The 5 Ws (and 1 H) of Successful Lead Nurturing

By Sarah Asp Olson

At madison/miles media, we approach marketing with an eye toward journalistic storytelling. That’s because we believe stories have the power to connect and build lasting, trusting relationships between you and your customers (current and potential).

When it comes to effective lead nurturing, we find it useful to apply that tried-and-true storytelling method — who, what, when, where, why and how — to get at the heart of what it takes to build a truly awesome lead nurturing campaign. 

What is lead nurturing? Put simply, it’s the process of guiding people who’ve expressed interest in your company along the buyer’s journey from awareness to decision. Along the way (and for a successful outcome), you need to build authentic relationships and earn your prospects’ trust. In short: Keep people engaged, don’t let them ghost you, and encourage them to swipe right (or something like that).

This process involves looking at what the prospect needs at different stages of the funnel and finding ways to satisfy those needs. The ultimate goal of lead nurturing is to turn those leads into customers. Yay, customers!

ask the right questions

To plan and establish a successful lead nurturing program, first ask the following questions.

Why are you nurturing leads? OK, of course the ultimate goal is for them to become customers. But what is your immediate goal? Perhaps you want them to set up a free consultation or buy your product. Maybe you want them to attend an in-person event. Whatever your goal is, make it quantifiable.

Who are your leads? To create content that resonates with your new leads, you need to know who they are. What are they interested in and looking for? Do they reach for Sriracha or Cholula, or old school Tabasco? How do they like being communicated with? Are they texters or phone callers? Because those are very different people.

The key to finding the right content that’s going to hook your leads? Using buyer personas.

Buyer personas (which are also sometimes called marketing personas) are fictionalized representations of your target buyers. You’ll likely develop several buyer personas based on real traits and motivations of your customers and prospects. You can even give them fun names and imagine them driving tiny cars in your brain.

Knowing exactly who buyers are helps you define your audience and thus create content that specifically addresses their questions and pain points. In lead nurturing, buyer personas help you customize nurture touches to keep leads engaged and moving through the sales funnel. 

Let’s say, for example, your company distributes a wide range of cleaning and sterilization products, as well as equipment to hospitals. One of your buyer personas may be a maintenance manager (we’ll call him Mitch) in charge of ordering soap, towels and laundry detergent for the facility. Another could be a surgical sterilization technician (Susan) who is required to maintain a working knowledge of decontamination/sterilization equipment in order to improve processes. 

The type of content these two buyers gravitate toward and the way you approach them will be very different. 

Fast Stat: Companies who create buyer personas are more than twice as likely to exceed revenue goals than those who don’t

What do they want? Unfortunately, your leads aren’t a monolith, pod people or residents of Camazotz — you’ll learn from your buyer personas that each has distinct goals, questions and pain points. This should direct the way you reach out and nurture them. You wouldn’t bog down a CEO in the details about how your product is made; instead you’ll tell her how your product or service can generate business growth on her end. 

If you don’t know where to start the conversation, think about what prompted your lead to engage in the first place. 

If your lead offered up his personal info in exchange for a white paper on cutting-edge methods for sterilizing surgical instruments that have been unfortunately doused in hot sauce, the next email he receives shouldn’t be about cafeteria dishwashing techniques. Confusing and irrelevant content is the quickest way to turn a new lead into an ex-lead. 

Fast Stat: According to Aberdeen, targeting users with content relevant to their position along the buying process yields 72% higher conversion rates.

Where are they in the funnel? Equally important is understanding where your leads are in the inbound marketing funnel (aka the path the prospect follows to go from visitor to customer). Is your lead a TOFU (no, not that kind), MOFU (not that kind again) or BOFU (I got nothin’)? Knowing where your leads are allows you to design content that moves them further down in the funnel. 

  • Leads in the top of the funnel (TOFU) are in the awareness stage. They want information in the form of blogs, infographics or short e-books designed to educate and inform. 
  • Middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU) folks know they have a problem and are coming to you for help solving it. Use consideration stage content here like podcasts, videos or webinars to draw them in and position yourself as the problem solver. 
  • BOFUs (bottom-of-the-funnelers) are ready to buy. Consider offering decision-stage content, such as case studies and free consultations for this stage.

The more information you have about each lead, the more targeted you can get in the content you deliver. As your leads visit new pages and engage (or ignore) content you send them, you’ll have a better idea of what is important to them. (But probably best to mention hot sauce on every page.)

Fast Fact: A study by Accenture found that 41% of consumers switched businesses due to a lack of personalization.

When should you reach out? In lead nurturing, as in life, timing is everything. 

If Maintenance Manager Mitch visited your site and downloaded your infographic on “The Top Five Disinfectants Every Hospital Needs for Combating Hot Sauce Spillage,” your next step would be a follow-up piece of content like a blog post on how to sanitize high-touch surfaces. You’ve continued the conversation. 

What’s next? 

Marketing automation software, like Hubspot’s workflow tool, is your best friend here. Marketing automation helps you deliver the right content to the right leads at the right time by setting off a chain reaction based on actions taken by the lead. Let’s use our persona, Maintenance Manager Mitch, to visualize a lead nurturing workflow. 

This is a simplified example of workflow. Automation software can also track Maintenance Manager Mitch’s movements around your site and deliver him relevant content based on what he downloads or the pages he clicks on. The workflow will look different for Sterilization Tech Susan. 

With marketing automation in your lead nurturing toolkit, according to Hubspot, “you can take full advantage of the benefits of timeliness and help your leads get their answers faster.” 

How do you know it’s working? Marketing automation software can help here too by attaching real-time analytics to each piece of content you send or promote. You’ll be able to learn who viewed what when, even how much time passed between visits and which subject lines had the best conversion rates.  

All this data also helps you rank leads — also known as lead scoring. You score leads based on the interest they show in your business, their place in the buyer’s journey and other factors — all metrics available via marketing automation software. Lead scoring can determine how sales-ready a lead is and therefore how best to nurture that lead. 

Why nurture leads? According to Invesp, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost. Yet only 35% of B2B marketers have developed lead-nurturing strategies. 

Effective lead nurturing is a win-win. You offer valuable content to your leads while building trust, credibility, connection and — eventually — new customers. New customers who like hot sauce.

(Did we mention we have our own hot sauce? Ask about it. It’s amazing.)

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Sarah Asp Olson

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