What is lead nurturing?

Why are drip marketing and lead nurturing important? Maybe because of this statistic truth: 50% of leads are not ready to buy, yet 80% of marketers pass on leads from marketing to sales after the first touchpoint.


Lead nurturing is a seduction dance where the buyer gets to know your business —it’s mostly courtship before marriage. So, before it gets serious, there is much fun getting to know each other. The purpose of lead nurturing is to spend time establishing a relationship of trust from the perspective of being helpful rather than trying to sell. The result is that you are welcomed as a trusted advisor and partner rather than an intrusive factor. Without nurturing, you’re just trying to kiss a stranger on the street without a decent first date. It can be awkward. Good luck with that.


"Organisations that excel at lead nurturing

produce 50% more sales-ready leads

at 33% lower costs than those who don’t."

Marketo research


What is the difference between drip marketing and lead nurturing? Before going into detail, let’s consider the difference between lead nurturing and drip marketing – since most of the time, these get confused. Drip marketing is nothing more – and nothing less – than a ‘one size fits all’ ancestor to lead nurturing. What a drip campaign does is it sends bits and pieces of information (this can be an email, direct mail) with a certain cadence set by the sender. It does not consider activity nor behaviour since it’s static and non-adaptive. It can be useful sometimes when timing drives the campaign – for example, an end-of-year program or an end of contract scenario – but many times it’s undervalued compared to the more decent lead nurture programs. Drip sequences work well in use cases where there is a need for more limited, frequent messaging windows.


The downside of drip campaigns is that they provide the same response to everyone – it does not consider specific actions as a trigger; thus, it is typically less personalized and adaptive. Real lead nurturing, on the other hand, is a process of building relationships with leads based on their behaviour and guided by the fundamental principle that the lead controls the pace and cadence of the lead cycle process. The underlying philosophy is that by the time the lead handoff takes place, the prospect is ready to buy, at their terms.


The goal of obsessive lead nurturing should be threefold:

  1. Become less intrusive toward your audience.
  2. Improve the effectiveness of your high-value sales reps. Since buyers today only engage with sales when they are 70% deep into their buyer journey, marketing and sales must cooperate throughout every stage of the revenue cycle. 53% of leads will stop engaging as soon as the information becomes irrelevant.
  3. Consider content as your fuel and data as your oxygen. Without sufficient attention to both of them, your revenue engine will stall.

What makes Lead nurturing effective?

Relevant lead nurture tracks have a four to ten times more significant impact and response rate than conventional email blasts. Lead nurturing will lead you to better align your marketing and sales apparatus by implementing a lead scoring and grading process.

Lead Nurturing Matrix

Blended lead scoring and grading is the principle that has the most impact on aligning marketing and sales. To relieve tension over lead quality, this will guarantee leads match your ideal customer profile before they are handed over to sales – both in terms of who they are, and in terms of what they have done.


  • A lead score is given based on the activity levels and level of engagement
  • A lead grade is given based on fit with your products or services and for the demographic fit of your ideal customer profile (function title, vertical, size of the company, etc.).


Therefore, a good start of a lead scoring initiative is to start reflecting on how your ideal customer profile looks and think about what data attributes to the completeness of that profile. It might be an industry, an age, an income category, geography etc.


As you engage with your leads in a conversation of value, you will need to have multiple touchpoints with that prospect in order to be able to talk about a conversation. The image below on content per prospect stage gives you already some ideas on the content you could produce depending on the lifecycle stage. In the early stage it is important to educate and help rather than sell. Think whitepapers, e-books, webinars. In the middle stage you need targeted information. This helps the prospect to know the solution types available. This means seminars, live demos, more technical whitepapers. At the bottom of the funnel – a later stage – you need to narrow down the field. Think case studies, ROI calculators.


Know this: your prospects do not care at all about this neatly crafted process ... some will come in at the end. Do not mistake your buyer’s journey for the lifecycle stage. When a lead comes in and asks where they can order, do not hold them back and make sure they go straight trough to sales ...

Blended Lead Scoring

Personae based exercises come in handy here, although in many cases this type of thinking processes stay pretty theoretical and are at best a poster put on the wall to remind the content marketing team of their target audience. It is still too uncommon to translate the data attributes that make up a persona in the data model of a CDP, CRM, and/or marketing automation. For example, let’s say you create a persona called ‘Obsessed Oliver’. He is between 30 and 40 years old, middle management, married, has specific pains, looks for certain benefits. What you need to do when this is done is to find ways to gather that data and populate your data model with it. This gathering can be done by either buying the data (for example to find out in what industry Oliver is active, or the size of his company), either find out the smart way (based on what he reads on your blogs, you can easily find out what drives him), and as a last resort by asking him when relevant. However, enough said on personae – many other great books have been written on this topic already.

A reality Check

Now here’s a shocking statement: know that probably your MQLs will suck … here’s why: did you know that in today’s reality out of one hundred MQLs generated only one gets closed on average? Kind of a hallucinating thought that so much marketing money goes in vain.


Let me rephrase that in numbers. 1% of your Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) get closed.


So, here is how it typically goes: out of 100 Marketing Qualified Leads generated, only 20% will be generally followed up, or ‘accepted’ by Sales Affected Leads (SAL). Why? Well, typically there’s still a significant trust gap between marketing and sales. You can look at it a bit like Waze. Waze might be right 99% of the time when warning you there is a speed trap ahead; but the one time it warned you, and there was none, you immediately lose faith in the system.


Well, it’s the same thing with marketing and sales alignment. The moment you pass on a lead that has not been nurtured enough and does not pass the test of sales, you lose all credibility on the spot. Hence, it’s best practice to implement the right technologies that allow you to offer Marketing as a Service, for example, where automated emails get sent out on behalf of the sales reps. Unburdening is your currency to gain your sales team’s trust.

MQL to Sales

Hence it is why we recommend – when implementing lead scoring models and supporting technologies – always to do ‘reversed funnel engineering’ exercises with your marketing and sales teams.


In essence, you walk your sales teams through a couple of recent deal successes (and failures) and allow them to share what they respectively have done. What content did they consume, how long did each stage take, why did you lose a deal etc. Out of that exercise, you jointly come up with lead scores (both positive and negative). By doing so together, you create marketing and sales alignment and get both teams’ buy-in on the process.


So, back to our conversion model. We are now left with 20 Sales Accepted Leads (SAL). Out of those 20 in general, 70% will be disqualified, so we are left with 6 out of 100 that will be actively worked and followed up on. Why is that? Well, typically it’s because of a lack of process. Most of the times, marketers are left to the goodwill of individuals, and no processes are in place in the CRM system to follow-up on the pipeline velocity after opportunities hit this stage in the funnel.


Now, here’s the good news: while only 20% of the SQL will be closed generally – 80% of those that do not close, do make a decision, do purchase an equivalent product or service elsewhere within nine months. This is a hidden opportunity. What you will typically see is that in many cases, prospects after six months come back to your website. Imagine if you could notify the sales team that a lost client opportunity reappeared on the site?


Despite the above, companies that are successful in lead nurturing:

  • generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost per lead; reduce the number of marketing-generated leads that are ignored by sales by up to 55%;
  • raise win rates on marketing-generated leads by up to 7% and reduce ‘no decisions’ by up to 6%;
  • increase the number of sales reps that make quota by as much as 9% and decrease ramp-up time for new reps by up to 10%.


If you are starting to get obsessed, and want to take your expertise about lead nurturing to the next level – the following online resources are worthwhile adding to your favourites in your browser:


Five guiding rules of Obsessed lead nurturing