Everyone loves a dinner party, which is why I'm always surprised when I hear people express something of a distaste about lead nurturing.

When you think about it, the two are very similar. They both require the host (the marketer) to not only build but also maintain relationships with their guests (leads) through conversation, solid rapport, and sense of trust. And as with a successful dinner party, a successful lead nurturing strategy involves very careful planning...

1. First, make sure your home looks its best

Would you leave dirty washing on the floor when you had a group of friends coming to dinner? I thought not. The same goes for your website.

Just as when faced with a bad smell or cluttered room, potential leads will flinch at the sight of broken links and cluttered pages. The majority will even go one step further and flee without a second thought, leaving you to puzzle over why your Web traffic isn't converting.

Many marketers forget that a website now serves a much bigger purpose than simply cataloguing products and providing a contact number. It needs to actually nurture leads into navigating through more pages and provide information that will be of real value to prospects. That's what starts to build up that all-important rapport and gets leads excited about, so to speak, what's for dinner!

2. Use the finest ingredients

Quality Web design and quality content will have leads salivating. The very best content's the stuff that doesn't merely benefit a prospect in some way but does so in an original, sometimes even controversial manner.

Great, authoritative content speaks volumes; it indicates that you know what you're talking about and that it could benefit the prospect.

Run-of-the-mill blog posts and e-books that simply regurgitate information won't succeed in making you stand out from the crowd. Think of yourself as the Le Bernardin, not McDonalds.

3. Don't be afraid of using your grandma's recipe

Content is really an integral part of successful lead nurturing practice. As noted earlier, it can go a long way toward establishing you as an industry authority and giving something back to your leads for taking the time to check out your business.

Although truly original content goes a long way in nurturing leads down your sales funnel, don't be afraid to fall back on a few tried and tested pieces. If some of your older e-books, whitepapers, or blog posts received a positive response, there's no harm in sending them over to new prospects to capture their attention and teach them something new.

4. Take everyone's dietary requirements into account

Nurturing a lead who's more at home on Web design with an e-book full of social media facts, figures, and graphs is like putting a plate of coq au vin in front of a vegetarian.

Knowing your buyer personas ensures that just the right information reaches the right lead over the correct platforms, and drastically increases your chances of conversion. Take some time to identify your target personas: Profile past clients by things like their age, profession, interests, what type of content they're most likely to consume and where they prefer to hang out online.

For example, when targeting a buyer persona that consists of middle-aged females in a retail manager role, an ideal piece of content might be a downloadable PDF titled something like "Increasing Your Workforce's Productivity: 10 Easy Steps to Up Your Output"—to be distributed either via email or a landing page on your website.

5. Don't overfeed your guests

Capturing prospect data for an email cycle is a great way of nurturing potential leads. However, bear in mind a couple of best-practices.

Email lead nurturing is best served gradually, drip-fed to prospects over a course of two or three weeks while incorporating content and information that will benefit them in the long term. Constantly going in with a sales pitch will only make them send your messages straight to the Trash folder. You wouldn't serve spam at a dinner party, would you?

6. Find out more about your fellow diners

One of the best ways to build up a rapport with your leads and find out what kind of nurturing approach they're most susceptible to is to find out more about them, whether via opt-in forms, questions at the end of your blog posts, or in emails.

The aim here is to be pleasant and cordial, respecting the privacy of your leads by not delving too deeply and instead inquiring about things such as what they want to see more or less of on your blog, what subject they'd like to be covered in an e-book, or even what their opinion is on a certain social network.

7. Don't give away your secret ingredient

Great hosts don't dish out their secret ingredients: There's always the possibility that someone will steal it, claim it as their own, and reap rewards that could have been yours. The same goes for marketing.

There's no harm in dishing out advice to prospects; it's what helps build the trust factor that's so integral to lead nurturing. Not every single person will want to accept your services in the end, so why not give them some actionable points they can take away until they're ready to hand over the reins?

As for the nitty-gritty details, however, best keep company secrets to yourself, instead tantalizing prospects into wanting to get in contact and learn more.

8. Don't offend your guests

Just as a charming demeanor keeps an acquaintance returning to your humble abode, great customer service and respect for your leads helps nurture them further down your sales funnel and encourages returning customers.

Whether you're dealing with complaints over social media or keeping customers updated about when a product will be back in stock, remain patient and well-mannered, and avoid adverse reactions at all costs.

9. Send a thank you card

Any good host would send a thank you card, or at least a thank you text, to thank diners for attending their soiree. The same goes for your leads. Whether you're nurturing current clients by thanking them for their continued support or nurturing leads by thanking them for their enquiry or content request, it all works toward building those all-important relationships that could help set you apart from the competition.

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So there you have it, a dinner party and lead nurturing etiquette lesson all in one. Do you have your own tips for guiding prospects through your sales funnel? Leave a comment below.

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Why Lead-Nurturing Is Like Hosting a Dinner Party (and Nine Ways to Do It Right)

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image of Charlotte Varela

Charlotte Varela is a self-confessed social media junkie pursuing a career as a digital content marketer at Tone, a UK based Web design and lead generation agency.

Twitter: @charlotte_tone
LinkedIn: Charlotte Varela