Lead Nurturing 101 - An Introductory Guide For Small Businesses

I've written a fair bit about small business lead nurturing on this blog, although it's been a while and so I wanted to write up an overview post here and then link off to some older, but useful, posts. Here goes.

What Is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing could well be described as the process of holding your prospects hand and guiding them through your sales funnel via a series of pre-set steps until they are ready to become a paying customer. This is largely achieved through an automated lead nurturing track - I'll mention this again in more detail below.

A lead nurturing track is a series of actions, or steps, that are designed to move your prospect from one step to another. I'll go into this in a bit more detail a bit further down too.

Small Business Lead Nurturing

What Can Lead Nurturing Do For My Small Business?

Lead nurturing can achieve a lot for your small business. To my mind anyway, the benefits can best be summed up by drawing attention to the following statistics - lead nurturing can solve both of these problems:

  • Lead nurturing can help you retain between 40% and 80% of leads that would otherwise be lost due to poor management (Source: Yankee Group) 
  • Only 20% of prospects you talk to at any one time are sales ready - the rest will re-enter the market within 24 months, possibly going to your competitors (Source: Eloqua) 

Essentially, a good lead nurturing process allows you to focus on other areas of your business while it runs along in the background, keeping your prospects engaged with you by sending out timely, useful and helpful information. It helps to guide prospects through your sales process until they are ready to become paying customers.

Why Is Lead Nurturing Important?

Every lead that comes through your company sales process costs you money. Whether you generate leads through telemarketing, data list purchase, social media activity or through your website or other digital channels such as SEO, there is no doubt that you have invested time, money and effort to gain every lead.

Hopefully you'll agree that every lead is valuable and that no lead should be wasted - they should all be well taken care of until they are ready to purchase, even if that time is 2 years away.

So Why Does The Following Happen?

Would you be surprised to know that the vast majority of the leads that come into your sales process – leads that you pay for – are ultimately wasted? This is evidenced in a study by the Yankee Group. They found that the average company wasted 40-80% of all leads, which were either neglected, pushed aside or simply forgotten about. That means you are really only working with 20-60% of your possible market.

The reasons for this happening are quite simple. It’s human nature to see a lead record as just a piece of data, which, if not ready to purchase in a relatively quick time-frame, can be set aside for something more immediate.

We all know that some sales people rarely think past this months – or at the very most, next months – target. This could either be you, or your sales team – it’s perfectly normal. However, this doesn’t mean it’s right.

While the intention may always to go back to the lead, this rarely happens - either through forgetfulness, bad customer relationship management or feeling the ‘leaving it too long call back’ syndrome. You may have, after all, upset your prospect by not touching base and you don’t want to deal with the awkwardness.

So that’s the problem. It may be quite a natural, or even the accepted tendency, for sales people to throw away data and leads – but thinking properly about this, there is no way it should be considered acceptable. After all, you never know which ones might turn out be your dream client – they just aren’t ready at the time you first call

How Can Lead Nurturing Solve This Problem?

The best way to solve this problem – and perhaps the only way – is to make sure you have an effective lead nurturing process in place. This means that every lead you have coming into your sales process should be acted on in the most appropriate way for it’s stage in the sales cycle, with the aim of moving it one step closer to the point of purchase. No lead should ever be thrown away or neglected - you never know when they may about to become your customers.

For Example

Think of this scenario. You put together some data, which either you or your sales reps begin to call. Let’s say for arguments sake that one person feels good about your offer and expresses immediate interest, three say they are interested but to call back in one or two weeks, and six say that they are not interested at all.

Now, although these ‘not interested’ parties have said no, that simply means they are not interested at that particular time – it’s the wrong time for them at some reason. Who is to say that if you called a month later instead for the first time, that they wouldn’t be interested then?

So, what you need to make sure is happening is that these leads are nurtured – that you keep in touch and give yourself the best possible chance of getting their future business when they re-enter the market. This can be done by adding them to a 'track' in your lead nurturing system, which will automatically make sure that the lead is kept alive in the most efficient manner possible.

The Lead Nurturing Process

The lead nurturing process consists of one or multiple 'tracks', which are normally automated steps that will make sure all leads are called, emailed, added to printed mail shots or whatever your specific process dictates. Each step would be designed to move the prospect a little bit further along your sales process.

You can add as many records to each track you like, and when each step becomes due, you are prompted to make calls and emails are sent automatically via pre-designed templates. You'll feel safe in the knowledge that the nurturing system is working in the background to make sure that the ‘neglected’ 60% are still in play.

The process is effectively managing the prospect through the life of the decision making cycle. If this system is used well enough, it should also result in a drip feed of incoming sales enquiries over time being fed direct to your sales reps.

And for sales managers, it can also be possible to set up a reporting engine whereby reminders are automatically sent to reps if lead records aren’t updated within a predetermined time frame, so you can ensure that that everything is being kept up to date.

