Marketers who've used automation technology over the past 5-10 years know just how much it's improved. The drip emails and segmented nurturing lists of 2010 pale in comparison to today's nurturing technologies. With dependent logic, advanced segmentation criteria, and personalized messaging, inbound marketers can be more precise in their targeted email marketing than ever before.
Yet, with all this new technology, as a marketer it's hard to keep track of the best practices. In fact, it's hard to have the time to even develop best practices!
Over the last few years we've worked tirelessly to develop the most effective ways to nurture our leads, MQLs and SQLs. Today, we'll reveal our findings about the best practices in lead nurturing today using HubSpot, with a slant toward long-term success for companies dedicated to inbound marketing.
Why You Need a New Automated Email Methodology
Most marketing automation packages aim to make it easy to get started with email marketing—after all, it's one of their core products, so ease in on-boarding is essential. However, it's important to realize that out-of-the-box capabilities meant to help you get started are not usually the functions you need for effective long-term marketing.
This is true whether you're using HubSpot or any of its competitor tools.
For instance, one of the easiest ways to get your marketing automation started is to trigger an automated workflow based on contacts filling out a form. When you're just starting out, this works brilliantly because it means your leads will immediately get nurtured. But down the road, as you create more forms and more content, form-submission-based automation just isn't very strategic.
In the following sections, we'll outline a highly strategic, funnel-based approach to marketing automation—an approach that we're using as our standard operating procedure for all lead nurturing.
1. Lifecycle Stages Should Be The Foundation of Nurturing Triggers
Today, far too many marketers using HubSpot choose form submissions, email actions, or other behavior-based properties as the triggers for automated nurturing. There's one big reason that's a mistake: Contacts can and will have multiple trigger actions, which means you're essentially asking fate to determine which leads will be:
- Left out of nurturing
- Enrolled in multiple email workflows
- Unsubscribed because they're immediately sent too many emails
Instead, we recommend that once you're starting to generate lots of leads, you should only use single-use contact properties as your trigger for workflows. Single-use contact properties are those properties that can only be assigned to a contact one at a time—for example, a contact can only have one lifecycle stage at a time: they're either a subscriber, a lead, MQL, SQL, opportunity, customer, evangelist, or other.
By using lifecycle stages as your foundation for triggering workflows, you'll be (1) planning your lead nurturing in a way that's strategically aligned with your marketing & sales funnel, and (2) intelligently setting up a process that ensures leads are only in one workflow at a time.
2. Maintain Context Independently of the Nurturing Workflows
The advantage most marketers enjoy by building workflows based on form submission is that you can maintain context from the original download. For instance, if the contact downloaded "5 Tips for Building Widgets," then you can reference the original piece in the first step of the workflow. This nurturing tactic is an important way of helping create a unified marketing experience.
However, many HubSpot users don't realize there are other ways to maintain context. For instance, we highly recommend using HubSpot's follow-up email feature, rather than maintaining context in the nurturing process. Using follow-up emails, you can send a thank you message to your contacts that builds context, but you should wait to introduce new content until the first email of the workflow.
If you use single-use contact properties as workflow triggers, and follow-up emails to maintain context, you've created the start of what I'd deem intelligent workflow construction.
3. Make the Choice to Guide Your Leads Through the Funnel
HubSpot calls the top-of-the funnel the Awareness stage. Your choice of how you build awareness will be reflected in the way you construct workflows. In steps 1 and 2 above, we created a setup where context is maintained through follow-up emails while workflows are triggered by each stage of the buyer's journey. Within this construction, your choice of which content you promote should be based on taking leads to the next stage of the funnel.
Introduce content in a way that meets your goals for how quickly leads should proceed to the next stage of their buyer's journeys. If a sales-qualified lead is defined by a contact's level of knowledge and interest in your products and services, then make sure your nurturing helps to provide the knowledge and interest they need.
4. Segmentation Should be Reserved for the MQL Lifecycle Stage
We interpret marketing-qualified lead (MQL) as "leads who are worth creating targeted content for." In other words, MQLs are those leads that fit your target personas.
In step 1, we recommended creating triggers that rely on single-use contact properties – for instance, lifecycle stage. You can further segment by adding other single-use contact properties to lifecycle stages to clearly segment without creating overlapping pools of leads.
Industry, for example, can be used with "AND" logic alongside lifecycle stage to create segmented workflows to each of your target verticals.
Intelligent Workflows Prioritize Funnel-Based Nurturing
If you find that your workflows are downright messy and leads are in multiple nurturing streams, then you really have a problem—and believe me, you're not alone.
This approach of carefully planning intelligent, funnel-based workflows is a solution that many companies need in place if they want to see success in inbound marketing for the long-term. Comment below if you have questions. We'll be happy to answer them.