Drip Email Nurturing – Who Wants to be a Drip?

Challenge:  Drip email campaigns often are not customer responsive

It is common for marketers today to identify customers with common characteristics and drop them into a drip email program because it’s easy and can automate outreach to thousands of customers.  The drip campaign creative can be tightly tied to a product or specific value proposition.  However, all too often the process is something like this:  ‘Prospects with this criteria/engagement are ideal for this product so let’s drop them into the ABC drip series.’  On the surface, it sounds like good marketing: targeted list, customized messaging and marketing automation. 

However, this process neglects the fact that these prospects are not uniform in any way.  No matter how tightly we segment our lists, each prospect is truly unique.  In common practice, drip email campaigns are static, having a fixed number of messages at somewhat fixed intervals with fixed messaging.  Those that operate at a higher level have some activity-driven content to alter the messaging throughout the drip to more tightly align to the prospect, but this is as far as most drip programs have progressed.  However, with effort, we can aspire to much more targeted marketing.  Take Amazon, for example, where recommendations are made based on recent purchases and web visits.  I love Amazon because it is timely, relevant and easy to use.

What we need to strive for is something much more responsive.  We need to integrate a broader set of inputs to drive a more relevant set of messages for each prospect.  These other areas of input may include: last website visit date, website pages visited, other contacts at the same company visiting the website, organic/paid search terms, previous products purchased, industry, and more.  Unfortunately this creates more complexity for the marketer, but it creates a more relevant and timely set of messages for the prospect, which is far more important. Additionally, marketers should consider alternate outreach vehicles like a call or mailing. 

While the typical drip program is better than ‘spray and pray’ email marketing, the goal should reach higher.  Think of prospects who look forward to receiving email messages.  Imagine doubling open and click-through rates.  This can only happen with significant changes that make your messages much more relevant to your audience.  What this takes is monitoring key data elements available in your marketing automation system and leveraging these to send the right message with the right offer at the right time.  This is certainly a tough task – and one that will increase complexity over a static drip program.  However the result will be dramatically higher engagement levels.  

So drip nurturing can make the sending company look like a real ‘drip’! 

Lesson: Let’s strive to optimize our outbound programs by including a variety of inputs driven by the actions of the prospect to ensure timely and relevant contacts that move the relationship forward.

Matching Marketing Automation to Prospect Online Posture

Challenge: So you have implemented a basic email program and lead scoring — what’s next?

Lesson: Developing sophisticated lead development programs that respond to your prospects’ online postures takes effort but will most certainly take your marketing automation programs to the next level.

Challenge: So you have implemented a basic email program and lead scoring — what’s next?

Almost all marketing automation systems will have you start by building an initial email series for new prospects, a lead scoring system and other programs to optimize your organization’s sales processes. You’ve built the systems and spent time troubleshooting and optimizing these programs. Next, it’s time to take these programs to the next level.

Step One: Data Analysis

You are likely capturing and tracking very valuable information: Data on initial lead source, key campaigns, important offers, customer segmentation, lead scoring, lifetime customer value and more. Take sufficient time to extract and analyze the data to show which campaigns, offers and other programs are associated with the acquisition of new customers (the logic being that if you continue to acquire new customers, you can also later optimize lifetime customer value). Investigate the various flows prospects take as they enter your systems through to a sold deal. Which campaigns or offers are associated with capturing new leads? Which campaigns or offers are associated with moving these leads through to initial sale? What common threads drive leads that do not progress at all or move to a ‘closed-lost’ opportunity? In just a few hours, you are likely to find key trends in your sales process – some trends you want to replicate and others you want to avoid.

Step Two: Collaborate with Sales

Armed with this information, collaborate with the sales team to validate the data your system uncovers with their real world experience. Very often, they are driving many of these ongoing touch points and can provide key insights behind these reports. As a result, you may also develop additional questions that will drive further data analysis to discover true causal relationships. The goal is to reach consensus on how to best support sales efforts with your marketing automation systems. Ideally, you will be able to identify areas where the sales team spends significant time/effort and explore opportunities to accelerate deal flow or reduce overall friction in the sales cycle. From these meetings, you should have a set of tactics where marketing can assist in the sales process. These tactics may be to focus efforts on certain industry verticals (greater segmentation in marketing automation), improved sales process (better offers at various stages of marketing automation) or optimized profiling of target prospects (better data collection or enhancement to make better decisions) – to name a few.

