Act-On in Action: How I Transformed Our “Lead2MQL” Automated Nurture

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Lead nurturing isn’t what it used to be, so if you’re thinking of it as a linear, one-size-fits-all process, listen up (well, read up). This article is going to give you some inspiration on how to evolve lead generation as you take a potential customer through your journey, serving up relevant, tasty, personalized content, creating or highlighting a need, and nurturing their interests.

As you know, buyers in nearly every industry have said goodbye to the traditional sales-led buying process and instead now turn to multiple channels and outlets to understand brands on their own before ever coming to you and your team.

Act-On in action, Portland, Oregon
Act-On team members including Becca Fischer and Laura Mathews in our Portland offices.

Hi, I’m Becca Fischer, Marketing Campaign Manager here at Act-On, and in the context of these expectations (no pressure, right?), I had a vision for building an updated nurture program in Act-On to qualify prospects for our own SDR team. Instead of assuming what a prospect would like to hear about, I decided to just ask. It’s actually empowering for buyers to choose their own pathway to purchase, and this small change has given our prospects the chance to do just that.

Here’s the story behind what I did, and how I built this new nurture program in Act-On with the help of my colleague, Laura Matthews.

Putting Prospects in the Driver’s Seat

The purpose behind our “Lead2MQL” is to nurture new leads who have interacted with one of our top-of-funnel campaigns (like syndication or paid social) and to turn them into a marketing qualified lead (MQL). This nurture is the catch-all for prospects who need some additional touches before getting fully onboard with the Act-On brand.  

Before diving into the nurture content, I had to sit down and strategize. After hosting many webinars and learning more about our buyers, I’ve come to realize that knowledge of marketing automation vastly differs from person to person (and that’s okay!) So I knew meeting the prospect wherever they might be in their current marketing automation journey would play an important role in determining the content served up in this updated “Lead2MQL” nurture. 

After some brainstorming (and too much coffee), I settled on dividing the nurture into two main branches. The first branch would be for prospects who might have a little knowledge of marketing automation, but would want to learn more of the basic tactics, benefits, and strategies. The second branch would focus on current marketing automation users who want to enhance their existing automation strategies and keep-up with the cutting edge of modern marketing.

Simply segmenting by level of marketing automation knowledge has allowed our new leads to get into the driver’s seat right away, and have a better experience with our brand overall. I can hear you asking, “Ok, Becca, but HOW?” Keep going. I’ll tell you all about it. 

I started by creating two different CTAs in the welcome email of the nurture program.

The CTA click now determines which nurture stream the prospect is dropped into.  

Gathering Assets and Mapping Content

Once I had a basis for a basic segmentation for those new to marketing automation, vs. the seasoned pros, I cracked open the Pandora’s box on content. As a marketing automation company, we already have a lot of content on … you guessed it … marketing automation. So, one of the first steps of splitting and updating this nurture program was to map Act-On’s current content library onto these two branches. 

I had to do some additional digging, but I pulled our top performing content based on previous email sends, prospect newsletter promotions, and paid social campaigns. 

After auditing an array of eBooks, reports, blogs, and case studies, I settled on a simple six step email nurture stream for both branches. While six emails per branch (twelve total) seems too simple, hear me out. Some experts will make it seem like marketers need to launch a complex nurture program with dozens of drawn out emails in order to be successful. But in reality, the simpler your nurture is, the easier it will be to report on its progress, know which updates to make, and how to build it up in the future. Engagement tends to drop off after a while anyway, and people can get numb to seeing your company’s name in their inbox.  

Mapping your content is an essential part of telling your brand’s story in a way that truly connects. Remember, the key here is to segment, and then tell a story that centers around what your audience indicated they wanted to learn more about. 

For example: 

Branch #1 is for prospects who want to get started learning more about marketing automation. So, I picked articles and topics like our Complete Guide to Marketing Automation and How to Use Automated Customer Segmentation to better connect with a marketer who might be less familiar with all the nuances of automation. 

Branch #2 is for prospects who want to improve their current marketing automation strategies, or deepen their knowledge. As a result, I picked assets like 4 Ways to Implement Marketing Automation Data and our Plan, Build, and Deliver Personalized Customer Journeys eBook for prospects who already have a solid grasp on marketing automation. 

Some Quick Content Tips for Your Nurture:

Blogs make great top-of-funnel engagement. Your readers can easily digest in their own time, and depending on the topic, they make great middle and bottom-of-funnel content. Plus, they’re ungated and include additional links to let your prospects explore your content even more. 

eBooks work well for your second or third email send. Once you’ve engaged your prospect with a couple of highly-applicable blog articles, eBooks can offer the chance to go deeper.

