Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide to Lead Nurturing

September 21st, 2010 by Roy Russo

Lead Nurturing is the corner-stone of today’s marketing automation and automated email marketing processes. With it, marketers are able to lower their costs of new customer acquisition, build interest and awareness for their product and services, and help retain existing customers; all in an automated fashion requiring little effort from marketing staff.

Before making a purchase decision for a marketing automation platform, buyers should research and accumulate knowledge on successful lead nurturing programs, and more importantly, what types of lead nurturing programs they plan to implement. Of all features found today in marketing automation systems, it is important to note that with lead nurturing you should choose the system that is right for you and not simply buy the prettiest, cheapest, or what-the-consultant-tells-you. Implementing a Lead Nurturing program is a serious undertaking that seldom get right the first time. A system that can grow with you and can produce measurable and refinable results will suit you best in the long-run.

The list below is composed of technology and usability items that we believe are a base-line for achieving effective lead nurturing programs:

  • Logic Branching: Branching is defined as the ability to conditionally alter the path a prospect takes as he moves through your lead nurturing program Example: If he opened email campaign X, send him email campaign Y. If he did not open email campaign X, send him email campaign Z. I am often amazed to see many vendors not offering conditional logic within their lead nurturing programs. If you are planning to build even the most basic of lead nurturing programs, you will certainly want to have some automated decision-making abilities built-in.
  • Pauses: Pauses allow the Lead Nurturing program to pause execution for a pre-defined time. Example: Say you’d like to send someone an automated email, wait until 10AM of the following Monday, and send them another email message. The “pause” is a necessary feature in a basic lead nurturing solution. Being able to specify the time to “wake-up” is also a nice feature, but not always a necessity.
  • Retries: Retrying allows a lead nurturing program to re-execute logic paths over and over again for a pre-defined number of times. Example: Say you’d like to send someone an automated email, check to see if they clicked a link in the email, and then “do something”. Without a “retry”, checking whether someone clicked a link would surely be “false”, unless the recipient was an email ninja. The fact is that for many of these “checking” types of tasks you will certainly want to have a retry that checks over and over whether the person clicked the link in an email for the next 3 days.
  • CRM Integration: This is an absolute must. Whether your vendor synchronizes with your CRM every minute of the day or the lead nurturing program itself does real-time queries in to your CRM system, you will want this end-to-end integration available if you want your lead nurturing programs to provide real and up-to-the-minute results that are not querying on stale data. Querying on stale data can lead to catastrophic consequences within a lead nurturing program like leads being assigned to the wrong sales rep or double-sending email campaigns to the same recipient.
  • Prospect Event Integration: In an ideal situation, your lead nurturing system should be able to leverage all of the information amassed for a particular prospect on your system… Is his score greater-than 10? Is he a lead in my CRM? Did he open email campaign X? Did he download my new whitepaper? This is a must-have feature for any Lead Nurturing program and also provides insight on how deeply your vendor has thought things through, with regards to Lead Nurturing, ie. is this thrown in as a feature or is it integrated in to the entire marketing automation system.
  • Lead Nurturing Reporting: Hey, even a CSV-dump that you can import in to MS Excel will work here. Anything that makes you feel comfortable that you are able to analyze the performance of your programs on an ongoing basis and, most important, see what steps in these programs are failing or falling short.

So there it is… not a terribly exhaustive list of every little feature that every marketing automation vendor offers, but certainly a good start of the basic building-blocks that comprise most lead nurturing programs. Hopefully this short article will lead you on your way to asking the right set of questions and choosing the vendor that’s right for you.

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