Nurture Programs: Catching Turtles

I recently launched a prospect nurturing program for a client. This was their first attempt at lead nurturing so the concepts were welcomed, but foreign. Historically they thought of nurturing leads like this turtle on the beach. They wanted to put a net in front of its path and “catch him”. Of course, that interrupt driven approach doesn’t work well. You may catch the turtle but he is confused, grumpy and can’t wait to get away from you. Instead you want to put bits of interesting food in front of the turtle and watch where it goes first. Now you know what the turtle likes. By placing that special treat in the net, the turtle will now come to you on its own. That’s nurturing!

Prior to implementing the program I analyzed past program performance, reviewed the quality of the database, interviewed current customers & listened-in on several prospect calls. These were important first steps. In parallel I also ran sales workshops about nurturing.

These workshops turned out to be pivotal. When the first touch in the program was distributed this week we held a “launch” huddle. I asked for a volunteer to remind us the purpose of the nurture programs. They were fantastic. They talked about guiding buyers through their purchase process. They talked about turning “suspects” into in-bound leads. They even reminded themselves that it will take 6-9 months to feel the full effect of the program.  They also asked a great question — “What are the things we are going to measure early in this process to determine if the program is on track?”

There are plenty of industry statistics about what is average, or best case metrics for electronic nurturing programs. Some great benchmarks are posted here  http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2012/7657/email-campaign-volumes-surge-open-rates-stronger.  But in the early stages of your program you should build a baseline and measure success against yourself.  Look for measurable improvements over time.

Open Rates – For those in marketing this sounds like an obvious metric. This is something we all measure. But, truth be told, most of us get a little lazy about doing anything once this metric hits an acceptable level. While there is probably a theoretical cap to how large an open rate can be in practice,  the goal should be to see open rates continually improve as the campaign progresses. It’s also important to evaluate open rate by segment, and not simply the aggregate score. Is one group under performing? Does one audience respond better than another?

Offer Download – Building compelling content and calls to action are critical to the success of a nurturing program. Tracking who is accessing that content is necessary. But raw numbers don’t tell the entire story. As offers progress in the campaign are individuals taking more than one? Do they stop acting at a certain spot? How does one offer pick up relate to another? Does subject line effect offer download rate?

List Quality  – Through-out the course of the campaign the quality of your database should be improving. You should be able to collect new information about the interests of the people in the database and bounce rates should be declining. List quality is a constant challenge that never goes away, but you should see improvements over time.

Unsubscribe Rates – Don’t be afraid of unsubscribes! People will unsubscribe from your communications and that shows you are narrowing down your list to people truly interested in hearing from you. However, you do need to monitor for spikes or unusual behavior. The frequency of your communications will often impact unsubscribe rates as much as the content of those communications. Keep monitoring and look for patterns of change.

Social Shares – If the content you are presenting is really good, your partners and prospective customers will want to share it. Are you seeing links to the content being tweeted? Does someone post it to a LinkedIn Group? Have you been able to leverage it for a blog post? Social shares in itself is not the goal of the nurturing program but it is a wonderful way to enhance the efforts you are already developing.

Event Participation – While most of the nurturing campaign is electronic in nature, there are physical as well as virtual events built into the program. While volume of attendees is an interesting metric what I actually mean here by participation is something different.  How engaged are individuals who attend our events? Do they ask good questions? Are they raising their hand for follow-up? Do they stay on for the entire session? Are session evaluations pointing to a positive experience? These are the type of participation goals that nurturing programs must measure.

Long term we’ll be evaluating other business impact metrics such as revenue contribution, length of sales cycle & win rate. But for now these early signals are paramount.

Happy Nurturing!

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