The demise of the sales funnel has been greatly exaggerated.

True, the buying experience has evolved, along with customers' expectations about where, when, and how they'll make that purchase. It's much less a straight shot from point A to point B than it is a winding path full of switchbacks.

Whether you think the funnel is dead or simply evolving, one thing is clear: Today, business is personal. Buyers expect sellers to know what they like and what they don't.

To nurture prospects correctly, and give them what they want, you need to adjust your messaging based on where they are in the sales cycle.

Rather than just pass leads off to Sales, marketers now shape and guide prospects through the sales funnel until purchase intent is clear. Thanks to lead nurturing, doing so is easier and more effective than ever before.

This is the nature of nurture

Lead nurture, also called drip marketing, is a powerful feature of a marketing automation system that enables you to stay automatically engaged with future buyers, helping successfully guide a lead from initial interest to the closing of the sale. With the ability to drive revenue from a database of leads that you've already built, lead nurture has the potential to transform the way you do business.

What makes lead nurture effective is its ability to automate thoughtful, targeted communications based on prospects' own activities and interests. No more generic emails. No more getting spammed. When you execute the process successfully, you can establish buyer preference for your solutions while at the same time gaining an understanding of buyer timing.

But doing all that is possible only if your lead nurturing programs deliver content that's of sufficient value and interest to prospects so they stay in touch and keep you top of mind.

Here are our takeaways for creating a powerfully strategic and purposeful lead nurture campaign.

1. Find your purpose

When you begin the planning stages of your nurture program, the most important thing you need to do is to define its goal. All of the other factors that go into building your nurture, such as content, your audience, and time duration, will be affected by the goal that you set.

So, for example, if your goal is to move prospects through the sales funnel, then you'll need to understand the cycle, and work with Sales to understand the buyer's journey and how your lead thinks so that you're offering the right content at the right time in the process.

The timing of your lead nurture programs can and should vary based on your goals. Start with your goal, and move on from there.

Here are three common types of lead nurture campaigns:

  1. Thought leadership/awareness: This is a way to stay engaged with your prospects and give them content that is relevant to their needs and interests. It doesn't have to be your own content; you can also provide third-party articles or blog posts that tie back to your industry.
  2. Sales-ready: Lead nurturing can also be a critical tool for enabling your internal sales teams. By dripping your sales team with new marketing content that they can use to help sell your product, you can position marketing as a valuable resource to Sales. This content includes data sheets, informative e-books, competitive one-sheeters, and even educational videos that provide selling tips from other sales reps.
  3. Cold lead/re-engagement: Re-engagement campaigns are targeted toward inactive leads. The goal is to encourage them to take an action that will indicate they are ready to re-enter the sales process. Try sending a helpful blog post, a new whitepaper, a cool piece of interactive content, or a successful case study for these kinds of drips.

2. Know your audience

You need to know who the desired audience is for your specific program. Leads can be segmented by a variety of methods, such as interests, geography, and responsibility. Provide targeted content and offers they'll care about based on what you've discovered through website activity (filling out forms, interacting with content, and so forth).

If you don't take the time to get to know your audience, you risk becoming an annoyance to prospects. Treat them to a constant flow of messaging that's not related to their interests, and they'll reward you by taking their business somewhere else.

Some questions to keep in mind as your build your lead nurturing questions:

  • What are prospects likely to respond to, based on prior engagement and interaction?
  • Are you going to segment your list based on a certain group?
  • Who is the desired audience for this specific program? Depending on your goal, you may be targeting a specific group based on your buyer persona.

3. Deliver the right content

Buyers have come to expect content that's both relevant to their needs and specific to their stage in the sales cycle. And that means sending the wrong content at the wrong time could leave a bad taste in your buyer's mouth—and potentially even cost you the deal. Nurture them by delivering targeted and valuable content at each stage of the buying cycle.

  • Top of funnel (Awareness): In this stage, leads are either aware or in the process of deciding whether a problem or need exists. Early stage nurture content should help define that problem and address a particular need or pain point.

    Blog posts, research reports, infographics, whitepapers, and other educational content are typically used in this stage. The objective is to provide information regarding their needs rather than on your solution.
  • Mid-funnel (Evaluation): Leads in the evaluation stage have a clear understanding of their need or problem, and they are researching and comparing possible solutions.

    Content should be provided in a format that can be easily shared with key decision-makers and might include an expert guide, case study, research report, demo video, FAQs, and product video or literature.
  • Bottom of funnel (Decision): Prospects nearing a purchasing decision have narrowed down their solutions and are comparing their top vendor options. Special offers, such as free trials or live demos, may be incorporated at this stage to help persuade prospects to take the additional actions needed to complete the transaction.

    Vendor or product comparison sheets, benchmarking reports, and in-depth case studies are also appropriate late-stage content as prospects seek validation that they're making the right purchase decision.

4. Review and report

Once you've launched your campaign, you'll need to evaluate it to identify successes and pitfalls to improve the next campaign. When reviewing, your marketing automation tool will allow you to assess how successful the campaign has been, giving insight into key areas such as how many prospects started the drip, how many completed the drip, email open rates, click-through rates, and so on.

Each of the following metrics can provide valuable insight into different components that impact nurture performance:

  • Delivery rate: Number of emails that were successfully delivered divided by the number of total emails sent
  • Unique open rate: Number of unique email opens divided by the number of emails delivered
  • Unique click-through rate (CTR): Number of unique email clicks divided by the number of emails delivered
  • Click-to-open rate (CTOR): Number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens
  • Percentage of Sales Qualified Leads (SQL): Number of nurture prospects that were passed to sales, divided by the total number of nurture prospects

For evaluating nurture programs, a marketer is now able to give the C-suite data they care about, tying revenue back to campaigns, connecting marketing spend with revenue generated, and providing insight into campaign influence.

All of that helps organizations determine the sources of the best and worst leads, as well as prospects' interests and pain points.

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Dying Sales Funnel? Bring Dead Leads to Life Through Lead Nurture

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image of Brad Dodge

Brad Dodge is the president of Dodge Communications, a full-service integrated public relations and marketing agency helping healthcare and technology companies build strong brands, demonstrate thought leadership, and drive sales.

Twitter: @BradDodge