Case Studies make for great middle and bottom of funnel offers. They showcase great use cases and can inspire new customers by sharing the successes of your current customers. This layers on strong credibility and trust in your brand. 

Webinars and Video bring a new medium and an even deeper connection. Creating snippets out of your longform video content (like webinars) can be an awesome way to extend the life of your content and help your brand stand out in the inbox from a potential competitor. Keep in mind that not everyone learns the same. Some are visual or auditory learners. You never know what will catch their attention!  

Step-by-Step: How I Built the New Nurture in Act-On

Step 1: 

After mapping out the content and crafting the copy, graphics, and CTAs, it was time to draft the emails in the Act-On platform. The most important one being the welcome email. The welcome email is the determining factor that separates each prospect into the proper nurture pathway. 

Step 2: 

Next up I had to determine what links would be used in each of the CTAs. After a bit of brainstorming, I decided to create two thank you pages in Act-On that corresponded to each of the self-select CTAs. Depending on which success link fired, the program then differentiated users into the two paths. An added bonus was ensuring prospects had an opportunity to engage further with the Act-On brand and to open the chance to create more ROI from each interaction. 

Step 3: 

In order to set the automated nurture program to place people in the right flow of content, I then had to add list segments to Act-On for each CTA click. My colleague Laura Matthews advised me to build two segments that would populate depending on which CTA the user clicked. This was an important step to filtering leads into each branch. We also made sure that the original source lists were added so the right prospects would flow through the initial welcome email. 

Step 4: 

There is a small technical aspect to making segmentation work in this way, so my next step was to create the URL for each unique thank you page as a media link in Act-On. Our marketing automation platform recognizes unique media links as a way to segment and branch a nurture program. It was a quick step for Laura and I to build the media links in the platform’s media library. 

Step 5: 

Once the thank you pages, welcome email and tracking links were set up to properly segment our leads, I moved on to adding the additional emails and steps to the nurture.

This process began with simply adding the remaining drafted messages to each nurture branch. An important tip for your nurture is to add a wait step into the cadence. You don’t want your prospects to become overwhelmed with the volume of email communications from your company, no matter how cool your content, or amazing your offer. It can come across as spammy and defeat the purpose of your program entirely. 

Step 6: 

This last step is most important to the whole process: you’ve gotta test the thing. Test the CTAs in your initial welcome email, test the flows the leads then go into, test the links, the thank you pages, all of it. In order to test in our case, we cloned the nurture in Act-On and set the wait steps between sends to ten minutes. Next, we added our emails to a source list and started the program. Once we each received the welcome email, I clicked on the first CTA and Laura clicked on the second. Lastly, we confirmed that we each received the proper next emails corresponding to each branch. 

Step 7: 

Here’s the exciting part – launching your program! Once we vetted and tested the nurture, we hit the start program button and let Act-On work it’s magic. 

Results of Act-On’s Updated Lead2MQL Nurture Program

As a marketer, it’s always a good idea to compare how your program is doing to the industry averages. For the software industry this year, the average open rate and click-to-open rates were reported to be 26.9% and 12.3% respectively. Open rates help signal there’s interest from the initial subject line and preview text. The click-to-open rate is a good source of truth to see if your copy and creative are matching up. Lastly, the average opt-out rate is 0.124%. The less opt-outs the better! It means your prospects are open to getting additional resources and communications from your brand.

These stats have been a resourceful way for me to track the overall performance of the Lead2MQL nurture and even helps me identify where it could use some improvements. Which according to my current stats pulled, there’s some room to grow. See below. 

Since running this program, the average open rate has been 36.4%, the click rate is sitting at 2.2% and the click-to-open is at 6.0%. So the open rate is performing well above the industry average, while there is still room to improve the click-to-open rate. Perhaps the most encouraging result I discovered is that the opt-out rate has decreased by 2%. As noted above, a decrease in opt-outs tells me prospects are receiving content they find valuable and would like to continue engaging with our brand. 

This program has only been in effect for 3 months and is already seeing some great results. 

Next Steps to Keep Act-On in Action

One of my goals in sharing this insider look at Act-On in action is to help you see a unique way to create a CTA-based segment. Allowing prospects to choose their own adventure was a fun use-case of the Act-On platform, and it’s shown steady performance since launching just under three months ago. 

I have more aspirations for this nurture program, including:

  • Adding more video clips from our on-demand webinar library
  • Testing that video content against a related eBook to see which gets more views or downloads. 

If you have any questions about how I did this or want to learn more, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m always looking to connect with more like-minded marketers. We also have an excellent piece about lead nurturing if you’re curious to learn more best practices from our Act-On experts.

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