Lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with prospective customers by providing them with content that nudges them through each stage of the buyer journey. Lead nurturing can happen across all your marketing and communication channels, but, despite all the new and emerging platforms, email remains the most effective, efficient, and popular channel for nurturing leads.
What is involved in an email nurture campaign?
An email nurture campaign is a type of drip campaign where a lead is sent a series of emails that are designed to nudge them through to conversion.
Emails in a nurture campaign are automated. The lead will enter the journey and receive the first email after taking an action like completing a signup form via a paid advertising campaign, downloading an eBook, attending an event or webinar, or responding to a pop-up or CTA on your website. Each consequential email will be sent based on time delays (e.g. three days after the first email) or behavioral triggers (e.g. if the customer engaged with the first email).
In an ideal world, you would have multiple email nurture campaigns with each including content that is directly relevant to the entry point for the lead. For example, if an insurance company is running one campaign around their home insurance product and another around their life insurance product, it would be ideal to have one nurture journey that speaks to the concerns of homeowners, and another that shares advice on end-of-life planning and wills.
This might not always be possible for small marketing teams, in which case content can be more all-encompassing. In either case, the point of a nurture campaign isn’t just to push your product or service, you want to build a relationship, establish trust and credibility, and put your brand front of mind. To do this, aim to share helpful and engaging content, weaving in product messaging only when relevant.
The exit criteria is as important as the entry criteria. Prospects should exit the journey once they become a customer to ensure they’re not receiving irrelevant communications meant for leads. You will also want to plan for where leads go once they reach the end of the nurture journey — they could be redirected to another, more specific nurture journey based on data they’ve supplied or could be assigned to a sales representative for direct outreach.
Finally, unengaged leads should be exited from the journey to prevent sending negative signals to email providers and risking landing in the spam folder. You could exit leads who have not opened or engaged with three emails in a row or send them to a reengage/sunset subscriber journey as a last-ditch attempt to keep them in the fold. As hard as it is to sunset subscribers, it’s better than risking all your emails landing in spam.
To summarize, a email nurture campaign will include:
Entry criteria, generally a behavioral trigger like a customer downloading a piece of content or completing a sign-up form on site
A series of emails containing content related to the lead’s challenges and needs
Time delay and behavioral triggers between emails
Exit criteria that plans for leads who become customers, those who reach the end of the journey and unengaged subscribers
Why you need to sunset subscribers to improve your ROI
When a lead hands over their email address, they are expecting to see your business’s name in their inbox and they are more likely than ever to open your email and explore more. It’s a golden window of opportunity and automated nurture campaigns are the most efficient, effective way to ensure you take advantage of it.
A strategic nurture campaign gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with your new lead over a series of automated emails. Best case, the lead engages with the email and is nudged to become a customer. Worst case, they remain unengaged and are sunset from your subscriber list, meaning your sales team didn’t waste their time on what was most likely always going to be a dead lead.
In other words, nurture campaigns can result in higher ROI with fewer wasted resources — a win-win for productivity and business growth.
Best practices for lead nurturing emails
A high-performing lead nurturing campaign requires a strategic approach. It can’t just be a series of random content pieces that are unrelated to one another, you need to share your business’s story and convince your leads that you are a credible and trustworthy source of information. You need to weave information about your product or service into the content, without every email feeling like a sales pitch. It’s a balancing act, and it can be hard to strike the right note.
Here are some tips for getting it right:
1. Think of each email as a chapter in a book
Rather than viewing each email in your nurture sequence as a standalone story, think of it as a chapter in a book. Over time, the emails will tell a holistic story about your business, the products or services you offer, and the problems you solve for your customers.
Thinking of your sequence in this way will help you focus on one topic per email while ensuring there’s a clear throughline. As a result, your leads will be more likely to find a memorable takeaway in each email (our brains prefer to focus on one thing than process multiple messages at once) and will be more inclined to open emails deeper in the nurture journey (we all want to get to the end of a story).
Earlier emails may be more educational, with case studies, product features, and demos or offers appearing later in the flow.
2. Personalize emails
When your lead signs up to receive your emails, they likely handed over some first-party and behavioral data. You might know which industry they work in, which product pages they’ve browsed, and how they found your business in the first place.
You can use this information, along with the sign-up mechanism (e.g. eBook download or response to a form on your website) to personalize elements of your emails using audience segmentation, merge tags, and dynamic content.
Remember you are building a relationship here, so overuse of personal data could feel invasive too early on. But anything the customer has handed over voluntarily through form or survey completions, and behavioral data points will help you help you send more relevant content and speak to your lead like a person rather than a number — two things they'll be sure to appreciate.
3. Choose one CTA per email
Tempting as it may be to ask your new lead to read a blog, watch a case study, and request a demo, the options are more likely to overwhelm than inspire. Instead, choose one clear CTA per email and ensure all roads lead to this action. Remember, you’re building a story here, chapter by chapter. There will be plenty of other opportunities for your other CTAs down the track.
4. A/B test elements of your emails
Your marketing intuition can and should be trusted, but it’s always best to back up your hunches with hard data. This is where A/B testing comes in.
Test subject lines, plain text emails vs. HTML emails, CTA buttons, messaging, and images to find out what works. The results might surprise you, and even an incremental increase in opens, clicks or conversions could have a large impact on your business performance over time.
In a recent piece on A/B testing, Marketing team lead at SE Ranking, Tetiana Melnychenko, shared; “Here’s what we’ve got in an A/B test (users were split evenly): the old plain-text email had a conversion rate of 1.4%, while the new email (HTML-based) had a conversion rate of 8.3%. Now we continue working on this particular email in order to improve its performance even further. But the new template is definitely a winner."
5. Keep branding consistent
The goal of a nurture campaign is to build a trusting relationship with a lead. To do this, you need to be consistent with your brand voice and visual identity, even when testing elements like plain text vs. HTML or subject lines.
Without this consistency, you risk unsubscribes from audience members who don’t recognize your brand and you miss out on an opportunity to create that all-important mental tattoo of your brand.
6. Set KPIs and report on key metrics
Track key metrics like opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and conversions to track how your nurture campaign as a whole and individual emails are performing over time. This will help you optimize your nurture journey, removing or tweaking underperforming emails and doubling down on messaging that contributes to increased engagement or conversions.
If performance is waning, re-evaluate elements like timing or behavioral triggers, email content, audience segmentation, and personalized fields to
7. Use design to draw the eye to important elements
Even in a plain text email, bold font can draw the eye to the most important message, data point, or proof point. In a rich email, you can use the inverted pyramid method to grab attention and draw the eye down to the CTA button. Be mindful of over-designing your emails. Too many images and other visual elements tend to overwhelm the mind and distract from the main goal of the message.
Nurture email campaigns are a great way to automate the process of relationship building with your prospects and leads. They can help nudge leads to conversion, or weed out dead leads before sales waste their time on outreach. A successful lead nurture campaign sees each email building on the one before, drip feeding your audience pieces of information to tell a story about your business and what you can do for them.