Marketing Automation and Lead Nurture Guide
The leads you collect today aren’t necessarily ready to buy immediately. Some of them are, of course, but others may still be researching products or solutions and are not ready to make a purchase decision. Your existing customers may also be leads for other products you sell, or be interested in buying more of the products or services they already buy. Email Marketing Automation programs are excellent ways to nurture buyers through the buying process quickly and cost-effectively.
Marketing Automation Strategy
A solid marketing automation program can shorten your sales cycle and let you generate additional revenue. The lead you collect today is a lead that may need to be gently and strategically nurtured to become a customer.
You will probably start implementing a lead nurture program using email, so it’s important to use all of the email best practices I discussed in the previous chapter. Keep in mind, however, that you can also nurture leads through search marketing and social media using many of the same techniques.
Before you sign the license agreement and create the PO for a new marketing automation tool to manage your lead nurture program, you’ll need to think about the goals of the program and the audience for the campaign. Are you going to focus on prospects who’ve signed up on your website, prospects generated by your sales team, an existing list of prospects, current customers, or new customers? Each of these audiences has a different relationship with your company and very different needs.
You may also want to look at different segments within these groups. Will the campaign be more effective if you address them by industry, or by their job function or level within the organization?
Your sales team probably does this very naturally, so you may want to interview them to see how it’s done. Before your best sales people deliver their pitch, it’s natural for them to ask a series of questions so that they can respond with a message that is specifically tailored to the prospect.
Marketing automation software for lead nurture can mimic this process and you can set it up so that it happens quickly and easily without human intervention. This way, your sales team can spend their time closing deals and working with their best customers, and not doing the mundane work of sending emails to each new lead.
The Buying Cycle
As I described in the chapter on content marketing, each product or service you sell has a specific buying cycle and companies describe them in variety of ways. A common way to think about it is using the following sequence:
- Awareness—In this phase, the prospects are trying to understand what they need, and what potential solutions exist.
- Consideration—In this phase, they are evaluating alternative solutions to their problem.
- Purchase—In this phase, prospects are evaluating products from different companies to decide which one to buy.
We all go through this decision process for our own consumer purchases, and organizations go through the same steps for larger business purchases.
Let’s say that I’m interested in buying a new video camera for personal use. I have a camera now that is five years old and somehow feel that there should be something better on the market. My first step in the awareness phase would be to do some research to see what’s new in video camera technology and features.
I’ll be asking questions like:
- What is the best screen resolution available?
- What types of zoom lenses are there?
- Who are the major manufacturers?
- How do cameras connect to social media sites and my wireless network?
Once I get answers to these questions, I’ll finish the awareness phase with a good understanding of what’s available and what I need.
After I do some research to understand these issues, I’ll move into the consideration phase. In this phase, I’ll look at different alternatives from the manufacturers I researched in the first phase, and get more detailed information.
I may watch a video showcasing how their current customers use the product and I’ll probably try one out for myself at a store. Ideally, I’ll come out of the consideration phase with a good understanding of the one or two products that I want to buy.
In the last phase, purchase, I want to buy the product I’m interested in at the best price. I might go to a store or two and shop online to find the best price from a supplier I trust with the service, warranty, and payment options that are best for me.
Once you understand the buying process, you can use this knowledge to design a series of emails to move the buyer through the process with the right content at the right time, so that they buy from you. If you don’t do this well, you may turn off your prospect and they may opt-out of your communication stream. For example, if I register to receive more information at the time I’m researching technology and features, and the manufacturer sends me a “coupon” deal, it might accelerate my purchase, but more than likely, I won’t be ready.
Ideally you should send a series of email messages and content that gradually moves your prospects through the buying cycle over time. In the example above, a series of content that might be appropriate would be a technology guide on HD video or lens quality, followed by a comparison guide or user testimonial, and finally a discount or a free shipping offer to encourage a purchase.
The manufacturer can’t know exactly how fast I will move through the buying cycle, but at least they will be sending me a stream of relevant content that’s appropriate to the way most people buy. They can also ask me where I am in the buying process as they send me more content.
Although this sounds simple enough, most companies simply send the same content to their entire list over and over again. Clearly, a personalized strategy based on the buying cycle stands a better chance of success.
