Nurture Vs. Nature

In the early 1980s, when I was advertising manager of Koch Engineering—a manufacturer of process equipment—industrial marketing was a simple two-step process. First, you generated sales leads. Second, you turned the leads over to the sales force, who took it from there.

The most common complaint from the salesforce was the leads we gave them often were of poor quality—not interested or ready to buy. But we thought following-up with the leads until they were ready to buy was the job of the sales rep. Today we know better, and 21st century marketers have added another stage to the marketing process: lead nurturing.

How are the communications in the lead nurturing sequence delivered? Because of its convenience and low cost, many companies rely on email marketing primarily for lead nurturing communications sequences. But Stevens suggests varying the media used in lead nurturing. Reason: If too many emails are sent, the prospect may feel spammed or get bored and ignore the messages. The Aberdeen Group found that the top three channels used for lead nurturing are email, telephone and direct mail.

The next question people have is: How many efforts should be in the lead nurturing sequence? Research from Direct Marketing Partners indicates that after seven efforts you will have qualified 93.6 percent of the leads, and the incremental results gained after that are minimal. This suggests to me to start a lead nurturing sequence with seven efforts, and then maybe add a few more gradually to see whether the additional efforts pay off.

Frequency of communications in the lead nurturing sequence is another issue. When the medium is primarily email, M.H. “Mac” McIntosh, president of sales lead agency AcquireB2B, suggests one message every two weeks, as does Stevens. McIntosh says if the frequency is more or less than that, opt-out rates will increase.

A key aspect of planning a lead nurturing sequence, and a factor that adds complexity, is the “decision tree.” That is, the next effort prospects get in the sequence is determined by their response to the current effort. For instance, someone who registers for and attends a webinar may get a different email from a prospect who registers but does not attend.

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at or call (973) 263-0562.

Publish date: December 1, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT