March 06, 2012
Case Study

Lead Nurturing: Pilot campaign increases conversion 32.6% with automated emails

SUMMARY: Lead nurturing can increase ROI, but many companies have yet to try targeted nurturing via email. If you're on the fence, or simply wondering how to get started, this case study outlines a successful pilot campaign to give you ideas.

These B2B marketers focused on keeping it simple, improved conversion rates 32.6%, and solved their lead-volume problem. Inside, you’ll see the steps they took and each of the five emails in the nurturing series.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Sometimes a new marketing tactic can seem so promising that you want to throw resources at it. But the wisest marketers know better. They always test before investing.

For example, Ross Nepean, VP, Global Marketing, TAB, felt confident that email marketing could help solve his team’s problem with sales leads.

TAB helps organizations store and manage print and digital documents. At the time, the company loosely defined a sales lead as anyone who had downloaded a whitepaper, attended a webinar, or completed one of a range of other actions.

"The number of leads we generate can be overwhelming for a salesperson," Nepean says. "With some campaigns the average salesperson does not have enough time to call or email all the leads they received … That is a wasted opportunity"

TAB needed a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Nepean’s team wanted to nurture prospects, pull the best leads from the pack, and send them to the sales team for direct engagement. He thought effective email marketing could help.


TAB’s marketing team tested a series of automated emails to nurture prospects, and set up a basic lead scoring system. Nepean realized this could be a herculean task, so he pushed to make this pilot effort as simple as possible.

"If you try to tackle too much at once, you are doomed to fail because there are too many variables. So keep it simple, and that is exactly what we did," he says.

The team followed these five steps:

Step #1. Select a segment of the audience

TAB has specific categories of products and services, such as those for managing digital documents or paper documents. The category a prospect was most interested in served as a natural way to cluster the audience into groups.

The team chose two segments from its database to target in the campaign:
  • Segment #1 - Prospects interested in paper-management solutions

  • Segment #2 - Prospects interested in hybrid-management solutions (paper and digital)

Look at behavioral data

As the first time the team targeted these groups with email, it had to assign prospects in the database to one of the groups. To do this, the team analyzed its behavioral data for the last 12 months. Any prospects who had shown an interest in one of the two product types were assigned to a segment.

Qualifying actions included:
  • Downloading a related whitepaper, case study or toolkit

  • Attending a related webinar

  • Spending 15 seconds or longer on a related TAB webpage

  • Other related actions

Step #2. Outline a basic buying cycle

The goal of lead nurturing is to guide a prospect from general interest to an active desire to purchase. Before guiding prospects down this path, though, Nepean’s team needed to map it.

The path to purchase can differ across every industry, and arguably across every customer. But Nepean’s team did not need to map a sophisticated path. It only needed to prove that nurturing via email was effective.

The team focused on simplicity and outlined five basic steps most customers experienced before purchasing:
  • Step 1. Problem recognition - Prospects realize their company has a challenge with record management

  • Step 2. Education - Prospects wish to learn more about solutions

  • Step 3. Brand evaluation - Prospects consider different solution providers

  • Step 4. Objections - Prospects encounter resistance to choosing a solution

  • Step 5. Decision - Prospects make a selection

Step #3. Match content to the buying cycle

Nepean saw this campaign as a great opportunity to repurpose part of the company’s content library. TAB regularly publishes educational whitepapers, toolkits, case studies, webinars and other types of content.

"This enables us to make sure we are using these assets we created to attract more people, qualify them, and help close business," Nepean says.

The team gathered content that spoke to the needs of prospects in the two segments, and further organized the content into groups that addressed prospects’ needs at each stage of the buying cycle.

For example, the team gathered an article, toolkit, case study and whitepaper under the title of "8 Signs You Need a Space Planning Solution." This content would be offered to prospects who were in the paper-management segment and who were in the first step of the buying cycle.

Create targeted landing pages

The team organized the content into dedicated landing pages. They created five landing pages for each segment, one targeting each step in the buying cycle.

For example, the landing page that targeted the first step in the cycle for the paper-management segment included:
  • Headline: "8 Signs You Need A Space Planning Solution"

  • Text-based article on the page

  • Links to download a related toolkit, whitepaper, case study and other content

  • Link to contact TAB

The page did not include a navigation bar. At the bottom, a single link to visit the company’s website was included. Limiting the page’s options in this way helped focus visitor attention on engaging with the content instead of distracting them with links to browse TAB’s website.

