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A Conversation About Better Lead Nurturing

Lauren Siler: We’re trying something new with this article that we’re pretty excited about.

I’m here with Senior Digital Marketing Strategist, Holly Fong. And today, we’re going to “write” about lead nurturing. Well, we’re actually going to talk about it, record the conversation, then post the transcript. This is a method that we advise our clients to use sometimes when they struggle producing content. It’s going to be a fun experiment for us today.

Alright, so let’s get into it. Today’s topic relates to a podcast recording that Holly, Chris Butler and I recorded recently about the difference between lead generation and lead nurturing. But what we want to dig in on today, after we regroup on what the difference between those two terms is, are some advanced methods for lead nurturing, specifically when you’re using a marketing automation tool.

To get us started, Holly, when I say “lead generation” and I say “lead nurturing”, can you explain the differences between those two terms?

Holly Fong: Lead generation has more to do with how you are acquiring leads, so whether that’s purchasing a list, whether that a person coming organically to your website and filling out a form, or if you’re meeting those individuals at an event, downloading your LinkedIn list. Those would all be instances of lead generation. Then, lead nurturing has to do with how you’re contacting and connecting with that individual after you already have their email address or their information.

Lauren Siler: Right. Lead generation is really about how we are getting the people into the database, and that can happen in one fell swoop, as you mention, through a list purchase or some other acquisition approach, or it can happen slowly over time, through putting conversion points on the website and allowing people to grow your list organically as they’re converting on various calls to action across the site. That’s pretty straightforward, but when we think about lead nurturing, we’re thinking about the buy cycle stages of these various prospects and how they’re moving through them. Ultimately, we want to move the “researchers” and “evaluators” into that “purchase” stage.

A lot of the agencies that we work with, they’ve got the right technology in place. We’ve worked with them or they come to the table having a conversion-focused website. They’ve got a CRM system like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics or something that’s integrated with the site. They’ve also got a marketing automation system, something like Act-On or HubSpot or Pardot.

So when an agency has the technology and they’re looking to put together their initial lead nurturing campaigns, where do you even begin? Where do you start thinking about how to approach lead nurturing using this technological suite?

Holly Fong: Typically, people start by creating very simple automated programs, where if someone fills out a particular form online, they might receive a followup email thanking them for filling out that form, something really simple like that.

Lauren Siler: These are automated messages.

Holly Fong: Yes, automated messages that would come from their automation tool. Now, if they wanted to take it a step further, what they really should be doing is looking at not only how can we craft a confirmation message, but how can we come up with a good followup message that’s going to be relevant to the individual who filled out that form based on maybe previous content that that individual has viewed on the website? For example, if they read a blog post about content marketing and you have a related white paper about content marketing, it would be great to be able to give them an email that is more tailored to the information that they’ve shown interest in.

Lauren Siler: How is that happening? Is that a list segmentation process?

 Lead generation is really about how to get people into the database, and that can happen through a list purchase or it can happen slowly over time, through putting conversion points on the website. 

Holly Fong: Yeah. Typically, what they would need to do is build some list segmentation, or there’s also dynamic blocks within the email composer, which allows the system to automatically catalogue what the recipient’s behaviors indicate they’re interested in, and then dynamically adjust the content to be tailored to those interests on the fly.

Lauren Siler: To summarize that first approach, there’s the basic entry-level automated program, which would be somebody submits a form on your website and the automation tool kicks out an automated response that says, “Hey, thanks for signing up. Check out this particular piece of content on the site.” Everybody who submits that form would get that same message. That’s the entry-level approach. What you’re recommending is, if you’ve got this technology, one thing that you could do is have the system observe the behaviors of that individual prior to submitting that form and say, “Okay, build out relevant list segmentations or customize the copy within the email that gets generated to say, ‘Based on the behavior that that person took, send this more relevant piece of content.'”

For example, you (Holly) come to the site and you access something that’s relevant to how to build out campaigns in Salesforce, and I (Lauren) come to the site and I access a piece of content that maybe is about how to design a better messaging strategy. The automation system is going to take a look at those two behaviors, and it’s probably going to deliver you something that’s more related to Salesforce and probably send me something more related to content strategy.

Holly Fong: Correct.

Lauren Siler: Cool.

Holly Fong: I would think about creating those segments based on personas. If you have content for different personas, think about some of the articles someone from these particular personas might have viewed and then create a segment based on that.

