3 ideas for structuring a lead nurture program

Bank of useful ideas

There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to lead nurturing - explore 3 ways to structure a program and the pros and cons of each.

As a marketer, I’m sure you understand the concept of lead nurturing and why it’s important. However, as we’ve discovered over the years in working with large and small organisations, this understanding doesn’t always translate to building a really effective lead nurture program (LNP) – it is a skill that needs to be developed just like any other marketing skill.

A big challenge when designing and building an LNP is the lack of a “standard” approach. You can configure and build them in numerous ways depending on factors such as:

  • The marketing automation software you’re using
  • The amount of content you currently have and can produce in a certain period of time
  • The number of opted in contacts you have in your database and how quickly this grows
  • What other marketing tactics you’ve adopted and their relative success rates
  • The skills and training of your marketing operations team
  • Your target market and personas

With these factors in mind, we’ll outline 3 common lead nurturing approaches and discuss the situations in which they might be used along with the pros and cons of each.

  1. Specialist streams
  2. Progressive education with fishing
  3. The on-ramp and point-in-time

1. Specialist streams

If you’re a larger enterprise with a number of discrete, unrelated product families, then a specialist stream approach might be a good fit. In this scenario, you define and build separate nurture “streams” or communication pathways around specific product families that prospects follow in order from a common starting point to an end point.

For example:

Product Line A – Nurture Stream A with 5 Emails

Product Line B – Nurture Stream B with 7 emails

Product Line C – Nurture Stream C with 6 Emails

All your prospects need to be segmented around a product interest area so they can enter the stream at email #1. They then move through your stream at a set cadence, receiving each email in turn until they reach the end of the stream.

Pros

  • Allows you to tailor your content to a specific interest area which increases the relevance.
  • It’s quite simple in program logic as prospects move through a stream sequentially.
  • It’s easy to create a follow-on nurture stream for when prospects reach the end.

Cons

  • You need all the content for a particular stream produced and ready before you start it. This becomes a trade-off in terms of timeliness of the content. i.e. you can’t easily include time-based emails such as event invites or limited time offers as prospects will be moving through the stream at different times.
  • You’ll have prospects at various stages of the stream at all times which adds an extra dimension of difficulty for reporting, but it’s not impossible.
  • You need to a way to gauge a prospect’s interest area before you put them in a particular stream to ensure its relevant.
  • You need to decide what to do at the end of a stream – do they move to another stream, do you pause activity, do you build a follow-on stream, etc.

2. Progressive education with fishing

Not the catchiest name I know, but this approach works best when you have relatively complex product or service offerings with a lot of crossover. i.e. the product or service families are closely related and/or work together to form a comprehensive portfolio.

Unlike the specialist streams approach, you don’t want to spend too much time nurturing around a single product family. You want to be able to educate prospects about your overall portfolio, but you also need to keep it relevant to a prospect’s particular interest area at a specific point in time.

In this structure, we think of knowledge levels as separate nurture streams. At the start (or Level 1), we send emails in series by rotating the topic of each email across each of the products or services you have.

For example, if you have 4 products you might have:

Level 1 – 8 Emails sent in order – Product A, Product B, C, D then back to Product A, etc.

At this level, you’re “fishing” for interest areas, trying to understand where a prospect’s main interest lies. You keep the communication relatively high level focusing on benefits which prospects can relate to.

Once a prospect engages with a particular email, you know they’re interested in that topic, so you automatically drop them out of Level 1 and down to Level 2 which explores that topic in more detail. You would have a Level 2 topic stream for each product area that increases the level of detail being provided. This is the progressive education component of this approach.

Once they’ve finished the Level 2 topic, you have a choice:

  • Send them back to Level 1, at the first email after the point they left and they continue on. If they engage on another topic, they would automatically drop to the Level 2 topic nurture stream.
  • Send them to Level 3 which might offer highly personalised or customised offers or opportunities such as specialised events, in-depth research, demos, etc.

You choose the option here depending on how well they engaged in the Level 2 topic. If they showed little interest, send them back to Level 1. If they showed a lot of interest, send them to Level 3.

Pros

  • Gives you an extra way to understand the interest areas of a prospect before you give them more detailed content.
  • Provides a very tailored approach that compliments lead scoring in identifying active prospects and potential Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
  • Allows you to slowly increase the technical level of your content once someone has shown interest, so you minimise the potential that you’ll scare prospects off too early.
  • Makes it easier to market across multiple product lines to prospects.

Cons

  • Requires more complex automated program logic to be setup and managed as prospects move between levels.
  • You will need a lot more content to support a program like this.
  • Reporting can be tricky.
  • You need to build the entire program up front before you can execute it, you can’t build it stream by stream.
  • Still not easy to cater to time-based communications.

3. The On-Ramp and Point-in-Time

This option is a bit of a hybrid approach combining a little from each of the other 2 methods discussed and is ideally suited to organisations with a single product family.

The main scenario here is that you have a strong inbound program automatically capturing interest in your product or service. There may be too many for you to follow up on individually and you need a way to quickly identify MQLs from all these inbound leads before they continue being nurtured.

The “on-ramp” component is a fixed email stream, consisting of 3-4 emails that logically follow-on from your website in a buyer’s journey format. These emails would consist of your highest converting content over the past 6 months (regularly refreshed) with prospects starting at Email 1 and moving through according to your email cadence.

When they reach the end of the on-ramp, you use their lead score to route high potential prospects into a follow-up queue for an inside sales rep to call, looking for opportunities. If a prospect doesn’t hit the required lead score, they move on to the “point-in-time” stream.

Prospects don’t enter this stream at some pre-determined starting point, they line up to receive the next email that is due to be sent, hence the point-in-time name. This stream is a never-ending ad-hoc stream where newly created content is added on a just-in-time basis and sent to everyone at the same time – everyone moves through the stream at the same pace.

Pros

  • This best of both worlds approach allows you to tailor a specific buyers journey message initially, but then deliver really timely content over time including events, special offers, etc.
  • You only have to build the on-ramp ahead of time. The point-in-time stream is built week by week using whatever is hot and interesting right now. (A content calendar process is essential here).

Cons

  • Prospects will miss content that you’ve sent in the past, but you can recycle old content after 3-6 months if it performed well.
  • You do need a good content production capability to keep up with the demand of the program, but you can still work 4-6 weeks ahead.

In Summary

There is no one “best” approach to lead nurturing. The beauty of marketing automation software is the power it gives you to customise and automate your marketing communications and lead generation efforts in almost unlimited ways.

However, this is also a sword that cuts both ways. As marketers, we’re always tempted to over complicate things and try for that extra level of personalisation or automation. If you make your nurture program too complicated, then it quickly becomes unmanageable in the long term. You’ll find that you run out of content or data too quickly and all your grand ideas grind to a halt.

You need to keep it simple where possible yet still providing opportunities for customisation and personalisation. But don’t forget the age-old IT rule – garbage in = garbage out. As powerful as marketing automation software is, it can’t suddenly make poor marketing practices brilliant. It can only be as good as the people operating it and there’s always something new to learn.