbers a little bit, month over month, you’ll be moving in the right direction.

It’s easy to make lead nurturing more complicated than it needs to be. It’s easy to think you need a sequence of 12 emails and that you need a workflow for every vertical and every persona. It’s easy to start branching nurture emails off depending on what people click on within a lead nurturing email. Try not to over-complicate this. Simple is almost always better. If you start simple, you can make subtle adjustments over time that improve performance but don’t overly complicate the management of the nurturing campaigns. If you start with something complex, you might end up with something that is unmanageable and difficult to optimize.

If you can deliver simple, and you can optimize it over time, you can use lead nurturing to dramatically improve how many new clients come from your existing marketing effort and impact the company’s top-line results.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.