Zen and the Art of Email Lead Nurturing
Written by: Ryan Flannagan

Chapter 24: Zen and the Art of Email Lead Nurturing


It’s 21st Century, which means you’re already familiar with simple email lists. You get the product of those lists once or twice a day in your inbox, giving you more-or-less useful information about something in order to keep you in somebody’s front-of-mind awareness. You open maybe one in ten, and perhaps one percent actually get you to buy something.

Those emails are a primitive version of email lead nurturing, and the overwhelming majority of the people sending them to you do it wrong. To help you do it right, here is your Expert Guide to the right way to nurture B2B leads via email. Let’s start at the beginning:

What is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing is a system of automated email contacts that lets you qualify, groom and educate leads. Used right, it can be the “killer app” of your inbound marketing efforts.

Why Nurture Leads?

Nurturing leads have always been a good idea, since 50% or more of incoming leads to any business are qualified but not yet ready to buy. Maintaining meaningful contact with those leads gives you the jump on your competition when they do become ready.

Only 25% of leads are legitimate to begin with — the others are folks who were doing research only, or just can’t resist filling out those interest cards, or competition scouting your business. Automated lead nurturing culls out these time-wasters early in the process.

As we mentioned the last chapter, up to 50% of sales go to the vendor who responds first. Lead nurturing systems can respond within seconds, no matter what time of day a customer expresses interest.

Lead nurturing systems get 400% to 1000% the response rate of single email blasts, making it one of the most effective marketing initiatives your business can adopt. Further, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

Segmented communications (those sent to a subset of your lead list based on what you know about those leads) get 50% more clicks than generic email programs. A well-designed lead nurturing system gathers information as it progresses and self-segments accordingly.

What to Put in My Lead Nurturing Campaign?

The types of useful emails available for lead nurturing are as varied as the types of businesses in the world, and the types of potential customer. That said, here are a few broad categories that work well in almost every lead nurturing campaign.

  • Educational emails that offer direct information or links to genuinely helpful white papers, blog articles, webinars, videos and other resources.
  • Promotional content that informs readers about your product in a way that still feels valuable and current.
  • Best Practices notes that give a little taste of what you can do, by offering the baseline value of your services for free.
  • Demo or Trial offers where readers can click through to get a free, time-sensitive sample of what you offer.
  • Resource Lists that mimic the popular X Things that Y format. These are easy attention-grabbers people tend to remember and talk about later
  • Personal Emails keyed to information your campaign has gathered that invites the reader to ask specific questions of a real person

You’re probably on as many as a dozen lead nurturing email systems right now. Over this week, open a few more than you usually do, and see how many fall into one of these conceptual buckets. Like alcohol and oil changes, they’re popular because they work.

How to Do I Do it Right?

Divide and Conquer

Setting up your email lead nurturing right requires a simple but significant paradigm shift. A smart email nurturing program puts the education and qualification portions of the sales discussion in the hands of the Marketing department (instead of Sales). This accomplishes two things:

  • Lets the sales department focus on the most interested and qualified leads
  • Puts specialists in charge of turning casual browsers into interested and qualified leads

Even if you’re a small business with a sales and marketing department of one, this shift in thinking improves the effectiveness both of your email drip system, and of your sales department, by precisely defining two different stages of the process.

Provide Massive Value

Remember how we mentioned that you open maybe 10% of the lead nurturing emails you get each day? That’s because you don’t trust them to be worth the two minutes it will take you to read them. A working lead nurturing system provides emails the reader can’t wait to open.

One of the best examples of this operating today is Tim Ferris’s Five Bullet Friday newsletter. It arrives weekly, promises to be short (and fulfills that promise), and delivers on-point information directly of interest to the people who might buy his books. For his fans — busy people in need of inspiring and actionable information — this is a golden formula.

Identify the traits in a newsletter that your idea B2B customers would want, then write your lead nurturing emails to those traits. This isn’t where you brag about how awesome you are — it’s about demonstrating awesomeness in the sight of your potential customers.

Analyze, Recalibrate and Try Again

The excellent analysis starts with knowing your industry. What are the average open rates, click-through rates, subscription rates and similar basic metrics for what you have to offer? If you don’t know those off the top of your head, get deep into your industry association reports and similar data sources until you do. There’s no other way to accurately assess how your lead nurturing performs.

The trouble with what happens after you’ve done this is how much data there really is. Some of it matters a lot. Some of it only matters a little. A lot of it matters only in specific circumstances. Based on our experience, we recommend the following top-level practices to keep you focused on the most important variables in your lead nurturing system.

  • Focus Your Energy on the Title — titles and subtitles (the part visible before an email gets opened) make the largest difference in whether or not an email gets opened.
  • Watch Timing Carefully — different client bases have different “golden hours” when decision makers are (a) online and (b) not too busy to read your email. Find out yours and plan accordingly.
  • When in Doubt, Split Test — run simultaneous or contiguous campaigns with just one element different between the two. Whichever performs better, keep. Over time, you can bullseye into the perfect, targeted, lead nurturing message.
  • Personalize Emails — use every bit of information you can glean about the customer to personalize the message and make the most impactful impression possible. 

Constant measurement followed by meaningful revision is how to succeed in 21st-century lead nurturing.

What it Can Mean For Your Business

To lead nurture or not to lead nurture, that is the question. As it turns out, deep research by the folks over at Gleanster Research can tell us the answer. According to their survey data:

  • 1,000 leads without nurturing produce approximately 500 leads that are marketing qualified, of which 113 are legitimate opportunities who are not yet ready to buy. About 7% of them eventually make a purchase — 7 customers. If your average deal is $5,000, that’s $35,000 in sales.
  • 1,000 leads with nurturing still produce about 500 leads and 113 legitimate opportunities not yet ready to buy. But good nurturing means that 20% of those opportunities eventually sign on the dotted line. That’s 22 closed deals. At $5,000 per deal, that’s $110,000$75,000 more per 1,000 leads.

Sure, all of the numbers other than the sales rates are made up. You’ll have more than 1,000 leads and charge whatever you charge for your services….but no matter the industry, nearly tripling your sales from qualified leads not yet ready to buy is a win.

Ryan Flannagan
Ryan Flannagan

Ryan Flannagan is the Founder & CEO of Nuanced Media, an international eCommerce marketing agency specializing in Amazon. Nuanced has sold $100s of Millions online and Ryan has built a client base representing a total revenue of over 1.5 billion dollars. Ryan is a published author and has been quoted by a number of media sources such as BuzzFeed, CNBC, and Modern Retail.

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