Brandon Carter
By Brandon Carter | Marketing Automation | December 10, 2020

The 5 Essential Elements of Successful Nurture Programs

Nurture marketing sounds so appealing.

You have some contacts in your database. You have some content. You mingle the two together and *BAM* the sales pipeline is full!

If you’re reading this, then you’ve discovered it isn’t so easy.

Not only is nurture marketing hard, but many companies have also sunk thousands of dollars into marketing automation platforms (MAPs) based almost entirely on the promise of nurture marketing – only to fail to earn a single penny in return.

It’s time to give nurture marketing its due and treat it like the full strategy it is.

With some careful planning and collaboration, you can launch a killer nurture marketing program that engages new contacts, incubates cold sales leads, and brings stalled opportunities across the finish line.

I’ve posed five questions in this article, each designed to guide you to an essential element of your nurture marketing strategy.

Let the answers guide you as you build, execute, and measure your nurture marketing program.

Question #1: What are you trying to accomplish with a nurture marketing program?

It seems obvious on the surface, but most marketers don’t put a lot of thought into exactly what they’re trying to do with a nurture program.

I do mean “exactly.” In marketing, we all know about SMART goals, and nurture marketing isn’t exempt from them. It requires clear objectives and timelines in which to achieve them.

  • Are you trying to generate sales interest among people who download your content?
  • Are you trying to keep sales-owned leads warm after they’ve declined to become customers?
  • Are you trying to help push stalled opportunities across the finish line to Closed-Won?
  • Are you trying to expand business among current customers?

These are all examples of nurture programs. But each one has different objectives, so you have to think about specific outcomes.

Example success milestones could include:

  • Direct purchases and upgrades
  • Lead score thresholds
  • Engaging with specific pieces of content (a sales-owned lead who visits your pricing page, for example)
  • Scheduling meetings
  • Form fills

In other words, choose specific goals and push all systems toward those goals. Don’t settle for random acts of marketing – shoot for specificity.

Bonus Tip: Start small. Take your most popular piece of content and add a four-email sequence to it that promotes more content on the topic. Focus on solving the contact’s problem. Use the fourth email to invite them to see how your company can help them solve that problem. As you get more comfortable, expand your streams, and experiment with branching logic that adapts content offers to how contacts engage with previous offers.

Question #2: Who is your target and are they identified in your database?

Segmentation is the key to any successful marketing automation implementation. Without even basic segmentation, your nurture efforts might even cost you business.

Example: you put together an email sequence inviting contacts to schedule an exploratory call with a sales rep, sent “from” the sales rep. But the emails somehow go out to all your contacts who are already in negotiations to become customers – and this little slip up hurts your company’s credibility in their minds. They might sign with your competitors, even.

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Accurate segmentation is a must.

Processes to move people within those segments MUST be followed, so you have to work with your sales team and your operations team to ensure they’re following procedures (for example, updating a contact’s status from “Open” to “Nurture” when someone says they’re interested but not today). Also, if your company has ideal customer profiles (ICPs), encode that criteria into your MAP so they can be treated differently than other contacts.

If your company has prospects they won’t or can’t work with, build that criteria out so you prevent them from going into nurture streams.

Bonus tip: Start with these five segments: Customers, Competitors (and others you don’t want to market to), Leads in current dialog with sales, Employees (yes, it’s good to segment them out), and New Prospects (content downloaders and webinar registrants, for example).

Question #3: Do you have the content?

Good nurture marketing is an exchange of value. You’re offering the contact a piece of content that’s going to improve their lives or performance, in exchange they’re going to give you some attention and sometimes their contact information.

You don’t need a ton of content but you need good content with context.

In other words, speak to what your contacts are interested in at that moment. Start with high-level education pieces like blog posts or ebooks. Things that help with solving problems.

Once they’ve engaged with some of those, share with them some information on how your company might be able to help solve their problem. Offer them some videos or webinars, or even a case study.

Don’t “hard sell” – that’s for your next round of content.

Product sheets, pricing quotes, personalized demos, audits – this is what you promote when someone has made it toward the bottom of your funnel. They’re activated, now you just need to convince them to chat.

The top of the funnel requires a lot of content, but it should be the easiest to create.

The middle of the funnel is where you earn your money.

Put in the effort to create 4-5 killer pieces of content that show how your company helps slay their particular dragon, and contacts will be ready to talk when you send out that demo invitation.

Bonus Tip: Nurture marketing is not just emails. Get creative and loop in direct mail pieces. Use paid media to retarget your lists. Vary your content types as well, with special attention to personalized video and webinars.

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Question #4: How do we remove people from nurture?