Emails and Offers
The next step is to create emails and offers specific to the buying cycle for each segment you want to address with your campaign. For each phase of the buying cycle, you’ll need to create an offer, a landing page, and email that address the unique needs of the buyer.
As you can see, this can start to turn into a lot of emails. If you plan to send six emails to three segments, you’ll need to create 18 emails for the campaign. If you add another variable, such as customization by industry, or by size of company or job function, you will need to create many more. Fortunately, after you produce the emails, you can load them into your marketing automation platform, which makes it much easier to send individual emails to all of these types of people.
Touch Points, Timing, and Triggers
When you are setting up a nurture campaign, you need to decide how many touch points you will create for the program. Will you send three follow-up emails, or six, or 20? The number of emails you decide on will depend on the complexity of the sale and the length of the buying cycle. The longer the cycle, the more you’ll want to send over time.
Timing is also important. Will you send emails every day, every two days, or once a week? Again, that depends on how many messages you will be sending and over what time period. For most campaigns, weekly touch points work fine. You should avoid sending emails to your list too frequently, as this increases the risk of high opt-out rates. You’ll also need to consider how long the campaign will last. Will you send messages over two weeks, two months, or a year?
Triggers are additional emails that can be sent based on specific activity taken by the user. This activity can be a website visit, or even clicking on a specific page. For example, if I’m receiving early stage technology emails about my camcorder purchase and then one day I visit the pricing section of the website, the company can set up the system to automatically send me a “free shipping” message since I may be farther down the cycle than it thought.
Triggers can be powerful tools, but you should avoid making it feel too much like “Big Brother” is watching. In the example above, you would not want to say, “I noticed that you visited the pricing page and you may be interested in…” You can be more general and still make people feel that you are speaking to them personally.
One campaign we recently created for a client used four touch points sent over a two-month period of time with an additional trigger message that was sent the day after the user revisited the website.
Once you have your lead nurture strategy in place, the next step in the process is to actually design the email templates and write all of the content. This may include offers like white papers or user guides, or it could be more media-intensive with video, infographics, or other interactive tools. Remember that the stronger the offer, the better the response rate. In addition to creating the email, you may also need to create the landing pages and thankyou pages for the campaign.
Marketing Automation Software
Once you have the emails and landing pages written and produced, it’s time to load them into a marketing automation tool. These software platforms will connect to both your website and CRM system, and make it easy for you to set up the email campaigns, triggers, and move leads into the CRM system when they are ready.
Part of the setup will include linking the offers and landing pages on your website to the automation tool so that your lead nurture program will start when a new user registers. You can also load existing contacts in the system to move your house email list down the lead nurturing path.
The software will also give you the ability to set up the marketing automation rules I’ve discussed above. For example, you can tell the system to send the first nurture email two days after a user registers and the next touch point seven days later. You can also put in logic that prevents an email from being sent if the user visits a specific web page or is contacted by the sales team.
Many of these systems also include a lead scoring capability, which watches the user’s behavior as they respond to emails or visit the website and assigns the user a score based on criteria you define. You can then set triggers based on that score, such as asking a sales person to call.
Manage and Optimize the Lead Nurture Program
Once you have the strategy in place, the content created, and the system designed, it’s time to start using it. You can kick off the campaign with your in-house email list and start watching as emails get sent to people who register on your website.
The software will give you all of the reporting you’d expect from an email system, such as open rates, click-through rates, opt-out and conversion rates. Based on this data, you can continuously work to improve the program by removing emails and offers that are not performing well, and testing new content. You can also see if entire segments are not performing as well as others, and redesign the strategy for that group if necessary.
Accelerating your Lead Nurture Program
A fully implemented lead nurture program gives you the ability to quickly and easily follow-up with leads in a way that naturally moves them through the buying cycle. If designed properly, it will increase the number of quality leads and sales, and enable you to be as thorough as possible in communicating with your potential customers, all with much less time and effort than is required from traditional marketing techniques.
You will know you are on your way when you’ve covered the entire buying process and all of your target markets with strong messages and good offers. And you’ll be rewarded with good click-through rates, engagement, leads, and sales.