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Lead Generation  |   Inbound Sales

What is Lead Nurturing?

Kimberly Marshall

By Kimberly Marshall

May 28, 2021

What is Lead Nurturing?

Since the invention of moveable type, sellers have bombarded buyers with ads—and as the volume of ads increases, so does our ability to avoid them. 

Spam blockers reject about 2.4 billion emails every day, we can fast-forward through commercials, and over 240 million people are listed on the ever-growing National Do Not Call Registry. On top of this, any customer you acquire likely needs to see your ad an average of seven times before they buy

How are businesses supposed to reach their ideal customers and motivate them to buy in the digital age?

Conventional lead generation methods no longer work; buyers do not want to be bothered or sold to—they want to be helped. There are better ways your business can generate quality leads and effectively guide them toward making a purchase. 

👩‍🎓 Related IMPACT+ Course: Digital Sales & Marketing Framework for Today's Modern Buyer

And this is where lead nurturing comes into play. 

The definition of lead nurturing

At its most basic level, lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with your customers and ushering them through the buyer’s journey toward making a purchase.  

Think of your lead nurturing campaigns as a guide dropping educational breadcrumbs so prospects can follow along. As they pick up each crumb, the prospects learn more about how you solve their problems on the way toward an eventual purchase that helps them accomplish their goals. 

You want to use a lead nurturing strategy to reach out to your leads and answer their questions at precisely the right time (as author and inbound marketing advocate Marcus Sheridan reveals in his book, They Ask, You Answer). This ensures the information you share with them is actually helpful and what they need at that point in the buying process in order to move on to the next stage.

Benefits of lead nurturing

Before you go down the rabbit hole looking for advice that has you trying on different lead nurturing campaigns for size, it’s helpful to know why your business should be utilizing lead nurturing in the first place. 

Lead nurturing can seem complex, as it can span several channels that all need to sync up and work together, such as perfectly timed calls-to-action, pop-up forms, and emails. Businesses that succeed cite lead nurturing as one of the most effective pieces of the inbound marketing puzzle and have seen: 

Without nurturing, 79% of your leads will never convert to sales. So, you can see that taking the time to nurture your leads can drive incredible results. 

Your prospects may find you because of all your awesome content marketing and search optimization work, then convert — but never actually buy from you. When leads don’t know where, how, or what to do next, chances are they’ll walk away.  This is why nurturing leads pays off.

Here, we’ll take you through what to keep in mind as you plan a lead-nurturing strategy of your own to make sure they don’t. 

In order to be successful at lead nurturing, you need to first ensure all the channels and content work together in a way that helps your customer see how you’ll solve their problems and understand which steps to take next. 

Lead nurturing channels 

Many who know about lead nurturing tend to think it only applies to email campaigns, but you can help your prospects along the buyer’s journey with any combination of avenues. 

Effective lead nurturing channels might include:

  • Social media: Engage your prospects on social media with surveys, and entertaining and educational content that can be helpful for reaching prospects who aren’t aware of your products and services or don’t respond well to email.
  • Retargeting: This is when someone comes to your site and leaves, but is subsequently shown your advertisement on another site, such as Facebook or other social media sites.
  • Website content: This can be blog articles, landing pages, calls-to-action (CTAs), and personalization. 
  • Email marketing: Emails should be automated and can include follow-ups, news, blog articles, or informational content that is more in-depth.
  • Events and webinars: These are for more serious prospects looking to really dive in.

As you consider which channels work the best for your own prospective customers (where are you most likely to reach them?), use that knowledge to flesh out your overall lead nurturing strategy. Again, the most important thing is that you’re reaching out to them where they are and when they need you. 

