What Lead Nurturing Content to Send When?

On Thursday I’m presenting a webinar with Treehouse Interactive, called “Lead Nurturing 101”. One of the registrants sent me the following question:

How much of this webinar will be about content, i.e. exactly what to say in each subsequent email in a series designed to move someone from prospect stage to buying stage?

The webinar will only cover this briefly, so therefore I’m giving some more details this blog post. By the way, you can still register for the webinar.

What Is Lead Nurturing Content?

Lead Nurturing content contains information that prospects need to make a purchase decision. It can come in various formats: (blog) articles, whitepapers, webinars, videos, podcasts, and so on. The content can be on the vendor’s website, it can be sent out via email, or sent out by sales people. In this post I’ll focus on content that is sent out via automated email campaigns (drip campaigns).

Mapping Content to Buying Stages

Different people need different content at different times. You can develop buyer personas and describe the content they need in the various buying stages. This process is called ‘content mapping’. Steve woods wrote a great primer on content mapping. With content mapping you can make sure that you cover all questions and objections that typically come up during the buying process.

However, it can be hard to apply content mapping to email nurturing. On your website, prospects will select the content they find interesting themselves, but in an email you are making a choice for them. So how do know what content they need at what time?

One option would be to assume that all new leads are just starting their buying process and need 6 months to make a decision. But that’s not how it works in real life: different people have different needs and are on a different schedule. The solution is to learn more about your prospects before you decide what content to send to them.

Content for Nurturing Emails

So to send the right content by email, you need to monitor prospects’ behavior. Web visits, document downloads, form submissions and email clicks will all give you an indication of the stage prospects are in. Based on their actions, you can enter prospects in the most appropriate nurturing campaign.

For example, if prospects download a whitepaper on the trends in your industry, they may also be interested in analyst reports or customer case studies. Or if they register for a demo of your product, a logical next step my be a product trial or a free consultation.

Once prospects have been entered in a particular lead nurturing track, keep monitoring their responses. For example, if prospects who downloaded a whitepaper earlier are now registering for a demo, you may want to switch campaigns. When the drip campaign has come to an end before the prospects are ready to buy, enter them in a long-term nurturing campaign.

The Best Email Sequence

Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. If you know the email campaign, how do you decide which content should be in it, and in which order? I can share some approaches that work well for me in my consulting practice.

To determine the pieces of content, make a list of all the questions people typically ask in this stage. If you don’t know, ask your sales people, or simply call a couple of prospects and ask them. Also try to find out typical objections. Ideally, you provide content that addresses all questions and objections that prospects have in this stage of the buying process.

In your email campaign, start with a couple of educational emails that contain helpful content. The tone-of-voice of these emails should also be helpful (as opposed to being sales-oriented). Then start mixing in some more promotional content, which could be offers or product-related content. Once the campaign is running, carefully monitor open rates and click rates so you can optimize your messages. You’ll have to iterate a couple of times: it’s hard to create the ‘perfect’ campaign from the start.

Keeping It Manageable

There are only so many campaigns that you can realistically create. How can you keep it all manageable? My first recommendation is to focus on the most promising customer segments first. It’s better to do a great job nurturing the most important 20% of your prospects than do a bad job nurturing your entire database.

Second, keep the campaigns relatively simple. A simple but consistently executed campaign will give better results than a complex campaign that is hard to manage. It’s often best to start with linear campaigns: just sending one message after another, rather than branching based on the prospect’s behavior.

Let me know your tips for creating email nurturing content!

Live Webinar: Lead Nurturing 101

Learn how to nurture your leads and bring more revenue to your company. This webinar shows what you can do today to begin or enhance your lead nurturing programs. Thursday at 1pm PDT.

Register now »

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13 thoughts on “What Lead Nurturing Content to Send When?

  1. Daniel Kuperman

    Nice guide, Jep. Easier said than done, I’m afraid. It all comes down to content. So the key is to map out the nurturing cycle and interactions and then ensure you have content created for those specific stages. Otherwise it won’t work. That’s where a lot of companies have trouble (experienced this first hand), because when it comes time for the content creation someone needs to own it and budget for it.

    What are your thoughts on effective content creation?

