Email Marketing's Evolution From Blast To Nurture

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Email marketing has certainly matured as a b2b communication and lead generation tool over the past several years.  Historically, email was that tool that allowed marketers to mass message lists and segments, often pulled from our CRM.  While useful in many respects, email blasting or bulk email delivery has failed as a true lead generation medium in a b2b environment.  To be clear, by failed, I mean that email blasting, in and of itself does not lead to a high number of lead conversions.  By conversions I mean leads who click through the email and ultimately convert to a sales opportunity in CRM.

Enter the age of b2b nurture marketing.  Companies like SalesFUSION have been working closely with b2b marketers for the last several years to identify exactly what email should be as a communication medium that drives lead conversion.  What has come of SalesFUSION and other leading vendors' work in this arena is the blanket term "Lead Nurturing". 

Sales professionals, using their CRM systems, Outlook calendar, task lists, and hand scribbled notes in a day-planner, have been engaged in lead nurturing for many many years.  Basically, lead nurturing is the process of periodically reaching out to qualified but "not ready to buy" prospects on a semi-regular basis.  The content of the "reach-out" that sales has engaged in has been the "are you ready to give me your money yet" calls and emails that do little to advance the sales process but make the sales reps and their managers feel like something is being done to keep the funnel alive and kicking.

In today's hyper-digital communication world, a company must contend with a deluge of vendor content creating "noise" for prospective buyers.  Think of sitting at a rock concert and trying to get the attention of someone 25 rows away from you, with music blaring and crowds screaming.  The odds of you being heard are slim to none....and slim just went on vacation.  This is essentially the problem sales personnel and marketers face in getting the attention of a prospect with an errant email blast.  Between an ever increasing arsenal of spam filters and general "inbox clutter", it's amazing any emails are opened at all!

So lead nurturing attempts to solve this problem to some extent, by automating a communication exchange with leads and prospects that is contextually relevant to them as individuasl.  At the core of lead nurturing is, you guessed it, email marketing.  I would submit that nurture marketing is simply the next generation of email marketing and that the only differences between lead nurturing and traditional bulk email are the frequency, personalization, and dynamic segmentation used by the former.

Email marketing as a lead nurture solution leverages 2 newer types of email known as drip-based and trigger-based emails.  These emails time the delivery of content based on behavioral profiles that are dynamically created and associated with trigger emails and drip emails. 

A behavioral profile typically begins with something simple such as [lead goes to website, downloads white paper A].  Using a form/survey, the marketing system will fulfill the item requested and based on how the lead answers questions in the form and based on which piece of marketing asset was downloaded, will dynamically associate the lead with a "Next Step" email.  In the case of a white paper, if a lead downloads your financial services white paper, then a trigger email may kickoff 5 trigger-days later with a financial services case study.  10 trigger days after this, the system may send a product data sheet specific to financial services...and so on.

The sequence of emails is timed and relevant to the lead based on the materials downloaded.  this simple sequence of communications can be short (1-3 weeks) or long (1-3 months).  In either case, the marketing automation system will continually look at the response of the lead in the trigger campaign and when the correct number of actions has occurred, the lead will be routed to sales via Lead Scoring (topic for another post).

The elegant simplicity behind this type of lead nurturing is in the automation and personalized communications to the leads.  The marketer is, in essence, taking the manual lead nurturing process described in the beginning of this post, and fully automating it.  This reduces the high rate of lead attrition due to human error found in traditional sales-drive lead nurturing.  It just so happens that the open and click-through rates on drip/trigger-based nurture campaigns are 3-10 times higher than single bulk email blasts.  The marketer is cutting through much of the inbox clutter because the email, vendor, and message is recognized and accepted by the lead.

Open rates are generally much higher in lead nurturing campaigns because you and the lead have essentially entered into an unwritten contract the moment they do whatever it is you want them to do that enrolls them in the campaign.  In the white paper example, the lead will download your white paper and fully expect that this is NOT the last time they will hear from you.  Subsequent emails will be opened more frequently because the lead has, in a way, opted into an online discussion with your company in downloading the original asset.

The caveat for the marketer is this.  Make certain the content you are providing in the trigger/drip based email campaign is valuable and relevant to the prospect.  The more valuable and relevant the materials, the more the prospect will begin to view you as a resource instead of a vendor "Checking on his money".  When sales does get involved through lead routing, the lead is pre-warmed and the conversation between the sales person and the lead will be that much more valuable...leading to higher conversions.

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