A Beginner’s Guide to Automated Email Lead Nurturing
Although it seems like every six months, some naysayer predicts the impending death of email marketing, the fact is that email continues to be the gold standard for engaging potential customers — not everyone has an Instagram account. But there are over 250 million regular email users in the United States, alone.
Email lead nurturing is a powerful way to create a tailored experience for each of your leads, and it doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, with a little upfront work, most of it can be automated.
When implemented correctly, automated lead nurturing doesn’t come off as a deluge of spam; but rather, feels natural and personalized to the individual recipient. Good email lead nurturing empowers your potential customers. But getting the timing and content of automated email campaigns right is both an art and a science. Here are the steps to create set-it-and-forget-it drip campaigns that help convert leads.
Step 1: Know Your Goals
It’s nearly impossible to build a successful lead nurturing strategy if you don’t know what you want out of it. Pinpoint your desired outcomes, and keep them specific and time-bound. Maybe you want to increase e-commerce conversions by 20% in Q4, or perhaps you want to double your sales-qualified leads. With that end in mind, you can begin analyzing your data to map out your plan at the beginning of your campaign, as well as measure your success at the end.
Step 2: Get Persona(l)
In an ideal world, we’d have all the time to send out personal emails to each and every one of our potential leads. But as marketers, we wear a lot of hats, and email marketing is far from the only thing we need to worry about. Using buyer personas — characters whose semi-fictional life experiences help you understand and connect with your target audience — to segment your email lists is the next best thing. We use a mix of data and anecdotal evidence from our clients’ current customers, as well as our own insights and market research, to create a set of buyer personas representative of our clients’ target audiences. Then, we map out the buyer’s journey for each persona, so that we can address their needs and tailor our messaging. You can, too.
Step 3. Go With the Flow
Time for some flow charts! With your buyer personas in hand, it’s time to map out your workflow, determining who gets which email when. You don’t want to hit your leads with a barrage of email marketing, even if they’ve expressed an interest in your product. Instead, nurture them with a drip campaign that is based on their own journey; one in which each action triggers an email (and then another, and then another) until they’re ready to convert.
Coming up with the right sequencing and if-then rules requires thoughtful planning. Consider these questions for each drip campaign:
- What is the trigger that will enroll new leads?
- How soon will you send out the first email?
- How will you segment so that each individual receives communications at the right cadence?
For instance, you might not want to send a lukewarm lead three emails a week; whereas, a hotter customer may very well respond to such an approach. Look at all of the possible touchpoints in your customer experience and the logical next steps that branch off from those touchpoints: If a customer visits a certain page, they’ll get one email; if they download a particular white paper, they’ll get another. Remember: One person’s spam is another person’s perfectly timed invitation to buy. And mapping it all out in a flow chart can help you determine who’s who, so you can create intelligent, custom experiences.
Step 4: Content, Content, Content
Now that you have your big picture in front of you, it’s time to craft your emails. Although the first email is arguably the most important, each subsequent piece of communication needs to be perfectly honed to maintain engagement.
Break out those personas again, because they’re going to help you create relevant content for each step of the buyer’s journey. You should aim to create content that nurtures your lead from awareness — when they’re just in the research stage — to consideration, conversion, and finally retention. The goal, after all, is not just making a single sale, but proving to your customers that you’re worth sticking around for.
Regardless of your message, remember that your email is one of dozens (or hundreds!) of pieces of electronic communication your lead might receive in a single day. To that end, keep it brief, actionable, and professional in tone and appearance. All-caps text, misleading subject lines, and spammy content all get a one-way ticket to the trash.
Step 5: Build Your Contact Database — The Right Way
You’ve got all this great lead nurturing content … now, who do you send it to? Please, I beg of you, do not buy a random list. There are services out there that will promise you qualified contacts, but the quality of these lists is usually subpar, and even the best bought list won’t be as effective as one you build yourself. Plus, spamming people who haven’t opted into your communications makes for a terrible user experience and goes against data privacy best practices. With recently passed laws like the GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act going into effect, do I really need to be arguing that we should be respecting the inboxes of our potential customers?
Here’s a better approach: Start with the list you have and cultivate it over time. Use opt-in forms and calls-to-action on your website, leveraging the content offers you’ve created to attract visitors and turn them into leads. Meanwhile, look for industry trade publications you can partner with by providing your expertise in the form of editorial content or webinars to drive even more traffic to your site. If you’re starting with a small list, it will be a long game. But the database you build will be much healthier, in the end.
Step 6: Test and Adjust
I know I said that automated lead nurturing is set-it-and-forget-it, but it is worth checking in on your campaigns regularly to see what adjustments or improvements you can make. You’ll want to measure the performance of your emails, landing pages, and downloadable content. Is lead engagement dropping off after a particular step? Revise content that isn’t performing, taking cues from content that is.
Depending on your marketing automation software, you may actually be able to automate your testing to make things even easier. Create internal workflows to alert you when a lead hits certain milestones or to send you regular analytics reports. When it comes to campaign management, the less you have to remember to do, the better.
Automated Email Lead Nurturing Frees Up Marketers' Time
Building a lead nurturing plan from scratch does take upfront work, and it certainly requires a willingness to try new things. But with the right strategy, it can be the perfect tool to continually engage leads while you’re getting other things done.
Related story: The Problem With Email Marketing Automation Flowcharts
Sarah Mannone is the Executive Vice President of Trekk, a tech-driven creative services agency. She works with Trekk clients to develop strategic marketing plans and craft measurable programs that that span print, web, social, and mobile. As part of the Trekk management team, Sarah is involved in the decisions and strategy around adopting new technologies and applications to meet the current and future needs of Trekk clients. Sarah is a member of the Forbes Agency Council and a frequent speaker at marketing industry events.