I touched on this a bit in question #2, but the biggest failures in nurture marketing tend to be structural. As in, contacts being nurtured who should not be nurtured.

Just as important as who goes into nurture is how they come out. You must have a clear understanding of these concerns:

  1. When should contacts be handed over to sales?
  2. How should contacts be handed over to sales?
  3. Is there a point where people in nurture should no longer be nurtured?

The first two are big, and require some work and thought. We’ll touch on them in question #5. Regarding #3 here, understand that not everyone is going to emerge from your nurture marketing efforts as a successful MQL. In fact, most won’t. Plenty will opt-out, others will bounce, and some will just go dormant. You need processes in place to identify and remove these, which a MAP will help with.

But, you also need to think through more complex scenarios. For example, Contact A from Company A is in your nurture program. What happens when your sales team closes a deal with someone else from Company A? Do you keep nurturing Contact A? Or kick them over to sales too? Or consider them a customer and move them into another stream entirely?

There are no easy answers to this one and every company reading this is going to have a different set of circumstances.

In general, form your nurture segmentation around fields in your CRM. Start with these four:

  • Contact Owner – Is the contact owned by sales already? If they’re brand new, consider assigning them to a placeholder account to identify them as marketing-owned.
  • Status – Assign a nurture value here; then work with sales to change the status to “Open” or some other value when the contact is being actively worked.
  • Company Status – If a company moves from “Prospect” to “Customer”, the contact may not need to be in nurture any longer.
  • Lifecycle Stage – Not to be confused with a status, lifecycle stage should represent where a contact is in the funnel: Lead, MQL, SQL, etc.

With a combination of these four fields, you can form your primary nurture segments. For example, a marketing-owned contact with a status of nurture is in one bucket; a sales-owned lead with the same status is in another.

When any of the criteria changes, the contact presence in a segment should also change. This is how you prevent someone in an active sales dialog from receiving an email inviting them to… a sales dialog.

Bonus Tip: Most companies immediately hand off new contacts to sales, even if they only downloaded a whitepaper. Sales teams may be resistant to allow marketing to own those leads. Do your homework to see if these contacts are becoming customers or even opportunities.

Question #5: Is your sales team ready for these leads?

This may be the hardest aspect of nurture marketing: getting them to close and become customers. In most cases, it’s going to be your sales team that takes the contact across the finish line. If the handoff process isn’t built with sales’ cooperation, it could go awry.

First, work with sales to decide when a contact is handed over. Do you want to wait until the contact has explicitly asked to meet (for example, clicking a scheduling link in an email), or does sales want them as soon as they reach a certain engagement threshold?

This is important.

If you’re going to wait for a contact to volunteer to talk to sales, it’ll take longer and the volume being handed over will be lower. Hand over too many leads who may not ready to talk and you risk burning out your sales team. They might start ignoring your contacts, as a worst-case scenario.

Second, decide how a nurture lead is handed over. Sales needs to understand there are differences between nurture MQLs and everyone else. The conversation with them will be different than a typical cold call or even other inbound leads.

You want sales to receive the lead in a way that identifies the contact as a nurture MQL and points them to your CRM or MAP. Then, the sales rep can see a record of all the engagements your contact has had, thereby informing them how to handle the conversation.

It could be rephrasing the verbiage in your notification email or tasks, or it could be a different process altogether. Maybe there’s a designated team of BDRs to manage these, or marketing should manage the initial qualification. Regardless, build a process in conjunction with sales, then report on it and refine it over time.

Bonus Tip: Create a sales and marketing task force that focuses on questions like “When should marketing nurture contacts be handed over?” Meet regularly and review data and talk through processes. The quickest way for nurture efforts (and revenue generation efforts in general) to fall apart is for sales and marketing to operate in different worlds.

Nurture marketing isn’t as easy as many marketing gurus portray it, but it also doesn’t have to be hard. If you put in the work on these five questions, you will walk away from the process with a basic architecture to work within and a replicable process you can use to experiment.

One final tip: as much as people want to make nurture sound like a science, today it’s much more of an art.

Consistency is key. Contacts are as likely to respond to a blog post as they are to a demo invitation. Try and touch everyone in your database regularly with relevant information and eventually positive results will come.

And yes, you’ll get some unsubscribes. That’s part of nurture marketing. But if you focus on your contacts and solving their needs (and don’t get too obnoxious) you’ll have so much success the unsubs may not matter.

Need a little more help with your nurture campaigns? We’ve got your back.

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In the time it takes to read this sentence, you could be on your way to a well-oiled demand generation machine. Ready for your blueprint?

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