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Lead Nurturing and Marketing Automation: 15 Key Questions Answered (Questions 2-4)

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Editor's note: Part 2 of this series answers three questions: How do we get started with lead nurturing/marketing automation? What is lead nurturing and how does it work? How long will it take to see ROI on lead nurture? (See Part 1 here.)

Question 2: How do we get started with lead nurturing/marketing automation?

What should you have in place before starting on marketing automation/lead nurturing?

Lead Nurture Requirements

Preparing for marketing automation and lead nurturing is somewhat like preparing for a long vacation.

You've learned over the years to do certain things that make your vacation go a lot smoother; similarly, we've found that you can make the marketing automation and lead nurturing trip go much more smoothly if you're prepared, and we've put together a checklist.

The following is a condensed, summarized version of a more complete checklist that you'll find a link for under the "Tool You Can Use" heading in this article.

Do It Right the First Time

Any part of the outlined process that you skip will compromise the integrity of the process. Doing nurture right is the pivot point in effective marketing automation—and key to solid and sustainable B2B marketing ROI.

Summarized and Condensed List

  1. Align with Sales on definitions (such as "Sales-ready"), the target ROI, and other expectations.
  2. Understand your customer buying process, targeting buyer roles and identifying all the major sticking points in the buying process.
  3. Create lead scoring and progressive profiling plans so that you can deliver highly targeted and extremely relevant content to leads, and then identify which leads are the most ready to buy. Your lead scoring plan can help you to identify "cold," "warm," and "hot" leads.
  4. Develop your content strategy. Think about the content that develops leads, creates top-of-mind awareness, and content that nurtures a lead until he or she is ready to buy. This step is also going to require you to be clear both on how your content addresses the various sticking points in your customer's buying process, and on the exact value each content piece has for your customers.
  5. Develop a 2-3 month content editorial calendar. You'll time the creation and delivery of your content to maximize your ROI and move leads through the buying process as quickly as possible without being overly aggressive.

Tool You Can Use

This Lead Nurture Getting-Started Checklist provides specific action steps related to each of the five areas in the above list.

* * *

Question 3: What is lead nurturing and how does it work?

Lead nurturing facilitates the buying process. It answers this fundamental question for your leads or prospects: If I am your ideal prospect, why should I buy from you rather than any of your competitors?

Essentially, lead nurturing is how you help prospects navigate through the muddy waters of solving their problem. MECLABS says you're creating a series of "Micro Yes-es" that lead to an eventual "Macro Yes" (the sale).

Instead of "falling down" through the funnel, leads are more like salmon swimming upstream in an attempt to get to their spawning ground. There are dozens, if not hundreds of obstacles; we call them the "sticking points" in the buying process. Lead nurturing is your way of helping them get "upstream" to buy your product.

This post on lead nurturing explains that "inverted funnel" of MECLABS; it gives you the key elements of lead nurturing and the key steps to lead nurturing, and it gives you some tips on building out your lead nurturing content flow.

Tool You Can Use

A big part of doing lead nurturing well involves fully fleshing out your ideal customer profile. This one-page customer profile template will help you to "progressively profile" your leads.

* * *

Question 4: How long will it take to see ROI on lead nurture/marketing automation?

The question isn't whether you'll see a return on your investment in lead nurturing, but, rather, when you'll see that return. But, the angst that naturally arises in what we not-so-lovingly call the "Valley of Death" is well worth addressing.

The Valley of Death is that nerve-wracking time between the moment you begin spending time and money on a marketing initiative and the moment you start to see a return on your investment.

Will it work? What happens if it doesn't?

There WILL always be a Valley of Death. You can't avoid it, but you can minimize it, and that is the main thrust here.

Still, you ask... How long?

Sometimes lead nurture and marketing automation pay off almost immediately. Sometimes the cost per acquisition starts off reasonably and then drops. Sometimes the costs to doing it right start high and drop only after six, twelve, or even eighteen months. Sometimes the ROI is 12-24 months out.

So much depends on the market and the product or service being sold, and even the quality of the sales effort. There is no definitive answer to "how long?"

Nevertheless, here are steps you can take to shrink the Valley of Death into a not-so-scary gully, perhaps as short as 3-6 months:

1. Choose one "Best" Product or Service

Select one product or service that has a relatively short buying cycle and is clearly differentiated in your market. Your first campaign needs to be a roaring success, and by starting with only one (your best) product, you'll get off on the best possible foot.

2. Maximize Your Value Proposition/Differentiation

Create an exquisitely clear value proposition that separates you from your competition. What you do or sell must be uniquely superior to your competition in the eyes of your narrowly defined target market. Spend as much time as needed to ensure you've got the best possible value proposition that's unique.

3. Connect Your Value Proposition to a "Big Idea"

The "Big Idea" interrupts your prospect—stops him dead in his tracks so that he wants, even needs, to learn more. Then it creates an emotional reaction—curiosity, fear, anticipation, delight, etc. If you want to minimize the Valley of Death, this step will get you there faster than almost anything else you do.

4. Follow the Customer's Buying Process

Align your entire lead acquisition and nurture program to your actual customer buying process. Identify the sticking points at each stage of the buying process, specific to your selected product or service. Do NOT skip this step if you want to shorten the Valley of Death!

5. Provide Relevant, Timely, and Quality Content

Make certain that every content piece you create (article, whitepaper, report, video, etc.) is specifically relevant to one stage of the buying process, addresses the sticking points of that stage, and provides information that's both interesting and relevant to the audience.

Tie each content piece back to your value proposition and Big Idea in some way. The Big Idea sets you apart. Remind your prospects at every opportunity.


You need to understand the metrics that matter: Your current cost of acquisition; the lifetime value of your customers; and the cost per "sales-ready" lead. Other metrics help you to get to these numbers, but in the end you want to reduce the cost of acquisition while increasing the lifetime value of your customers.

Tools You Can Use

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Sid Smith is lead copywriter and marketing automation specialist for Albertson Performance Group. Sid has written on topics ranging from flex circuits to motherhood, but gets a real kick out of putting together the puzzle pieces of complex marketing automation strategies. Reach him via

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  • by Michaela Tue Jan 22, 2013 via web

    Hi Sid,

    I really like the idea of lead automation. I currently run CPV/PPC campaigns, and was wondering where else I can use lead automation. Please let me know. Thanks!


  • by Sid Smith Fri Jan 25, 2013 via web

    @Michaela: The principles of lead nurture/automation apply regardless of HOW you get your leads. You can get leads through CPV/PPC, direct mail, or Inbound marketing (SEO, Social). The secret sauce is in WHAT you do when that lead gets to your site. This is a VERY simplified answer --

    1) The landing page offers something you know they want - information, a tip, a secret, competitive product comparison, etc. That's ALL the landing page does.
    2) Force them to complete a web form to get whatever you're offering.
    3) Follow up with information, clues, tips, etc. that aligns with where they are in the buying process. Newbies want to research. The next group wants to know how you're different from your competitors. The final group needs proof that it's OK to buy now.

    You can do this quite well with CPV/PPC. Think about a piece of information, a tip, a hint, or a secret that your prospects would fall all over themselves to have. Offer THAT in your ad and send them to a landing page where all they have to do is provide name and email to get that thing they really want. Then, if you use almost any of the marketing automation platforms out there, you can send them follow-up information and track what they like or don't like.

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