👩‍🎓 Related IMPACT+ Course: How to do HubSpot lead nurturing (that isn’t terrible)

6 tips for your lead nurturing strategy  

Now that you know the benefits of lead nurturing and channels you can use, here are six things to note when forming your strategy: 

1. Utilize the buyer’s journey

One of the most important aspects of lead nurturing is that it meets your prospects where they are in the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness (top of the sales funnel): This is where the buyer becomes aware they have a problem. Here, focus on driving better organic traffic results with informational content that diagnoses their problems, such as blog articles and social media posts.
  • Consideration (middle of the sales funnel): Here, prospects have identified their problem and are looking for ways to solve it. Helpful content in this phase includes comparison blog articles, ebooks, white papers, and webinars. 
  • Decision (bottom of the sales funnel): If your prospects arrive here, they’re ready to purchase (or not). Content aimed at buyers in this phase should help them make that decision. Think customer testimonials, product reviews, and even free trials; whatever your ideal buyers need in order to take the plunge or, at the very least, give your company a try. 

By creating content to align with these phases, you’re once again meeting the buyer where they currently are mentally. You’re aligning with their needs and questions to help them move forward to the next stage naturally and comfortably.  

Here’s an example of a perfectly timed lead nurturing campaign along the buyer's journey

Say you sell handmade, high-end gardening tools, and there’s a novice gardener searching online for the quickest, easiest way to prepare a new garden bed. 

The gardener finds your blog article, “Best ways to prepare a new garden bed,” where they learn that extra-sharp tools make the clearing process faster and easier. Now they’re aware they have a problem; they don’t own any sharp tools that will do the job!

A related link on the page leads them further along to read an article examining what those tools might be, including yours. They know what their options are, and now in the consideration phase, they’re reading on to learn even more about these tools, comparing options, figuring out which is best for the job. 

They’re aware they have a problem, know you solve their problem with your products, and are intrigued but not ready to buy—just yet. Your website was so helpful, however, they sign up for your newsletter via a popup form, then exit your site. 

After a few days, you send them an email with even more information about gardening tools to keep them engaged with your content and remind them about your offerings, when they come back to learn other tricks of the trade. 

In the meantime, they’ve searched for other solutions, and entered the decision-making phase. They have a few solutions they are considering, but none of your competitors have provided all this helpful information, so they read your business’ reviews and decide to purchase your tools.

This is how—if your content is properly aligned with the buyer’s journey phases—you can make it easier for your prospects to buy. Each outreach should serve as a gentle reminder that you and your products and services can help. 

You will likely have several avenues pointing toward different products on your site, depending on your buyers’ needs and what they’re looking for. The trick is knowing who needs what and when. And while this makes lead nurturing a bit complex, this is also why it can be so effective.

🔍 Related: 5 Key Elements of a Winning Inbound Marketing Strategy 

2. Personalize your outreach

About 90% of consumers reveal they’re more likely to shop with businesses that provide offers and products personalized to their own preferences and needs. 

This doesn’t mean adding their name to your email (although it can help) but making content custom-tailored to their interests and needs at that time. It makes your prospects feel seen and understood.  

Personalization can also make your content feel less generic. You want your leads to see that email and think, “That is exactly what I needed right now. It feels like it was written for me.” This could be a pricing list for someone in the decision phase of purchasing a car, or a buyer’s checklist for someone looking to purchase a home.

The key to personalizing your lead nurturing outreach effectively is knowing what you can about your customers' needs and segmenting them accordingly (which is where buyer personas come in handy).  

3. Know your buyer personas  

Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your buyers—their demographics, challenges, communication preferences, lifestyle habits, and more. Knowing these ideal buyer characterizations helps you segment the people coming to your site and understand what content they’ll want to see at each stage of the funnel. 

Ideally, your buyer personas should be based on your real customers. Send customers an email asking them to take a brief questionnaire. Explain that you’re trying to make their experience better; most people are happy to help. Also, ask a few questions when people visit your website and fill out a form on a popup or landing page. 

Try not to bombard them with questions just for the sake of lead scoring, however. You can ask a few here and there, but be sure to make it worth their while by offering them something in return, like entering them in a giveaway or offering a discount. 