What Marketing Disciplines Are Involved In Lead Nurturing?

The main discipline involved in lead nurturing is email, certainly in terms of how your message and content is delivered anyway. However, there are other disciplines involved in the overall campaign too, such as:

  • Email marketing software 
  • Copy writing 
  • Content creation 
  • Overall strategy design 
  • User behaviour tracking/intelligence 
  • Conversion rate optimisation for site/landing pages 

As you can see, lead nurturing can be one of the cornerstones of your entire marketing strategy and it can be very complex. However, it can also be very simple to start with. At least at the outset, all you will need to get going is a way of collecting email addresses and a free/low cost email platform that will let you send out pre-designed emails at set intervals, MailChimp is a good example. You can then adapt/build on your process as your needs develop.

An Example Use For The Lead Nurturing Track

Leads can also be added to these tracks the second that they come in from your website. Say a visitor leaves details on your site in order to receive further information about your products or services. This data can then be automatically fed into your nurturing track, meaning that the prospect will instantly receive an response according to whatever your rules require.

This can be instantaneous, and maybe it should be – Kellogg in the USA found that leads are 7x more likely to be converted if contacted within 1 hour of enquiring through your site. With a well structured and managed system, you'll know that you can meet this challenge and really make the most of your lead generation efforts.

What Could This Lead Nurturing Campaign Look Like?

A lead nurturing campaign can look completely different depending on who is doing it and who it is aimed at. However, a basic one-size-fits-all approach would look something like the following example. Essentially, you would have 5-7 'steps' that would be collectively known as the 'lead nurturing track'. A lead nurturing track is the process that is designed to move cold or lukewarm leads through your sales funnel until they are ready to become paying customers.

So, using the five step example mentioned above, your campaign could look something like this. Let's say that in order to start this process a web visitor has downloaded an e-book from your site in exchange for a name and an email address. The email address is then fed into your email software to start the lead nurturing process.

  • Step One: Immediately after e-book download - a thank you email, confirming what they will find in the e-book and where they can download it again in case of any problems 
  • Step Two: One week after step one - an email saying you hope they found the download useful and a link off to another online resource with further information on the same subject 
  • Step Three: One week after step two - an email letting your prospect know that you have another e-book available for download on your site that covers more aspects of the subject they are interested in. The download form for this e-book could also ask for a contact telephone number 
  • Step Four: One week after step three - an email saying that you hope the content offered so far has provided value and helped your prospect find out more about the subject at hand. You'd also say that you'd be available for a no obligation consultation to discuss your prospects needs in more detail if they could let you know of a suitable time 
  • Step Five: One week after step four - if the prospect provided a telephone number during the second download phase, you should call them at this point. A polite phone call, introducing yourself and asking if they would like to arrange a meeting/web demo so you can find out more about how you can help them 

As you can see, this is a basic example, although hopefully you still get the idea - the campaign will help to move your prospect through your sales funnel until the point where you can engage with them personally. You can be sure that if they have downloaded both e-books and have provided a contact phone number they are now a warm lead.

How Do I Avoid Spamming People With My Lead Nurturing Campaigns?

Obviously, it's important that you avoid spamming prospects with your lead nurturing campaigns. The way to avoid this is super-simple, as follows:

  • Make sure that all of the people who receive your emails have opted in to your email list, ie they are aware that by downloading your e-book they will receive periodic newsletters/communications 
  • Make sure that you include an unsubscribe option on every email you send out (all email marketing platforms should include this by default) 
  • Finally, make sure you don't email them again after they have unsubscribed :-) 
  • For more information on email compliance, look up the CAN SPAM Act, which will tell you everything you need to know 

It’s All Automated, And For Our Own Good Too

It is important to remember that this process is completely automated. The system is doing all of the hard, mundane work in terms of keeping your leads organised, giving us sales reps all the time we need to meet targets. We all like to think that we are very well organised and efficient, but the Yankee Group study is testament to the fact that we are not.

Especially as sales people; we are sometimes the most unorganised people on the planet! So, by having this automated system backing us up, we can rest assured that our leads are being taken care of in the best possible way.

How Can I Get Started With Lead Nurturing?

If you are ready to get started with lead nurturing, it really is a simple thing to move ahead with. First of all, I'd start by reading into it so that you know the basics. You can read more on this blog through the following posts:

Conversion rate optimisation
Landing page design
Designing a basic lead nurturing track
Email marketing case study
Lead nurturing re-engagement
Good autoresponder email example

In terms of third party software providers, there are a lot of great choices - all of which can provide excellent information too. Here are a few of my favourites:


Hopefully this post has helped to find out what you needed in order to get started on your lead nurturing journey, and feel free to contact me on Twitter with any questions.

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall