Master Inbound

A Beginner's Guide to Lead Nurturing
A Beginner's Guide to Lead Nurturing

Inbound marketing is all about educating, helping, and inspiring our prospects as they convert in to customers. On the surface, these actions seem like a great approach to take, but their implementation leaves some marketers and business owners stumped. This is where intelligent lead nurturing comes in to play.

The most important aspect to consider when strategizing your lead nurturing is the experience leads have in each stage of the Inbound purchase process.

We know that Inbound differs from traditional marketing and selling, in that our initial approach is not to immediately drive a sale from each interaction we have. Rather, we focus on positioning ourselves as resourceful and helpful to leads, so that our company is top of mind when they are ready to purchase. 

The payoff for this patience comes in the form of more qualified leads coming into our sales department's contact pool, and genuinely engaged leads utilizing our content rather than ignoring our transparent hard sell approaches. Basically, it helps your sales reps avoid being told this:

B2B sales leads, sales marketing, lead generation, sales meme
Shout out to Tracepoint for that meme, it's amazing.

You may have seen this image from HubSpot, which details the different categorizations we assign to individuals transitioning through our funnel, and also the communication mediums we're using to reach them throughout:

So, where does lead nurturing fit in to this process? In order to answer that question, let's take a look at the idea behind the concept.

To effectively guide leads through your funnel, you need a structured approach to communication. You need a measurable way to convert website visitors into leads, assess leads based their potential fit for your services, and position yourself as the best company to solve their problems.

Sure, having a killer website and engaging social media accounts is great for building your brand and credibility when they find you - but how do you translate those good feelings into a purchase?

Lead nurturing, in it's simplest form, is email communication. But not just "How ya doin?" emails. And it's certainly not blasting messages out to a rented list. We're talking about content created to be uber-specific to the recipients' needs and characteristics at each stage of the consideration and buying process.

Additionally, this style of marketing is always opted-in to by the recipient. 

The process of lead nurturing, within the Inbound context, consists of automated (but highly relevant!) email communications sent to leads as they seek more information about their needs and the potential solutions they have available.

Phase 1: Download

The lead nurturing process starts with a Top of the Funnel download by your visitor. Here's an example of Marketo collecting information from website visitors, in exchange for a content download on (surprise!) lead nurturing:
The information fields, including job function and company, are no coincidence. These will be used to categorize downloaders based on how they fit into Marketo's persona strategy, and will trigger a lead nurturing email campaign based upon information relevant to that persona.

Did I mention that you absolutely must have your personas clearly defined prior to beginning lead nurturing? If not, I'm saying it now, and I mean it! Personas are the foundation of your entire Inbound strategy and cannot be overlooked.

If you need help creating your buyer personas, check out this template.

Phase 2: Moving Down the Funnel with Email

Let's say Marketo has just two unique personas: Marketing Margaret (Potential job titles: Marketing Coordinator, Marketing Associate, Marketing Assistant, Marketing Strategist), and CMO Chris (Job title: Chief Marketing Officer/CMO). 

While these two personas share a department, they are responsible for entirely distinct initiatives and hold different levels of influence within their company.

As such, Marketo's lead nurturing for Margaret would likely focus on how low-to-mid level Marketers can implement lead nurturing campaigns and Inbound tactics in their department, or on providing information to secure higher-level buy in for Inbound initiatives.

Conversely, Marketo's communication with Chris would emphasize the influence CMOs and leaders have to impact their company's bottom line through Inbound methods. These emails would detail topics relating more to overall brand strategy and how Inbound will lead to tangible results to report back to the board.

Going back to the image of the Inbound consideration process above, lead nurturing is the bridge which guides your Top of the Funnel contacts to become Middle of the Funnel leads. This is executed by emailing them on a carefully timed out schedule, and providing content geared around their needs within those emails. 

Marketo's piece above is a Top of the Funnel download, as it is basic in it's subject matter and intended to inform readers. After sending a Thank You email to the lead, Marketo's lead nurturing campaign triggered by this offer would consist of a plethora of additional related resources and tools for their reader. Based on a carefully crafted schedule, Marketo could begin providing their lead with Middle of the Funnel content a few weeks out.

A Middle of the Funnel offer to follow this download would be slightly more involved and would provide different ways the lead might solve the problem they identified prior to downloading that initial offer. 

In this case, the lead expressed an interest in lead nurturing, which we know is meant to boost our rate of visitors-to-customers, so it's safe to assume they're having a problem with turning visitors and leads into buyers. Therefore, a wise choice for a Middle of the Funnel offer would be something that closely ties that problem to Marketo's solution.

For CMO Chris , this could be something like "The Expert's Guide to Tying Lead Nurturing into Existing Initiatives" or "A Comparison of Lead Nurturing and Traditional Email Marketing". They key here is to begin moving the lead's state of mind from seeking information about the solution, to thoroughly understanding your specific solution and it's benefits.

Once the lead downloads this Middle of the Funnel offer, they become a Middle of the Funnel lead. I know, what a surprise.

This process (timed automated emails with resources, content, etc) repeats to convert the lead down to our Bottom Funnel, where content is focused wholly on emphasizing the merits of your solution. These could be case studies of your success, trial testing periods of your product, live demonstrations, or pamphlets on your products features. Whatever it is, it's focused on ultimately making your company the one the lead chooses to buy.

Once the Bottom of the Funnel action is completed, the lead is qualified to be passed on to your sales department. And they'll react like:

Wrapping It All Up

And with that, you've completed a lead nurturing campaign!

One question which arises a lot in the discussion of lead nurturing is appropriate timing for email delivery. There's no absolute best way to go about this, but the structure of your campaign should be based upon how personas digest information. Here's a sample timeline of delivery, which should be taken as an example and not standard format:

  • Email 1 (Immediately) - Thanks for Downloading Top of the Funnel offer
  • Email 2 (3 Days later) - Additional Top of the Funnel Resources
  • Email 3 - (3 Days later) - More TOFU Resources
  • Email 4 (5 Days later) - Download Middle of Funnel offer
  • Email 5 - (3 Days later) - Additonal MOFU resources
  • Email 6 (3 Days later) - More MOFU resources
  • Email 6 (5 Days later) - Download Bottom of the Funnel offer
  • Email 7 (3 Days later) - If they haven't converted, send thank you and invite to connect on other mediums

Unfortunately, not all leads will convert into customers. This raises the issue of what to do with those leads. Should you abandon them after the final timed nurturing email is sent, or should you continue to contact them? 

A standard best practice is to invite the contact to connect on social media or subscribe to your blog in your final email, and then move them into a separate list.

You could potentially contact them down the road with new information if it pertains to their goals, but you don't want to be investing too much energy in creating thousands of nurturing emails for people who are simply not going to convert.

Have a question about lead nurturing? Not sure how to tie Inbound into your current efforts? Let's discuss in the comments below!

PS. Need more info on how to create content for each stage of the consideration process? Here's another post on the matter.

Shannon Good
Shannon Good

Shannon is a passionate Inbound Marketing Specialist at Savvy Panda, a web design and marketing firm focused on crafting unique strategies to build businesses through earned and owned attention.

After graduating from Colorado State University with a Bachelor's in Communication Studies, Shannon developed a passion for digital media while working in online advertising. Since then, she has happily transitioned into the Inbound realm where she enjoys utilizing social media communication, content creation, and community building to achieve excellence. You can find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and 


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