By Lisa Heay, Marketing Planning Manager at Heinz Marketing

Lead nurturing tends to be a misunderstood tactic. We often see companies whose nurture programs are filled with product and company-centric messaging, and the cadence may last 4 weeks, yet their average sales cycle is 9 months long. These emails are sent to cold prospects, and companies wonder why response rates are low—their nurture programs “just aren’t performing”. But are they building them intentionally and in the right way?

The purpose of lead nurturing—at least at the top of the funnel—is to build relationships with your prospects. It’s to slowly build credibility with that prospect and educate them on problems they may not even realize they have. And when the time comes to address that problem, they know exactly who to call because you’ve established yourself as a credible expert over that time.

Product and company focused messaging in a top funnel nurture sent to people who don’t even realize they have an issue to solve will simply fall flat. That person won’t care you have this great product – they don’t know you from the next company sending them emails, so why pay attention?

The following best practices are meant to serve as general reminders and tips for optimizing existing and new nurture tracks.

Targeting and List Segmentation

For nurture programs to be effective, you need to educate your prospect on the right topic—the topic that matters to them and meets them where they are in their buying journey. Detailed personas and complete data are key. And then your nurture content needs to match. Explore ways to segment your database into different nurture tracks – by persona, industry, solution interest, location, activity-level, and their place in the buying cycle. The more specific you can be with your targeting and the subsequent nurture track they enter, the better.

Nurture cadences don’t just have to be top funnel education. Cadences can be built for a variety of groups, such as:

  • Welcome program for new leads
  • Re-engagement for those in your database who have gone inactive
  • Bottom-funnel/sales enablement to assist with the decision-making process
  • Customer retention
  • Partner education

One thing to note: if you add cold purchased lists to nurture programs, you will typically see lower response rates and higher bounces/unsubscribes than leads produced from organic inbound channels. Those inbound leads have at least raised their hand or shown some level of engagement with your company already.

Program Exit

Program exit is just as important as the entrance. Once someone enters your nurture cadence, do they have to receive every email in your series? The answer should be no. Certain levels of engagement should be taken into consideration when determining when leads should exit a nurture cadence.

For example, if someone has engaged with multiple nurture emails, you can assume they are more interested and ready to move on. These people should be routed to sales for immediate follow up or moved to a solution-specific or bottom funnel sales enablement stream with more direct CTAs like “Schedule a Call” or “Sign up for a Demo”.

Design

As with other email programs and tactics, design matters for lead nurture programs. An option to improve email engagement is to alter the overall look and feel of your email layout. Subtle modifications to design can influence email metrics significantly.

We always suggest running A/B tests to compare one element change at a time. (However, the test size needs to be substantial enough to provide value. This tool will tell you if the audience size you have selected is statistically significant.)  Here are some ideas:

  • Banner image and height – A ratio of 80:20 text to image is recommended, but you could experiment with sizes and imagery.
  • Emails should be visually appealing to catch the eye of the recipient. However, strike the right balance so they don’t become too busy, distracting the recipient from the action you are trying to get them to take.
  • Reduce the amount of text in your email. The average adult attention span is just a few seconds. You need to grab them with the subject line and opening statement.
  • Experiment with the font, font size and line height.
  • Incorporate a two-column layout or a callout box on one side to emphasize the promotion of an asset, blog post, video, etc.
  • Subject lines. 47% of recipients open an email solely based on the subject line. Keep them short as the majority of people view their emails on their mobile devices.
  • Keep your CTA message simple and its purpose clear. Make sure the recipient’s next step is obvious. You could experiment with using a colored button or to embedding links directly into the copy.
  • This will increase the chance that a person opens the email. You could try incorporating it into the subject line to grab their attention right away.

The options are endless, but the takeaway here is to keep testing and optimizing. Nurture programs are never “set and forget”.

Messaging and Content

Now to the good stuff. What are you saying in your lead nurturing messages? What are you offering the prospect? If you’re constructing a top-funnel nurture, your content needs to be educational. Avoid content with no value to the reader, and most importantly, don’t chase a sale with every communication.  CTAs like “Request a Demo”, “Schedule a Call”, or “Talk to Sales” is too aggressive early in the buying journey. These CTAs are better suited for bottom-funnel leads who have shown interest in other content first.

As mentioned, nurture emails should build trust and establish yourself as a thought leader in the mind of your audience. While everyone else is out selling (explicitly or implicitly), focus your attention on providing value by sharing industry insights, best practices, community reviews, and customer case studies. Try mixing up how you present your data with eBooks, videos, blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and infographics to broaden the audience who will engage with your content.

And don’t forget, empathizing with the prospect will go a long way. They don’t care about your product at the beginning of their buying journey, they want to hear you understand the challenges they face. They want to hear how you can help them solve a problem or make their lives easier. By building your nurture machine with all this great educational content, you will drive more leads, position yourself as an expert in your field, and grow conversions in your funnel. When customers are ready to buy, they will come to you.

Cadence

Cadence is often an overlooked aspect to building a nurture program. How often should the emails be sent? In most cases, people would rather receive emails less frequently – making them more likely to open and read the ones you do send. Sending several emails within a few weeks could negatively impact open rates.

Typically, we recommend sending nurture emails every one to two weeks.  A simple starting point is to send 3-5 emails, 10-14 days apart with your top-performing content. However, the buying cycle in your industry may have an impact here.  If it’s a short cycle, you may lean towards a quicker cadence. But, if it’s 3+ months, you want to stretch your nurture cadence so your recipients keep your solution top of mind throughout their research, consideration, and decision phases.

It’s worth testing out different cadences and frequencies. To stay top-of-mind, you can shorten the cadence between the first two emails and then lengthen the cadence after so you are not exhausting your list. For example:

  • Email #1 – Day 1
  • Email #2 – Day 5
  • Email #3 – Day 15
  • Email #4 – Day 25
  • Email #5 – Day 35
  • Email #6 – Day 45
  • Email #7 – Day 60
  • And so on.

Metrics

As with all other marketing efforts, it’s important to measure and track the success of your programs. You can’t effectively optimize if you don’t know what is working and what isn’t.

First, you need to think through the purpose of your nurture in order to determine which metrics matter. If the goal of the nurture or email campaigns is to convert leads to opportunities, then conversions are a good metric to track. Clicks and opens are great, but the goal isnt to be good at email; the goal is to be good at business because of email”.

In addition, keep in mind email opens aren’t the most accurate way of measuring email success. Email open tracking is often handled by an invisible, single-pixel image that marketing automation platforms like Marketo insert into HTML emails. When a recipient opens the email, the image loads, and it is counted as an HTML open. Open rates are difficult to measure accurately because some email clients turn off image loading, and some people read their emails from the preview pane.

What are your best nurture program tips? We’d love to hear what works for you and what you’ve learned along the way. Happy nurturing!