"Nearly every marketing expert will agree: For a [website] visitor to become a customer, you must take the visitor through three basic stages," writes Sookie Shuen at MarketingProfs. "Those stages are know, like, and trust." In other words, a potential customer won't become a paying customer until she knows what you do, likes what she sees, and trusts you to deliver on your promise.

You might think this level of trust-building requires your hands-on attention. But Shuen argues that automated lead nurturing programs are the most effective way to shepherd prospects through the buying-decision process.

Your inbound leads start the online discussion by providing email addresses, subscribing to a newsletter, or expressing interest through social media. "With automation tools, you can continue the engagement in a hands-free environment while still participating in the conversation," she notes.

Triggered nurturing campaigns might seem impersonal—but what's more personal than delivering the information a lead wants when the lead wants it? No one cares why or how content arrived, if it's relevant. "When done well, the process won't feel automated for the visitor," she says.

Even better, it doesn't tax your marketing team's resources. "Each instance of engagement, such as a series of informational or training emails, provides a gentle nudge toward becoming a paying customer without the business's having to exert additional effort."

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