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Creating a Successful Lead Nurturing Strategy

How to effectively engage with your customers through every stage of the sales funnel.

Much of marketing revolves around lead generation, the act of identifying potential prospects, attracting them to your business, and converting them into customers. But once a lead (the potential customer) enters your sales funnel, what happens next?

This is where lead nurturing comes into play. Rather than simply dropping a lead into the top of the funnel and assuming they’ll progress through it on their own, savvy business owners will continue to nurture that lead throughout the entire sales process.

If you’re interested in increasing the number of leads that convert to sales, establishing a lead nurturing strategy can be critical to your success.

What is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with your customers over time through ongoing engagement across channels. It’s how you:

  • Educate your customers about your products.
  • Showcase the ways your brand stands out.
  • Guide your customers through the buying process.

While some leads that you generate may not be ready to buy immediately, lead nurturing increases the likelihood that they make a purchase in the future. By developing a relationship with leads and engaging them at different points throughout the sales funnel, you can make an impression on customers and drive sales.

What is the difference between lead nurturing and lead generation?

Whether your intent is to increase lead generation or improve your lead scoring system, understanding the difference between lead nurturing and lead generation is essential before getting started.

Lead nurturing sounds similar to lead generation, but, contrary to popular belief, the terms are not interchangeable. In fact, lead generation is the process of generating leads from a traditional lead generation strategy, which may rely on content writing, SEO, or even social media marketing. Whether you want to generate leads on LinkedIn or attract new social media followers, lead generation is where everything begins.

Lead nurturing, however, is the use of qualified leads—or those who have already expressed interest in your business—to garner sales and/or traffic. In other words, the lead nurturing process begins after you’ve already generated the leads, and its goal is to convert these leads into paying customers. The lead nurturing process requires an in-depth understanding of the wants and needs of your already targeted audience and demographics.

Why is lead nurturing important for your business?

People rarely make a purchase immediately after interacting with your brand the first time. That’s okay—now you have a lead, and you’ve got time to cultivate it.

Your potential customer likely found you through an online search—research shows that online searches are most often the first touchpoint for customers researching an array of products and services. But finding you on a search engine results page often isn’t enough to motivate the customer to buy right away.

Instead, from here, they’ll begin researching and looking at their options. Presuming they continue to interact with your brand, each additional touchpoint you establish along the way is an opportunity to nurture that lead.

Lead nurturing is the path you take to get your customer from the awareness stage to the final decision-making stage. You don’t want to let customers get lost along the way—or siphoned off by your competition.

What is the sales funnel?

In marketing circles, you’ll often hear about the “lead nurturing funnel” or the “sales funnel.” This funnel represents the customer journey—the steps a customer takes between their initial interest in a product or service all the way to the purchase of that product or service.

The funnel concept has been around for decades, but it’s grown more complex in recent years due to advancements in technology and changes in shopping habits. Today, customers have more choices than ever when making their way through a sales funnel. Customers can research online, make purchases from their phones, and shop 24/7 from anywhere.

But while the complexity of the purchasing process has increased, the path through the funnel has remained largely the same. It has 3 basic stages:

  1. Awareness: This is when potential customers first find out about your product or service. As noted earlier, most customers reach this initial touchpoint through an online search. To get your prospects to this stage, you need to ensure that you’re ranking high in the search results.
  2. Consideration: After their first broad search, most customers will move on to a deeper consideration stage. It’s during this stage, while they’re researching a product or service and thinking about their purchase, that lead nurturing can make or break your ability to stay on a customer’s potential purchase list.
  3. Decision: Finally, the customer reaches the stage where they’re ready to make their purchase. They’ve finished their research and are in the process of making a final choice. Lead nurturing plays a vital role here in tapping into the emotional side of a purchasing decision.

Throughout every stage of the funnel, focus on how you’ll meet the needs of your customers—and how you’ll set yourself apart from the competition.

How do you design a lead nurturing program?

An effective lead nurturing campaign is one that’s planned out well in advance, with every element thoughtfully considered. The following steps will help guide your strategy from start to finish, ensuring you get the best return on your marketing dollars.

1. Gather customer data

Before you can begin nurturing the leads you’ve generated, you need to understand your target audience. Think about it the same way you would a personal relationship. It would be hard to develop a relationship with someone if you didn’t know who they were or what interested them.

Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible to learn a lot about your potential customers, including their age, location, interests, and, if they’ve bought something from you in the past, their purchase history. Using this detailed information, you can hone in on your target audience and start to create personas for your customers. These personas will help you build a meaningful, personalized relationship throughout the lead nurturing process.

2. Outline the customer journey

Now that you know who your customers are and have designed buyer personas, it’s time to outline their journey.

While the basics of a lead nurturing funnel remain the same across most businesses, your customer’s journey might contain details that are unique to your product or service. Take the rough outline of the basic customer journey and make it your own. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What information does my customer need during each segment of the journey?
  • How is my customer feeling during the journey?
  • What values will play a role in a customer’s perception of my brand throughout the journey?
  • Does my customer bounce between segments of the journey?