Here is a helpful article that goes over everything you need to know about building buyer personas, including how to reach out to your customers and prospects, and what questions to ask them. 

4. Engage prospects immediately

It’s important to follow up with your prospects as soon as possible. Wait too long and people will forget about you or will have moved on to purchasing elsewhere. 

The best time to reach out is when they are in the middle of their search. There is a fine line here, however, as you don’t want to be bothersome. 

Send an email or make a phone call the moment a lead fills out a form. Don’t just call to push them into buying, but call to offer more information and to help them in their search. Ask a few questions about how you can help.

Include follow-up content that is educational and answers all of the most commonly asked questions beforehand, so when your sales team reaches out, they already have answers to some of their questions. This method, called “assignment selling,” can help your sales team land more sales and even shorten the cycle by zeroing in better on good-fit leads. 

Be sure to also send them to the most helpful landing pages for their needs, which might coincidentally be the one converting most leads to customers. 

👩‍🎓 Related IMPACT+ Course: Assignment Selling

5. Lean on automation

The perfect way to reach out to a prospect in a timely way is to set up an automated lead nurturing sequence or workflow

These are triggered interactions (often emails) that initiate once a buyer takes action, such as when they download an ebook or sign up for a subscription to your blog.

The moment they fill out their information, this triggers a response to thank them and offer them more information or helpful tips. 

For example, if someone hands over their email address in exchange for a downloadable checklist on your website, you can set up a way for an email to hit their inbox right away, thanking them for being interested in your offer and sharing ways they can learn more with links to other blog articles, courses, webinars, or free offers. 

You can set these workflows up to wait a few days after the initial email and send another offer. Workflows are awesome ways to keep your prospects engaged while sending them content based on their interests. 

Another example is the choose your own adventureapproach to lead nurturing. 

This example is from one of our clients, Sheffield Metals. In one of their lead nurturing emails, they ask simply: What is your biggest challenge, and what do you want to learn about?

Leads can then choose which issue describes their pain points best. 

By asking prospects what they’re looking for, Sheffield Metals directs them along a better, more specific path. Based on their answers, they can send them content more aligned with their needs.

6. Apply lead scoring

Lead scoring is also a great way to automate your lead nurturing strategy. This method segments your prospects based on their engagement, location, or company size, helping sales prioritize who they should follow up with first. 

For example, say your ideal customer is a U.S.-based engineer who works for a large company in the power industry. 

If a prospect signs up for your blog with an email address from a Fortune 500 construction company with over 100 employees, you can set up your lead scoring system to assign the prospect a large number of points. 

If they are in a different industry altogether and located in Italy, however, you might take away more points than they’re given to ensure you know the person isn’t a right fit. This negative lead scoring quickly separates the wheat from the chaff.

[Source: Propeller]

Then, when you want to reach out to ideal customers, you can focus on the ones with a large number of points—who you know are the best fit. You just need to make sure you understand how the lead scoring system can help select your ideal buyer, as you’re the one setting the rules. 

It also can also help segment your customers more efficiently—again, so you know who your strongest prospects are. Each point awarded or taken away with lead scoring helps narrow the scope of your target.   

Implementing an optimized lead nurturing campaign 

It’s clear that, in the digital age, as your leads turn away from an onslaught of ads, they’re more responsive to businesses that help them find what they want and need, then move toward a purchase. 

These lead nurturing tips are some of the most effective ways to get them engaging with your content and buying from you down the line. Meet your audience where they are in their journey. Break through all that generic marketing jargon and provide your ideal buyers with information about the products and services they need—when they need them. 

For more information about how to better engage your leads and boost sales, check out some of our sales courses and articles on IMPACT+:

And be sure to contact us if you have questions. We’re always adding classes and information about how you can improve your digital sales and marketing strategies.

Free Assessment:

How does your sales & marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.

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