Lauren Siler: Great. Beyond the simple form confirmation email, what other types of automated programs do you see work well?

Holly Fong: A lot of times you can create automated programs based on individuals’ activity on the website. It doesn’t have to necessarily be that they filled out a form. Something you could do is if someone was going to your site a lot and then stops going to your site for a while, you could automate some sort of message to try to bring them back. That’s another scenario that a lot of clients use to try to make sure to keep all of their contacts active on their website.

Lauren Siler: Do you have a recommended timeframe to wait before we send the re-engagement email?

Holly Fong: Yeah. It’s based a little bit on how many emails you’re typically sending a month. If you’re sending three to five emails a month, I would say you don’t need to do it after the first month that they don’t engage. You want to give them at least three to six months probably before you would kick out something like that.

Lauren Siler: An interesting approach that I’ve seen agencies take once they’ve built up their repository of content on their site is to use the system to get older but still relevant content back in front of their prospects. Basically, if somebody signs up for let’s say their biweekly newsletter, that person’s on the newsletter list and they get an email every other week. But then they can use the system to, in between those two communications, get content in front of them that they maybe were not exposed to because they weren’t on the list when that content was published at the site. Have you seen agencies do that?

Holly Fong: Yeah, definitely. That’s typically based on creating programs that would send relevant content that’s maybe older, that’s backdated, to individuals. You could do that either based on something they’ve done on your site or you could just simply set up emails that occasionally are going to bring back up some of that older content.

Lauren Siler: A lot of questions I get from agencies have to do with how to nurture their colder lists. Let’s say, going back to that lead generation conversation, when we say a common method for generating leads quickly is to acquire a list of contacts, but then the question is, well, all right, I’ve got my list. Let’s say they already went through, they cleaned it. It’s ready to go. When it comes to nurturing a cold list, the approach probably needs to look different than nurturing a list of opt-ins contacts who’ve been on that list for a while. Or maybe not. I don’t know. You tell me.

What do you think when a client comes to you and they’re like, “I’ve got this new list of people who’ve never really heard of me. How do I begin to nurture it using the tools that I have?”

Holly Fong: Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend nurturing it differently than their warmer lists. I would think about the first email that that individual receives, but the frequency at which they’re receiving emails really should be the same as what you’re sending your whole list. Now, if you aren’t sending your whole list emails very frequently, you’re only sending something once a month, then you might want to make sure for a purchase list you have some sort of automated program that’s going to trigger at least six emails within two months so that they’re getting at least a good amount of information from you. The downfall of not doing that is that person would get one email from you, and then two months later they’ll get another email from you, and they’re not going to ever know who you are.

Lauren Siler: Yeah, that’s an important point. What we see is that the more frequently that you engage with your list, particularly the colder list, the higher levels of engagement on those emails. That makes sense, because you’re getting in front of them. Especially if they didn’t ask to receive information from you, sending an email once in a while just out of the blue is going to feel like a shot out of left field a lot more often than if you are getting in touch with them regularly with education that’s relevant to their interests.

Holly Fong: Yeah. By the time you get in touch with them the second time, they’ll have forgotten who you are if you leave that span too long.

Lauren Siler: Yeah. There’s another thing that I would note about that question. So Holly’s mentioning that probably you don’t want to change your strategy as far as frequency goes, meaning if it’s a cold list or it’s a warm list, you want to be getting in touch with them regularly. Now, from a messaging standpoint, the only thing that I would throw out there in addition is that with a cold list, I think that a lot of agencies are inclined to make that first communication very formal and introductory, like, “Hi, I am XYZ agency and I’m located in this place and I’m really, really good at this thing and you should care about me for this reason, and, oh, by the way, here’s an article that could be interesting to you.”

What I always recommend to agencies is to cut that crap out. Just get right into the good stuff, especially for a purchased list, because they could not care less about who you are, where you’re located, what your expertise is as far as your portfolio and the awards you’ve won and that kind of thing. It comes off a little egotistical and kind of presumptive to purchase somebody’s name and then put all of this naval-gazing content in front of them. Cut that crap and just begin with the most compelling piece of information or education that you can put in front of them.

Holly Fong: Another thing that works really well is when you talk about them instead. You could say, “Hi, First Name, I know as a … ” — and then you put their position in — ” … at … ” — and then you put their company in — ” … you may go through this problem on a daily basis, and we have a great article to help combat that x, y, or z.”