Step #4. Create emails for each step of the buying cycle

Now that the team had content targeting each step in the buying cycle, it created five emails to offer the content to prospects.

The emails were very similar in design. The email that targeted the first step in the buying cycle for paper-management segment included:
  • Subject line: 8 Signs You Need A Space Planning Solution

  • Company banner image

  • Personal greeting

  • 8 lines of copy

  • Link to the landing page

  • Link to contact TAB

  • Footer

The email’s copy spoke to the needs of the prospects in this segment. The email was short, contained mostly text, and more closely resembled a personal letter than an advertisement. (Note: You can see each of the five emails in the "creative samples" section below.)

Set timing and launch

The team scheduled these emails to automatically reach prospects every 10 days, giving the campaign a 50-day lifespan. The team sent it to all prospects in the two audience segments mentioned earlier.

After launch, any visitors to TAB’s website who expressed interest in paper-management or hybrid-management content (either by downloading, registering, etc.) would automatically be entered into the campaign (if the team had their email address). New prospects received the first email in the series three days after their action.

Step #5. Establish tracking, scoring and alerts

Lead scoring is another area where a team that is getting started could easily bite off more than it could chew. The goal is to identify which prospects are the best leads for the sales team. Each prospect is given a score based on behavior, profile and other data. Once a score passes a certain threshold, the prospect is considered a sales-ready lead.

These systems can be very sophisticated, but the goal of Nepean’s team was to use this pilot campaign as a simple proof-of-concept. That required keeping its new lead scoring system as basic as possible.

"I strongly didn’t want to have a complex lead scoring system until we had merit for understanding how to develop one," Nepean says.

Only score the campaign

Rather than launching systemwide, the team limited its lead scoring to this campaign. Prospects were scored based on their interaction with the campaign’s emails and landing pages.

The team assigned a number of points to each action that a prospect could make. Every action added to a prospect’s total score, edging him closer to becoming a sales-ready lead.

Some of the actions the team assigned points to:
  • Clicking a link in an email

  • Downloading a piece of content

  • Spending more than 15 seconds on the landing page

Send more info to Sales

The team’s system tracked each prospect’s interactions with email and TAB’s website. Once a prospect’s lead score passed a certain threshold, the team’s system sent an alert to a salesperson at TAB. The salesperson could pull up a profile to see which types of emails and content the prospect viewed.

Salespeople were "able to make an eyeball decision on whether that prospect warrants a phone call," Nepean says.


The results from this pilot campaign were strong enough to convince Nepean to take TAB’s email marketing in a new direction.

"Lead nurturing is really the next phase of our email marketing," he says. "Going forward, we are expanding the number of campaigns to reach other topics and we are going to use more complex decision-tree logic to dictate the next message in the cycle."

Averaging the metrics from both five-part email series, the campaign achieved the following results compared to TAB’s general email newsletter:
  • 133% increase in open rate

  • 650% increase in clickthrough rate

  • 32.6% increase in conversion rate (conversion defined as clicking to download content from the landing page)

Furthermore, the campaign allowed the team to automate a portion of its email marketing.

"We don’t have to do anything now, theoretically, to engage someone in a lead nurturing cycle. We have done the upfront work and now it is automated … Our job now is to monitor these," Nepean says.

Sales team is happy

The lead scoring and alerts system has also made it easier for salespeople to focus on reaching the best leads instead of shifting through a pile of "potential leads."

"Our sales force is very enthusiastic about the fact that they will know where to go immediately … They are not filtering leads themselves," Nepean says.

Useful links related to this article

  1. Landing page #1

  2. Email #1

  3. Email #2

  4. Email #3

  5. Email #4

  6. Email #5

  7. Landing page #2

Email Marketing: The importance of lead nurturing in the complex B2B sale

Lead Nurturing: Old names yield 37% of customers

The Complex Sale: Lead scoring effort increases conversion 79%

Marketing-Sales Funnel Optimization: 3 questions to ask as you kickoff 2012

How to Use Lead Scoring to Drive the Highest Return on Your Trade-Show Investment

LeadLife Solutions - provided the platform to message and score leads, and helped launch the campaign


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