Step Three: Match Prospect’s Online Posture

Armed with your new-found insights into levers that drive sales, you can evaluate how your marketing automation systems can best support the sales team. You should now have insights into optimal lead sources, leading indicators when a prospect is ready to move to the next stage and good predictors of imminent purchase decisions. Your marketing automation system should be capturing these details and triggering the next phone call, email or offer.

Now you can optimize your initial marketing automation programs – and specifically the flow of your programs that will more reliably deliver relevant content for your prospects to take them to the next sales stage. If you see that a prospect takes one action or visits certain content on your web site, you can alter your programs to deliver better offers at the right time. Read your prospect’s ‘online posture’ by evaluating the offers they have consumed and the actions they have taken – and then offer them up the next likely step in the sales process.

Most marketing automation programs in their first or second generation are really just a series of emails that don’t respond dynamically to the actions of the prospect. To be fair, these programs take significant time and effort to set up – even at this basic level. However, once in place and optimized, now is the time to re-engineer the program, adding more options based on your prospects’ actions. This will probably entail more complex programming that creates different paths for your prospects – ones that more closely match their needs and interests.

Your goal is to get the right offer in front of the right prospect at the right time. If this were a face-to-face interaction, a sales rep would be reading and interpreting body language, tone, word choice, etc.,  to make the most appropriate, and therefore optimal, recommendations. You will have to make these recommendations based on how the prospect interacts with your website and your content. Your goal is to read the prospect’s online activities and then to adapt your response.

Step Four: Optimization

Once implemented you will again need another round of optimization – likely your initial design can be improved by watching open rate, click-through rate (CTR) and the actual completion of the offers delivered. You may find that you thought an offer was great but the CTR is very low. This may require changes to the messaging, a different offer, or changed timing. In fact, you may find that your initial results were lower than your previous simpler program! Don’t worry. If your analysis of sales process was accurate and your new automation design solid, you will be able to change timing, offer, copy and other variables to dramatically improve your results. These tests will take time and patience – but the results will be well worth the effort.

Lesson: Developing sophisticated lead development programs that respond to your prospects’ online postures takes effort but will most certainly take your marketing automation programs to the next level.

Drip Emails to Grow Future Customers

Challenge: How to tailor your automated email messages to maximize engagement.

Lesson: While adding complexity to your marketing automation program, taking the first step to customize messaging will optimize the relationship you develop with your prospects, paying dividends over time.

Challenge:  How to tailor your automated email messages to maximize engagement.

Marketing automation systems have made it really easy to spam new prospects with your marketing collateral. However, you must remember that you are in the very first phases of developing this new relationship. Prospects come into your systems with a variety of interests and most drip programs treat them all the same. While it can accelerate those that are most interested in your solutions, it can also turn off others just as quickly.

You need to take time to create a process and program that adjusts your messaging to the right audience. The first step is to ensure that you categorize your prospects appropriately. The most basic step is to separate customers, partners and prospects (a separate topic on this task). This way you can tailor your messaging to the right audience. There’s nothing worse than sending an automated email series promoting your products to an existing customer or sending partner-oriented messages to prospects.

With a reasonably clean list, identify the general interest area of each prospect. Customers will purchase your products often for different reasons. Identify a limited set of these common reasons and you will be able to customize your messaging around these prospects. A great place to start is to look at your Google Ad Groups. These are designed around search terms used by your prospects when looking for solutions to their challenges. It’s very likely that your messaging and even your products are designed around these value propositions. Ideally you can limit these to between four and eight benefits.

With a limited set of benefits, you can use key word insertions into ‘standard’ emails – both the subject line and the body text – to tailor these messages to your audience. This can be expanded to completely different sets of messages to these groups. By doing it this way, you’re tying your welcome email series to your audience. The results will likely be higher open rates and higher click-thru rates.