Lauren Siler: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think empathy is a big thing that we as marketers can forget to express in our content. Especially if we’re talking to the masses and we’re not really envisioning a person, the tone of our copy comes off a little bit colder and more removed without even realizing it. I think that’s a good point.

Empathy is a big thing that we as marketers can forget to express in our content.

What’s your opinion, and I don’t know if we agree here, but what’s your opinion on sending gated content as the first communication to a cold purchase list?

Holly Fong: I don’t mind it. I think some of your gated content is your most relevant, best content. What’s your opinion?

Lauren Siler: I see that perspective, because you think of gated content as marquee pieces of content that’s got your biggest, best thinking, but for a cold list, for the very first communication, I’d be more inclined to send a really compelling article that’s … Well, I would go one of two ways. Either I would do a short email that would drive them to an article that wasn’t gated so that they could just be exposed to my thinking very early on, and then have on the article detail page hopefully in the related content materials they can easily get to a gated piece of content.

But the other approach that you could do is in the body of the email itself write out the article, so include most of the thought leadership in the actual email, and then have a link to a related gated piece of content that’s on your site, so you’re exposing them to your thinking for free, but then if they want to get more they can do that on the site.

Holly Fong: Yeah, that’s a really neat idea. What would be your opinion about someone’s first email being a webinar invite, though? Because that’s technically a gated piece of content.

Lauren Siler: That’s a good point. I think webinars as the very first communication, I think I would advise against it.

Holly Fong: Really?

Lauren Siler: I think I would. Well, I don’t know. Let’s debate it. Is it presumptive to say, “Hey, give me an hour of your time even though I don’t know who you are and I haven’t yet proven my expertise to you”?

Holly Fong: But we’re not talking about ourselves, we’re talking about them, and so what we’re saying is, “Hey, you can attend this webinar for an hour to learn about how we can help you solve this or to learn about interesting topics to you.” To me, I think a webinar could be a really good first conversion point, because if it’s related to them, they’re going to be very inclined to sign up, especially because it’s something that has a timestamp on it. When you say, like, “Here’s an ebook,” or something like that, that person can always come back to that, and they might just file it away or they might go right away, but with a webinar people that are interested in that specific topic might be more inclined to actually sign up.

Lauren Siler: Because of the timeliness of the event, you’re saying?

Holly Fong: Exactly, yeah.

Lauren Siler: Yeah, I could definitely see that. That would be an interesting thing to test, which I guess is probably the final thing we should cover here, about A/B testing and how that relates to the lead nurturing, because in this example I could definitely see dividing up a purchased list and testing … Honestly, you could even do an A/B/C test really and deliver something that was pushing people to just an un-gated article on the site, something that was a gated piece of content, and something that was time-based or event-based, like a webinar. That would be one method to observe how the people on your specific list are going to react to various formats of content and expertise. What are some other types of things that you would advise agencies consider testing using their automation tool at the outset?

Holly Fong: Well, mainly the concern with a purchased list is the email open rate. Click-through rate is the percentage out of the total sent versus the percentage out of the total open. The biggest problem agencies have is when they first start sending to a purchased list, they don’t get as many opens as they maybe would like. The “from address” is a really good variable to A/B test. Meaning, test sending from a personalized email vs. a generic email alias. The subject line is something that’s really important to A/B test as well. Putting individual’s names in the subject line sometimes helps. That’s an option you could look at. Putting the type of content within brackets, so for example if it’s a webinar you’d put that in brackets, and testing that to see if that helps increase that open rate. Also, looking at the day and the time that you’re sending those emails is important.

Lauren Siler: Do you find that your clients tend to taper off with their testing after a while? If so, how long does that take?

Holly Fong: People taper off their testing when they’re not testing for variables that actually help them get good results. A lot of times people make the mistake of testing just subject line, and they are not testing a variable that they can actually take and put into action because that subject line is so specific to that email. Whereas if they were testing for a certain variable, like let’s have our brand name in the subject line versus let’s not and see which performs better, then they could take that and continue to test for other things based on those results.

I would say people taper off if they’re not finding helpful results, and they might be not finding helpful results if they’re either testing too many variables at once or if they’re not testing a static variable often enough.

Lauren Siler: It sounds like there’s probably always something you could be testing if you’re being smart about the long-term value of that specific A/B test.

Holly Fong: Correct.

Lauren Siler: Cool. This was really interesting and fun. Thanks for joining me in this conversation.

Holly Fong: Thank you!

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