September 06, 2011
Case Study

Lead Nurturing: Fewer emails yield 225% more sales leads

SUMMARY: Some prospects need to be coddled before they are ready for your sales team. Others just need a good nudge. Why waste time over-nurturing the ones who are ready?

See how a three-part email series targeting an IT company's best leads generates 376% more engagement and 225% more sales-ready leads than its longer nurturing series. This campaign is an update on a Gold Winner from the 2011 MarketingSherpa Email Awards.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

You can't keep a good team down. Lumension won the Gold for its email nurturing program in the 2011 MarketingSherpa Email Awards. This year's Awards contest is sponsored by Responsys, and with less than two weeks left to send us your entry (deadline: Sept. 16), we want to show how Lumension pushed results even higher.

Lumension offers IT security resources across a variety of industries. Its nurturing emails are targeted to prospects' verticals and product of interest. The marketing team felt it could improve results by launching a targeted email series to nurture new leads that were nearly ready for the sales team.

"We wanted to take our nurturing program and identify contacts or prospects that had the greatest propensity to purchase, and put them through more of an accelerated nurture program, prior to going into our elongated three-month program," says Annie Wacker, Senior Marketing Programs Manager, Lumension.

The accelerated nurturing series has since yielded the best engagement metrics of any nurturing emails at the company (results described below). Here are the key steps Wacker's team took to make these emails a success:

Step #1: Find and analyze the best leads

The team gathered a list of leads that had gone through its nurturing program, were handed to sales, and ultimately purchased. Combining website analytics and CRM data, the team found common traits in the list that could be used to identify high-quality leads as they came in. The team also worked to identify which offers were most likely to get new leads to respond, depending on their vertical and product of interest.

The analysis took about six weeks. Factors they analyzed about the leads included:

o Company vertical
o Lead source
o Offers taken
o Order of offers taken
o Time spent on the website

"We were able to have our marketing operations director actually do an analysis for us and say, 'Hey, the contacts based off of this vertical, if they've taken this initial offer, then these are the offers that they're most likely to take second in order to get them to sales," Wacker says.

Step #2: Lean on your assets

Lumension already had an email nurturing program, which won a Gold Award in the MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Awards contest (see useful links at the bottom of this article for last year's Special Report).

In its program, the team runs 12 series of nurturing emails that are targeted to a lead's industry and product of interest. Leads receive a maximum of nine emails and two telephone calls over the course of four months.

Establishing and maintaining this program gave the team the necessary resources to make the new nurturing series a success. The team leveraged three important assets from its earlier work:

- Valuable content

Lumension's nurturing emails typically focus on helping prospects solve a problem, and the team has the content and content developers to back this up.

Guidebooks, whitepapers, webcasts, digital tools, free product trials and other offers are used to help leads and introduce them to Lumension's products. The team was able to leverage this deep and growing library for the new emails.

- Targeting and segmenting

As mentioned, Lumension's nurturing emails send targeted offers based on a lead's vertical and product of interest. The team assigns leads to a group based on data such as the type of content they engaged in, the type of company to which they belong, and other data. This targeting architecture was carried into the team's new nurturing emails.

- Lead management

The team also uses a system to mange leads, score them, and pass them to sales. The definition of "sales-ready" had been previously determined and tested. This research and architecture were vital to ensuring a smooth process when handling the prospects and strong conversion rates after handing them off.

Step #3. Test content, timing and approach

The team thoroughly tests timing and messaging before setting a nurturing series for a segment. Furthermore, the content offered in each series is constantly tested to guide content development and improve results.

"We've really developed a culture based off of testing and optimization," Wacker says.

That commitment to data-driven marketing was applied to the new emails in three key areas (outcomes in the Results section below):

- Messaging and approach

Wacker's team hypothesized that emails appearing to come from an account manager would perform better than emails from the marketing team. Even if the emails had an account manager's signature and "From:" address, the recipients could still perceive them as marketing emails and be less likely to respond, she says.

"The emails in our typical nurture program are very HTML-focused, with buttons and sharing options for social media an emailing … We wanted to reduce the HTML, make it more text-based, and to see if we could get a response by making it look like it was coming from the account manager himself."

- Timing and volume

The team needed to identify a series that would quickly make these leads sales-ready. The emails could not be drawn out over the course of months as in the regular nurturing series.

The team tested four approaches:
o 2 emails sent in 1 week
o 3 emails sent in 3 weeks
o 6 emails sent in 3 weeks
o 4 emails sent in 8 weeks

- Content

The team planned to continue offering resources to help solve the prospects' problems. But since these were high-value leads, the team wanted to make them sales-ready as quickly as possible.

Initial emails in the new series offered content, such as a guidebook or webcast. Offers in later emails were more sales-oriented, such as for product demos, free 30-day trials, and suggestions to contact the account manager.


"From the first half of the year, these emails actually have our highest level of engagement from any of our other email tactics. That's based off of file downloads and leads completed," Wacker says.

Compared to Lumension's regular nurturing emails since January, the accelerated series achieved

o 225% increase in sales-ready leads

o 376% more engagements per lead (engagements include content downloads, form filling, etc.)

o 489% increase in leads who make multiple engagements

o 12.1% increase in leads who make at least one engagement

o 27% of sales opportunities generated from the list become customers.

"It's a huge number for us, it's a great success," Wacker says. "I think it shows you what a culture based off of testing and optimization [can do]."

- The right timing

The team's best approach was to send three emails every two weeks for six weeks and include two telephone calls after the second and third messages (check the Creative Samples below for two examples of the three-email series).

- The right messaging

Text-based emails from an account manager generated 10-times greater response than nurturing emails that used more HTML, Wacker says. The team now plans to take the lessons gained from these tests and apply them to its other nurturing programs.

Useful links related to this article

1. Financial Series: Email #1
2. Financial Series: Email #2
3. Financial Series: Email #3
4. Healthcare Series: Email #1
5. Healthcare Series: Email #2
6. Healthcare Series: Email #3

MarketingSherpa 2012 Email Awards (sponsored by Responsys) - accepting entries until Sept. 16, 2011. No fee to enter.

2011 Email Awards Winners Special Report - direct PDF file

MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011

Email Marketing: A toxic misunderstanding that could kill your response rates


Members Library -- Email Marketing: Triggered emails that target the conversion funnel boost revenue

Members Library -- Email Marketing: How to overcome segmentation challenges and deliver targeted content

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