Complete your customizations with automated weekly reporting so you can closely monitor the effectiveness of this program. In every case, I have had to optimize the program based on actual results. This last step is often just as important as the upfront design work in creating the message series. Monitoring open rates, click-thru rates and more will pay off well in the long run.

Lesson: While adding complexity to your marketing automation program, taking the first step to customize messaging will optimize the relationship you develop with your prospects, paying dividends over time.

Lead Scoring Turns Trash to Treasure

Challenge: Focusing sales on the best leads

Lesson: Score one for both the sale and marketing teams by scoring leads with information input from the prospect as well as behavior gathered from the prospect’s web activities.

Challenge: How do you optimize your sales rep time by focusing them on your most qualified leads?

How many times have you heard, ‘Marketing just gives us a bunch of lame leads for follow up’? The issue is to clearly identify what characteristics early stage leads have so that marketing can deliver stronger, more appropriate leads.

Lead scoring is a great exercise that brings together sales and marketing. Effective scoring of leads will ensure your sales team is following up on the best leads and not wasting time calling junk.

Lead scoring generally breaks down along two dimensions: qualification and interest scores. Qualification scores refer to information the prospect provides about himself or what you can learn about him from research. This information typically includes location (address), size (revenue or employees), industry, buying timeframe, budget, role/title, etc. The challenge with this information is that prospects do not always fill out forms truthfully. However, you can enhance the data with third-party validations like D&B or other sources.

The second dimension of lead scoring is interest. This measures the actions taken by your prospect, including the number of website visits, date of the last website visits, number of web pages viewed, number of offers downloaded, high value content consumed, etc. Because interest score measures actual behavior, this is often looked at as more reliable to identify a prospect.

However, using the two scores together, you can develop an even more detailed profile of your prospect in terms of their overall sales readiness. Close collaboration between sales and marketing can achieve a common approach to lead scoring and the delivery of more sales ready leads to the sales organization. More data is good – mutual agreement on how to score this data is even better. The result is that both your sales and marketing organization will now be focused on finding the same type of prospects and align their interests.

Lesson: Score one for both the sale and marketing teams by scoring leads with information input from the prospect as well as behavior gathered from the prospect’s web activities.

Cleanse Your List with Every Registration

Challenge: How to maintain a clean database when customers, resellers, consultants and others are constantly registering for various materials on your website.

Lesson: Database cleanliness is next to godliness.

Challenge: How to maintain a clean database when customers, resellers, consultants and others are constantly registering for various materials on your website.

Great marketers have learned the value of the marketing database. Most companies have built websites with offers that encourage visitors to register by providing key information. Moreover, there are different forms: Register as a reseller; request a demonstration; download a whitepaper, etc. This becomes a database hygiene challenge when customers and partners come back and register for a whitepaper, then later show up as a new prospect. If you’re doing your best to offer information targeted at customers versus partners versus customers, how do you keep your lists clean?

What’s required is diligence in the use and maintenance of your salesforce automation systems. You likely have a process by which the finance group creates an account for new customers as soon as they purchase their first product(s). Whether this involves your salesforce automation software or an independent application, you need to create a monthly process to identify all new customers that month and specifically to add the email domain associated with these contacts e.g. ‘apple.com’ for Apple computer. Likely a bit of manual work is required to modify this list so you can have a customer account name matched with the email domain name for that customer.

With this list, the last step is to upload to your marketing automation system creating a file representing all of your customer accounts and their associated email domains (e.g., xyzcorp.com). Build a program in your marketing automation system to match all new web form registrations and then create the appropriate object in your salesforce automation. If the prospect registering uses an email domain that matches a customer account, the marketing automation system will create a contact associated with that customer account. If there’s no match, a lead will be created.

So with a bit of monthly manual work – and creating an account matching program, you can have most all registrations fill into the right buckets. The result is a database that is more accurate, so your messages to customers, partners and prospects go out with the right content. For marketers, it’s all about getting the right message to the right person at the right time. Your hit rate will increase dramatically with good database hygiene.

 Lesson: Database cleanliness is next to godliness.