How to use lead nurturing to grow your business

The marketing tactic yields results by finding the demand that’s out there

9-minute read

Successful businesses are built on relationships. And, just like personal relationships, they need to be nurtured.

From the fresh prospects not yet ready to buy to the customers who’ve made several successful purchases, entrepreneurs need to listen carefully to the specific needs of each segment and deliver valuable information at the right time to build trust and rapport.

This process is called lead nurturing. And when it’s done right, it can build long-lasting brand loyalty and a rich pipeline of potential customers.

What is lead nurturing?

Lead nurturing is a marketing technique that identifies potential buyers, then builds and maintains relationships with them as they interact with your business. This is usually done through marketing activities that create a good rapport with a customer. An email marketing campaign or a social media strategy are typical examples of lead nurturing activities.

“Lead nurturing means reaching out to a client by email, on social media or via a blog post. It’s making sure that whatever messaging you have for them is relevant to where they are in the buying journey,” says Adrian Turner, Manager, Demand Generation at BDC.

Lead nurturing may appear to be an advanced marketing function, but it’s become a successful and streamlined alternative to traditional advertising. Even small and medium-sized businesses can create customer personas, build a customer journey and develop content that converts to sales.

“Back in the day, lead nurturing would be accomplished by a salesperson calling their prospect, or existing customer, and saying, ‘Hey, how’s it going? What’s new? How’s the product working out for you? Here’s some information that might help right now,’” says Turner.

However, technology has introduced a host of new ways to reach prospects on channels well beyond the phone call.

Technology helps businesses do the same relationship building and maintenance they used to do on the phone—now it’s just on hyperdrive.

Why is lead nurturing important?

Lead nurturing is a crucial part of increasing your conversion rate and maximizing profit. Among its many attributes, it can help a prospect:

  • keep your company top of mind
  • learn about a new or existing product or feature
  • get closer to making a purchase
  • be informed throughout their buying journey

A business can anticipate the needs of a buyer based on their persona (archetypal representations of segments of your customer base). It can also walk them through the buying process by creating marketing messages that appeal directly to them.

Lead nurturing for prospects

By providing future customers with relevant information (e.g., industry news, guides, webinar invitations) at the right time, a business is instilling trust and establishing itself as an authority and a leader in their industry. When ready to buy, many prospective customers will think of the business that took the time to provide them with valuable information.

Lead nurturing for existing customers

Customers who are in the buying process need to be nurtured, too. You can ensure they’re getting the support they need as their orders make their way through the sales system and set the stage for future sales. This might include a few well-timed emails, asking if they have questions or need support, and providing information about the product (and others like it).

Lead nurturing for former customers

To develop long-term relationships with customers, businesses can use lead nurturing to keep a connection. Tactics include email newsletters with insider information on upcoming product launches and some of the educational material you share with prospects.

What are lead nurturing tasks?

It’s crucial to lay the groundwork for lead nurturing by gathering both contact and customer journey information.

Capture the lead

The first step of lead nurturing is to gather the contact information (usually email and phone number) so you can send them content.

Turner lists the various ways you can capture leads: “You can get business cards at events, add pop-ups to your website that invite visitors to subscribe to your newsletter, and offer gated content for value-added resources such as guides or white papers. The users typically offer up their contact information to gain access to the gated content.”

Map your customer journey

Before considering how you’re going to reach out to a customer and what you’re going to say, you first need to establish who the customer is and what they want and need.

You need to build out the customer journey. Who is the person walking into your store or clicking on your website? What’s going through their mind as they’re looking at your products? What will get them to make that purchase?

A typical customer journey has four stages:

1. Awareness—They have a challenge and they’re looking for something to solve it.

2. Evaluation—They’re ready to make the purchase and need more information.

3. Purchase—They’re in the buying process and need to feel supported.

4. Loyalty—They’re happy with their purchase, inclined to share their success with others and are ready to come back for more.

There are opportunities for lead nurturing throughout every stage of a customer journey. “Once you’ve mapped out your process, you can start to think about how to nurture them from one stage to the next,” Turner says.

Examples of lead nurturing

At its core, lead nurturing helps the prospect gain trust in the company or product and addresses questions they have at the different steps of their customer journey.

Lead nurturing at the awareness stage

Educational content that helps inform their decision making:

  • Articles
  • Guides
  • White papers
  • Online courses

Lead nurturing at the evaluation stage

Detailed information to consider as they make comparisons in the marketplace:

  • Product specs and competitor comparisons
  • Product-specific white papers or guides
  • Case studies or testimonials

Lead nurturing at the purchase stage

Information that makes it easy for them to make the purchase:

  • Product demos
  • One-on-one consultations
  • Product discounts (e.g., when signing up for newsletters)

Lead nurturing at the loyalty stage

Incentives to become a long-term customer:

  • Sneak peeks of new products
  • Dedicated customer service representative
  • Various perks

The most commonly used channels for lead nurturing are email, social media and a business’s website.

Turner suggests grouping prospects based on their place in the customer journey and creating content for each stage, and then tailoring and delivering content to the right people at the right time.

“The point is to grow and maintain the relationship. You want to provide content that brings value to the customer wherever they are.”

What kind of tools do you need for lead nurturing?

There are many kinds of email marketing automation tools that will help you create email lists and campaigns that send out regular communications for each customer segment.

Some tools will include data that show your customers’ engagement levels, including open and click-through rates. This information is a goldmine for developing finely tuned lead nurturing campaigns, according to Turner.

“If you can figure out how people are interacting with each piece of content you can build custom campaigns for certain segments. Or make small onboarding campaigns for people who’ve subscribed to your newsletter. Don’t be afraid to test the waters, see what works.”

“I might have a nurturing campaign specific to an action. Maybe do a three-email blitz for the people who downloaded a guide on a specific topic. Each email brings the prospect close to a decision.’”

If you’re not using an email marketing tool, you could use a Web analytics tool to find out more information about your website’s most popular pages or downloads. If you have a blog, your future content can be informed by the number of visits each post has been getting.

“A lot of lead nurturing comes down to listening. Find out what the needs of your clients are. In the digital world, we listen by leveraging data. When people are consuming your material, they’re indicating something to you. Your goal in nurturing is to provide them with answers.”

What is inbound lead nurturing?

Even if you don’t have an established lead nurturing program, you can still nurture your prospects through the stages of the customer journey.

“Outbound lead nurturing is when you actively go out and reach prospects. Inbound is when they come to you.” Turner says. “So, it might be someone who was referred by another customer or they just found you in their research.”

To help attract inbound leads:

  • make sure your contact information is visible on your website
  • update your Google listing
  • give prospects other ways to contact you, such as through social media or email

“Once they’ve been in touch, you can learn where they are in the journey and determine the best way to nurture them,” Turner says. “Get their contact information and put them in the marketing ecosystem so you can reach out to them proactively.”

Next step

Use our free Digital maturity assessment tool to find out where you stand and how you compare with your industry peers when it comes to digital marketing. The tool will also identify areas for improvement.

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