The Nurturing Waterfall Framework
Lead Nurturing, or even Account Nurturing, has been a long established “must do” for B2B Marketers. Instead of a salesperson constantly sending useful content to top leads, the marketer can do this at a larger scale. Many firms say (or prove) that nurturing reduces time to Revenue and lowers Cost per Lead. It’s a great idea and a lot of us say we are doing it. Yet, when I work with clients or join a firm, I find no one is doing it very well at all.
What you probably do now
According to Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing (new | old), you should have separate nurtures and content by Buyer Persona and Stage of Purchase. The actual names of the stages (Early, Mid, Late vs. AIDA) are irrelevant. What I see many firms do is find any content they already have and put it in the “content grid” just like we were taught. And then that set of emails is placed somewhat randomly into each Stage Stream. Perhaps it looks like this a bit.
CMO at Tech Startup|
Director of MOPS|
How to solve x
How to dedupe fast
And then we decide to move leads to later streams when they fill out forms at least twice, or hit a lead score, etc. Most firms have only 3-6 pieces in each Stream and rarely update it. Within the past two months, several people asked about “restarting” the lead at the beginning of the Nurture if they exhausted without becoming an MQL. Does repeating content really help here?
But this is all a guess. If we have time, we start testing specific emails, but not the order of emails, let alone the type of content. Who has time for that?
Let me show you how to think about this in more depth.
Content and Storytelling
In my recent presentation, I spoke about Permission and understanding your customer more deeply than they know themselves. You should prepare all of that before proceeding.
Next, you should really consider how you plan to tell your story.
The common fallback for marketers is some variation of the AIDA Model – Attention, Interest, Decision, and Action. While this is a good first step, this is a very firm centric view of the world. It fits nicely into Marketo’s Engagement Streams and the Content Grid. But this still allows you, as a marketer, to get sloppy.
AIDA is a sloppy methodology because it doesn’t force you to consider the order of content or the story you tell people about the company, your solution, or place the lead at the center of their story. This is about you, and what you want.
The best way to get what you want, is to help others get what they want.
This is an old axiom and it holds true for whoever takes it to heart.
So how do you apply that to lead nurturing?
To go beyond AIDA, you must learn storytelling techniques. Think back to a campfire where you share stories after a long day. Which stories resonate with you? Who is the best storyteller and why did they draw you in? The best salespeople are storytellers about the problems and solutions their company solves. I learned Sales partially by listening to the stories of the experienced salespeople and then used those stories myself.
The most compelling story technique is the Hero’s Journey first outlined by Joseph Campbell, and then used lucratively by George Lucas in Star Wars. Effective ads, or famous ads, tell a story in 15 to 60 seconds. When we do lead nurturing, we have to tell a story and we have to write chapters that help make the lead the center of their heroic epic to become better at X.
The content grid for a Hero’s Journey will be very different than the AIDA model or just a regular nurture. We could have an entire workshop on this. Instead, consider the following.
Each email is an invitation to continue the story.
Each email or whitepaper is a chapter.
Each chapter can be across channels or offer types.
Who is the helper? SDRs? Salespeople? Are you sure they are the right mentors?
When should the mentor step in?
Who is the “enemy” or “blocker”?
Does revenue attribution occur at the Story or the Chapter? Both?
Whether you work at a technology startup or a large firm, your ability to tell the firm’s story and become the lead’s mentor is crucial to building, retaining, and converting an audience.
The Lead Nurturing Waterfall
The lead nurturing waterfall is a concept that can (and should) be used for demand generation and account based marketing. This is an operational method that builds on the story and content you created. In the example below, we have several Tracks.
Generic or Introduction: this is designed to ask the lead for more information to continue the story. As soon as we know what kind of person this is, we will start telling a version of our story that is more likely to resonate. The Generic Track is the first one you should attempt to build.
Solution Track: this track could be the second one you build. It discusses the particular Problem-Solution. You may need more than one, depending on the products you have.
Solution by Persona: If you can write more specifically for a particular Person, your story works better. This would look like “Marketing Operations Managers who need automated lead nurturing.”
ABM Matrix – Solution-Persona-Industry-Account: this track would be a very specific story that would potentially include firm specific references, such as becoming a “Marketing Operations Hero at an multinational aerospace firm like Boeing.”
Remember that each Track has a “Goal.”
Your goals and story will be different, think about this.
Each Nurture should have a set of conditions for hearing the Story. Who and When. Ideally, you already know because you wrote specific stories for each group. A Generic track might look like:
Anyone who has an Email Address, Unsubscribed=F, is missing Title and Role, and isn’t in another nurture.
What is a goal? Never create a Nurture without a goal because to do so means you have already failed. A goal could be:
Obtain Title and Country.
Fill out Contact Us Form
Make it to MQL
Make it to SQL.
This is also known as a “good exit.”
Marketo Users: create a new Program Channel for Engagements with these statuses to match Goal and Exit. You will also add Leads to a Static List and an Empty Stream at Goal and above.
Exit – Unsubscribed Here|
Hit unsubscribe from a Chapter in this Story|
Exit – Unsubscribed|
Exit – Invalid|
Email is invalid or went dark|
Exit – Excluded|
Met other exclusion conditions|
In the table above, there are at least four other Exit types. These are called “bad exits” because the lead did not reach our intended goal. Generally, exhausted leads are not bad exits. But leads who became invalid, unsubscribed, or did other “bad” things, will be excluded, paused, and counted.
Transitions Between Streams and Nurture Tracks
In Marketo, you can leverage Engagement Streams like railroad tracks. You can use the Transitions or Smart Campaigns to move leads between Tracks. Consider using them in particular ways:
Accelerate the Story – move a lead to a faster Cadence.
Decelerate the Story – slow it down for less engaged leads.
Tell a different part of the Story – different buying stage, or entirely new Engagement Nurture.
Remember, keep these conditions simple when you start out. The more complex you make transitions, the more can go wrong. Just because you can, does not mean you should.
Cadence or Timing
The best timing is what your audience thinks it is. Unfortunately, it is hard to know this with a high level of confidence. Here are some suggestions:
Best Guess: this is usually 2-4 times a month and decide when you think someone wants more, or less.
Semi-Guess: use an email report to learn the best Time of Day and Best Day of Week for Clicks. If you have Marketo’s RCE, you can do this pretty well. The challenge is that this data is based on when you traditionally send, which is based on a Guess.
Machine Learning: new tools are coming that can use your behavioral data and larger sets of data to make better predictions as to when a lead should receive your next chapter. [paper]
Metrics and Success
In the Definitive Guide, Marketo suggests monitoring before and after metrics like CPL and Time in Revenue Stage. That’s certainly helpful in proving ROI. But if you can’t do that well, then I do suggest using the counts from your Entry, Goal, and Exits to monitor the success of your story. For example, “of the 1,000 leads who entered, 5% reached Goal, and 8% exited badly, while 34% are currently exhausted.” More ambitious metrics would include Opportunities and Revenue attached back to the Story and to the Chapter.
If you are interested, here are the original slides: (Remember to subscribe for more posts like this)