Closing the Gaps in Lead Nurturing

by Baxter Denney


I have helped several organizations implement marketing automation tools, and one of the “must do” line items to complete the implementation project is creation of a lead nurturing program. Lead nurturing is a fairly mature concept at this point, but I like the simple and effective definition given by Eloqua in their Grande Guide to Lead Nurturing: “At its core, lead nurturing is the process of cultivating leads that are not yet ready to buy.”

From the outset, getting a lead nurturing program up and running is easy (and feels great to check off that box on the implementation project plan). You set up some logic about who you will nurture and how, insert content, turn it on and see what happens. You then move on to your day-to-day campaigns, and revisit occasionally.

Organizations new to the concept of marketing automation might be tempted to take this type of approach. But they are doing themselves a disservice if they are not thinking about lead nurturing as a mechanism for influencing the buying decision throughout the prospect (and customer) lifecycle. When working with clients, I like to focus on lead nurturing not just as a means to keep prospects warm, but to also strategically offer them appropriate content based on where they are in the decision-making process.

The Life of a Lead Through the Sales Cycle

This can be done a few different ways, but my methodology is to think about the life of a lead (or customer) as they move through the various stages in their consideration of your product or service. This will naturally lead to discussions centered on “the funnel”, or whatever mechanism is used to visualize the life of a lead. Since I have worked mainly with those in the B2B realm, the Sirius Decisions Demand Generation Waterfall is often used to visualize the prospects journey from lead to (hopefully!) customer.

Sirius Funnel

Figure : Sirius Decisions Demand Waterfall

These stages may not apply to your organization, or you may use an alternate method. But you should be able to find value in looking at the life of a lead for your organization to identify areas where marketing can add value to the conversation through nurturing.

For a recent project, I conducted a gap analysis of the content nurturing programs underway at Webert*, a B2B SaaS Company, and compared that to the leads that wound up in their marketing database. This is a list of the programs in place:

Figure -Webert Demand Funnel

In a vacuum, that looks pretty good. They have a welcome program for new prospects, a weekly nurturing program for established prospects, and a customer program for those that convert. Taken into context with their marketing funnel and criteria used to bring people in (and exclude) – we can identify the gaps. These gaps include where marketing is either silent (no message) or had the potential to modify their message to more accurately reflect where the prospect is in their buying process. Once we analyzed their current programs in the context of their prospect stages, a clearer picture emerges.

Figure -Webert Funnel with Gap Analysis

As you can see, Webert might have been leaving money on the table by not bringing their content to the prospect at crucial periods, such as when sales discussions have gone stale (i.e., the “sales opportunity nurturing” gap identified in the above graphic). With this in hand, they can begin thinking about crafting specific nurturing programs to address these gaps. The great part is that the criteria for entry into these new programs should now be defined, so it becomes a matter of choosing the appropriate content (or re-refreshing what you have used elsewhere). Content is king, so as always it is vital to have a meaningful and appropriate message with which to engage your prospects.

It should go without saying, but your partners in sales need to be involved, too. I led another implementation project for a B2B security technology firm where we had sales management in the same room while we conducted the life of a lead exercise. Their real-time feedback on where the sales reps needed “air cover” was amazing. It allowed marketing to dial in on those gaps and ensure the content was effective in continuing the dialogue, without stepping on sales’ toes. With the sales team’s blessing, the nurturing programs we put into place were extremely effective and led to an increase in pipeline velocity.

In summary, here are my recommendations for conducting this lead nurturing exercise in your own organization:

  • Think about the “life of a lead” for your organization – how do you want to interact with potential buyers throughout their decision-making process?
  • Map your current lead nurturing programs and where you interact with prospects currently.
  • Identify gaps where marketing can add value through more segmented marketing programs or new-in-kind nurturing programs.
  • Create a plan to address these gaps.
  • Make sure sales is involved and is providing real-time feedback on where they could use marketing air-cover.

*All company names are pseudonyms



Good article, thanks! I was wondering what you mean by the “life of a lead” session. How do you conduct this meeting? Who needs to be involved? At my company we (sales, marketing) can’t even agree on what a lead is so we have a tough time moving forward with nurturing and qualification

Comment by Sam

Good questions Sam. You definitely want sales and marketing leaders together in the same room, and document how a lead goes from that first action someone takes to engage with your organization (search, tweet, conversation with colleague, etc) through to when they hopefully buy your product/service. Think about how the interactions between you and this lead now (current state) and where it should be (ideal state). Be clear about what information marketing is tracking, and when the lead is passed over to sales. After that whiteboarding session you should have a framework to work though, and can shake hands on sales with what a lead actually is. I’ve seen a lead defined as someone who submits a form, or someone who is passed to sales, and many variations thereof. It really does not matter as long as that definition is clear and sales & marketing are aligned. From that point forward it makes the lead nurturing program design much easier for marketing.

Comment by Baxter Denney

This is an awesome take on this process.

I can see where in my experience with my businesses we had some “air coverage” for sales qualified leads. It was a very successful action.

Dig the site. Will be subscribing.

Comment by Christopher Cadwell

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