3. Create a targeted content strategy

After you’ve built out a detailed map of your customer’s journey, put together a content strategy that targets each segment. This can include blog posts, articles, press releases, social media content, email, videos, and more.

The goal is to create high-quality content that helps establish a connection between your customer and your brand and answers any questions customers might have along the way.

One popular way to do this is through automated emails—also known as drip campaigns. Emails that target the customer’s needs during a particular stage are sent automatically throughout the customer journey. The next message can be selected and queued up based on how customers interact (or don’t) with each email.

4. Reach your customers through different channels

Once you decide the content of your messages and when you’d like to send them, you can think about how you’ll get those messages to customers. Different customers will have different preferences, so it’s a good idea to interact with folks across as many channels as possible.

As you test different channels, pay close attention to the effectiveness of each. Monitor which portions of your audience tend to interact with each channel, and keep track of which channels lead to the most engagement or sales overall. In time, you’ll learn which channels are most effective for your business, and you’ll be able to make smart decisions about how to spend your marketing dollars going forward.

5. Retarget throughout the journey

Because customers might take days, weeks, or months before they decide to purchase your product or service, placing retargeting ads throughout their journey can keep your brand top of mind. With a small snippet of code, you can serve your ads to people who previously visited your website while they’re browsing other websites or social media. They’re a way to remind your potential customers about the items they viewed (or similar ones) on your website.

For example, if you sell clothing online and a customer browses a particular dress shirt, you can make sure that the customer sees an ad for the same item they were viewing at some point later on.

6. Close with a personalized touch

Often, lead nurturing involves sending customers, whether via text, social media, or email. These messages can be birthday greetings, discount codes, or simple reminders of a company value that aligns with that specific customer.

For example, when a lead you’ve been nurturing approaches the decision stage, you could send them an SMS message. You can greet them by name and tell them that they’re welcome to reach out via text for any further information they might need.

Taking a personalized approach right as a buyer comes close to making their purchase can go a long way in establishing a loyal relationship. It’s one of the fastest ways to set your brand apart from others that don’t go that extra mile.

3 tips for your lead nurturing campaign

Launching a successful lead generation and lead nurturing campaign will require you to understand what demographics you intend to reach as well as the audience's own needs when it comes to your business. Use the following tips with your own lead nurturing process for an optimal outcome:

1. Use a CRM platform to manage leads

Using the right CRM platform can make or break any business model, especially in today's fast-paced, technologically-driven world. Using a CRM—short for customer relationship management solution—such as Mailchimp is one way to manage and nurture existing leads. With the right CRM in place, you can take advantage of a complete and comprehensive overview of your current existing leads to generate a lead nurturing strategy that genuinely works.

2. Bring together marketing and sales teams

When it comes to nurturing leads, you will need a great communicative sales team that understands any sales funnel you currently have in place. Integrating your existing sales funnel with the lead nurturing strategy you have in mind is key to generating sales and expanding your reach, both online and off. As you put together a lead nurturing strategy, make sure to open communication channels between your sales and marketing teams so that everyone stays on the same page.

3. Develop a lead scoring process

Another way to determine the best course of action when it comes to launching a lead nurturing campaign is to develop a lead-scoring process. Lead scoring describes the process of giving each lead a grade or numerical value that indicates how likely a particular lead is to make a purchase. Leads can receive scores based on a variety of factors, such as demographic data, how many times they’ve interacted with your business, channels they’ve engaged with, and so on.

A lead scoring process can help you determine where you should allocate the most time and resources to generate the best results. Collect data, organize it, track it, and put it to use to determine the best methods of communicating with your audience and the best ways to garner sales for your business.

How can you measure the effects of lead nurturing?

As with any marketing tactic, it’s important to measure the effectiveness of your lead nurturing strategies. Once you place a lead nurturing plan into motion, you’ll want to consider measuring all of the following:

  • Engagement metrics: Pull data on how much your content is viewed, how many ads are clicked on, and how much time is spent on your landing pages.
  • Time to conversion: Run analytics on how long it takes for a lead to travel all the way from awareness to conversion. If it’s slow, think about how you can speed it up.
  • Conversion rates: As you spend money on lead nurturing, be sure you measure the conversion rate. How many leads are making it all the way to the end of your funnel? How can you increase that number?

Measuring the effects of lead nurturing should be an ongoing task so you can tweak your campaigns as you go. This can help cut down on marketing costs—you can spend less money on ineffective tactics and spend more in areas that provide you with the best returns.

Learn to nurture your leads for improved conversion

While there’s no end to the creative ways you can nurture your leads, engagement with your customers is the core of each tactic. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll start to develop a strategy that builds customer loyalty and trust, keeps them coming back to your site, and ultimately leads to more conversions.

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