  2. Jep Castelein Post author

    Daniel, absolutely agree. I do have some tricks that I often use, but it’s still hard. Some tips:

    (1) get others to write some content: get guest posts on your blog, do thought leadership interviews with industry luminaries, interview coworkers (text, audio or video), or make lists (Lists of best articles, top thought leaders, best YouTube videos, etc.)

    (2) reuse content: for example, if companies do webinars, reuse the recording, create a video with a summary, write a blog post, and possibly even a whitepaper. One topic, reused five times.

    (3) use different formats: see my connected marketer post

    Just some ideas. More in my content webinar: http://www.leadsloth.com/webinar-lead-nurturing-content/

    I hope this helps.

  3. Bob Scheier

    Agree on all the above, and would add several caveats based on project I’m currently involved in:

    1) Be sure to not only focus content on the hottest prospeccts, but be sure to post that content in the venue where you can track behavior and avoid repetitive offerings to the same customer. (i.e., don’t host content on your regular Web site if you lack the analytics to track who read what.)

    2) Also, don’t post any content aimed at your hot prospects until you can track its readership. We are currently “dribbling” content onto a micro-site as we tease it in a newsletter, so prospects don’t go wandering off reading stuff we can’t track. This is due to the limits of our comparatively low-end tool, which we’re using while we prove the concept.

    Great post and thanks!


  4. Rob T. Woods

    I think one of my biggest issues is trying to ascertain exactly what content a potential may find interesting. For my company, I have been basing success of a campaign based on open / click rates, without giving much thought to the actual content.

    How do you feel about dynamic content generation based on metrics like job role, company, etc? Have you seen a more successful campaign by implementing this?

  5. Jep Castelein Post author

    Rob, that’s one of the biggest challenges. I find persona development – spending real time understanding your target group – the best preparation to understand your audience. That’s hardly a scientific process though.

    Dynamic content generation sounds interesting: what exactly do you mean with that?

  6. Bob Scheier

    Developing personas is certainly one approach, but as Jep points out is not exactly scientific and also takes a lot of effort. Another approach is to design content aimed at various target prospects, such as a
    technical piece aimed at IT staff, or a more business-oriented piece aimed at the C-level exec, and see who clicks what. One can even create content specifically aimed at various functional types to identify them based on click-throughs, such as “Ten things a CFO needs to know about SANs,” or identifying them by budget, such as “A $5,000 approach to storage virtualization for SMBs.” In short, get prospects to identify and even score themselves automatically based on their readership choices.


  7. Rob T. Woods

    @Jep dynamic content is available for most automation platforms. Essentially, I’d have certain content show for certain people based on job title for example. If I have 10 different targets, I could create one email campaign with 10 different dynamic content sections that change based on job title. I use Eloqua and they call this Activity Driven Content.

    From Eloqua: Activity Driven Content – Activity Driven Content is the most advanced form of content personalization available for marketers seeking to increase email campaign response, maximize lead conversion and accelerate the sales cycle. With Activity Driven Content, marketers now can incorporate dynamic content in email and websites based on implicit indicators of interest, such as web activity and email response data, in addition to explicit demographic data, including location, title or industry.

  8. Jep Castelein Post author

    @Bob: those are great suggestions, thanks!

    @Rob: that feature could certainly be useful, but I think the main challenge still is to write the content that appeals to a particular target group, and to get the timing right.

  9. Bob Scheier

    As a former trade press editor, writing content that appeals to a particular target group is what we did (or tried to do) every day. With marketing automation software, you have the benefit of instant feedback on what readers do and don’t like. IMHO, it’s a matter of knowing your prospects well, and getting input from your sales team on “what hot questions or concerns do prospects have at various points in the sales cycle.”

    As for timing, again, prospects ideally tell you when they’re ready for an introduction, product details, pricing information, or a sales call, etc. based on what they just read.

    What have I missed in my description of the “ideal” :) world?

  10. Jep Castelein Post author

    Bob, that sounds pretty ideal to me ;-)

    I would like to add that you need to let prospects know that you have additional product info, sales resources and personalized demos, and how to access those. I usually prefer the ‘advertising’ format, where a promo is placed next to an educational article. For example, see the webinar promo below this blog post.

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