What is lead nurturing?

illustrated plant growing up towards the sun with strong roots below

At its most basic level, lead nurturing is about getting potential customers invested in your brand. Which customers you target and how you get them on board will differ between campaigns, but the goal of forming a strong connection remains at the heart of the process.

Lead nurturing can encompass a variety of strategies designed to educate prospective customers about key products and services. The goal is to earn their trust and, eventually, convince them to convert. Ideally, customers will emerge from lead generation and nurturing efforts with a better understanding of how they can benefit from your brand's offerings.

How a lead nurturing campaign works

A lead nurturing campaign is a carefully targeted strategy designed to nurture potential customers’ interest in your brand.

This campaign should be backed by extensive insights regarding which tactics are most effective at convincing leads to convert. Often, this includes creating a buyer persona to form tailored nurturing messages that feel authentic and personable.

Many lead nurturing programs rely on email and marketing automation. This helps ensure that specific types of prospects always receive prompt communication after engaging with the brand. The sooner this contact occurs, the more likely leads are to retain a positive brand impression.

Initial efforts may be triggered by signs of receptiveness to marketing, such as engaging on social media or signing up for an email newsletter. These, in turn, trigger further marketing automation efforts. Over time, these efforts may get prospects invested enough to make purchases or sign up for services.

The difference between lead generation and lead nurturing

Lead generation and nurturing, although similar in some respects, are different processes that call for unique tools and techniques. An ideal campaign will involve a strategic and streamlined approach, in which both tactics are used carefully.

The key difference between lead generation and lead nurturing is the sales funnel segments they take place in.

Lead generation occurs at the very beginning of the funnel, where marketing efforts aim to identify, target, and attract the attention of prospective customers. Nurturing can only follow if lead generation efforts prove successful. At that point, marketing initiatives focus primarily on keeping leads around and encouraging them to convert.

Timing is the core difference between lead generation and nurturing, but methods may also vary. Some options, such as social media marketing, can serve both functions. Others, such as email, may work better at the nurture stage than for lead generation.

A drip email campaign, for example, focuses on building relationships slowly and steadily over time to ensure long-term brand investment. An effective drip campaign will boost engagement and produce a higher revenue over time, especially when paired with marketing automation solutions.

Why lead nurturing is important

It takes time and effort to acquire leads. Marketing is especially competitive in today's digital world, and maintaining an edge can prove tricky when the pace of change is so swift.

Given the inherent difficulty of obtaining prospects, every effort should be made to keep existing leads around. Unfortunately, each level in the sales funnel represents yet another opportunity for those leads to lose interest.

Not only does this limit your conversion rate, it's wasteful. Especially when coupled with high spending on marketing and lead generation, lost leads represent lost profit potential, which can cause serious financial problems for SMBs.

Though lead nurturing is an important strategy for maximizing profit and minimizing waste, it represents a huge area of difficulty for many businesses. Lead nurturing statistics from Ascend2 reveal that over half of business leaders view lead-to-customer conversions as a critical challenge.

In addition to preventing lost leads, nurturing helps to make the most of prospects that already intend to stick around. Data from the Annuitas Group suggests that properly nurtured leads make purchases that are 47 percent larger on average than those that weren’t nurtured. These leads may also be more inclined to return for future purchases.

The best lead marketing strategies to move people down your funnel

Lead nurturing can take many forms. No one approach is ideal for every company or every situation. That being said, certain lead nurturing campaign strategies tend to produce greater retention and, ultimately, more conversions.

Email marketing

Email marketing provides an excellent avenue for highlighting your brand's unique voice and objectives. Modern approaches to email nurture campaigns can prove especially effective if they integrate segmentation and automation. Metric tracking is also valuable, as it offers insight about whether email efforts provide a reasonable ROI.

Content marketing

Email marketing holds a great deal of potential, but it’s not ideal for every business. Some brands prefer to focus on content marketing as a way to boost customer engagement or website traffic. With the right approach, content for a nurture campaign can inspire brand loyalty in new and existing customers alike. To keep nurtured leads moving through the sales funnel, content should provide clear value in the form of knowledge or entertainment.

Phone calls

While digital marketing methods are important for success, they’re not the only path to an effective lead nurturing strategy. Some leads crave the one-on-one connection of a phone call. This approach to a lead nurture campaign allows for the development of a closer, more meaningful relationship with prospects.

Phone calls can be used at multiple stages of the lead nurturing process, but may prove most effective near the bottom of the funnel. At this point, leads may be seriously interested in converting, but simply require a little targeted nurturing. Even a brief interaction over the phone can grant them the confidence in your brand needed to take those final steps.