To paraphrase an old saying: You can lead a prospect to your website, but you can’t make them buy. On the other hand, you can improve your chances considerably with a lead nurturing campaign, helping your prospects every step of the way.

Almost two-thirds of leads aren’t sales ready. But rather than ignoring the ones that aren’t ready yet,  you can strategically nurture them to grow your haul of sales-qualified leads. Building trust and fostering relationships with qualified prospects, regardless of their stage in the buyer’s journey, is a key element to uncovering quality leads that can be nurtured through the funnel.

However, creating a successful email nurturing strategy isn’t always simple. And pinpointing exactly where things are going wrong is often a process of trial and error. Fortunately, a few nurture campaign best practices can help break through common challenges and improve results.

Start slow

The most basic way to handle leads is to treat them all equally. The opposite end of the spectrum is highly personalized email nurturing that guides prospects throughout their journey. You want to end up with the latter, but the good news is that you don’t have to accomplish it overnight. Take it slow!

For instance, start by outlining your nurture marketing goals for leads. Goals might include increasing engagement, driving higher conversions or reducing churn. You can then segment your audiences and create personas. And finally, you can create a basic email workflow, map content based on the buyer’s journey, and eventually move on to more complexity, like A/B testing and scaling efforts.

For example, Tower Federal Credit Union used a basic email marketing tool for email nurturing. Without a way to segment customers based on actions, workflows were frustrating and time-consuming. Using marketing automation, the organization automated email campaigns and improved segmentation efforts. As a result, they experienced a 300% increase in open rates on follow-up emails.

Carefully identify leads to nurture

When collecting target leads, the goal isn’t “the bigger the list, the better.” Instead, curate a targeted list of prospects, segment them based on where they’re at in the journey, and then walk with them along that path.

And let’s be honest: There are some prospects that you could nurture that would — fairly or unfairly — regard even a modest nurturing program as a relentless “campaign” from a vendor they hope never to hear from again. So you want to treat each lead as an individual.

Also, define your “ideal lead” and treat them differently. Create a relatively simple definition of an ideal prospect and start with two buckets: Do they qualify or not? For example, does an ideal prospect need to come from a company of a particular size? From a particular titled contact? From a particular industry? Set just two to three criteria and start triaging leads accordingly.

It’s also powerful to nurture and map programs to the buying cycle. The typical buying cycle flow follows need, learn, evaluate, negotiate, purchase, implement, and advocate.

Start with a single campaign

Sure, it would be great to have different nurture segments by industry, expected close date, the reason the deal may be delayed, and so forth. But if you’re just starting out nurturing leads, start with a single nurture campaign for all leads. A monthly newsletter, a regular webinar offer, or even an occasional free whitepaper offer can keep you top of mind with prospects not yet ready to buy. Get complicated later, but get ongoing content in front of prospects immediately.

Also, keep in mind there are many different ways to segment contacts. You could segment by geography, or create-date, or lead source, etc. But at this point, you should look for the Venn diagram overlap of “known recent interest in a high-value product my company sells” and “population of significant quantity.” Leads and contacts with these two attributes are very good inputs to your content strategy.

Removing the difficulty from lead nurturing

Successful email nurturing can feel like a daunting task. It takes trial, error, and experimentation to achieve the desired results. With the right tools, however, this process gets much easier. Manual work (such as the Georgia Credit Union example) is eliminated, scaling is easier, and marketing teams can do more with less. But the first step is often a small one.

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