How to Use Automated Customer Segmentation for Better Results

Customer Journey

We’ve interviewed dozens of Act-On customers at credit unions, insurance firms, advertising agencies, accounting firms, SaaS startups, sports leagues, and even a coffee distributor — and they all love being able to segment their audiences and then send targeted emails to those lists via automated programs.


According to the 2018 B2B Lead Gen Outlook, engaging prospects and getting them to convert remains one of the biggest challenges for marketers, especially because half of your leads are not ready to buy upon becoming a lead. Meanwhile, the average sales cycle has increased 22 percent over the past five years, according to Sirius Decisions, as more stakeholders are becoming involved in the buying process. Further, marketers are facing new challenges with the development of more sophisticated email inboxes and increased competition for your audience’s attention.

All of these challenges and obstacles combine to create the perfect storm. Luckily, we brought our umbrella — lead nurturing through customer segmentation and automation.

Why You Should Segment Your Automated Programs

Creating a segmented automated lead nurture program outperforms the “batch and blast” email that many B2B businesses use when sending generic messaging to their master list.

According to our own data, personalized automated segmentation programs increase email open rates by 300 percent and click rates by 700 percent, which are similar results to other findings:

  • Forrester Wave Research found that nurture campaigns generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at a 33 percent lower cost
  • The Annnuitas Group report that nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads

We interviewed Marc Wilensky, vice president of communications and brand marketing at Tower Federal Credit Union, on the Rethink Marketing podcast, and he spoke about their success using Act-On to launch several automated nurture email campaigns.

“And what was amazing to us was the open rates — the first emails we got our typical open rates, which were in the high 20s. But the follow-up emails, which were really targeted to people that we’ve identified were in the market to buy a car, those open rates we saw were more than 50 percent,” Marc said. “I’ve been doing email marketing for 17 years, and I’ve never seen open rates of anything that large a group that exceeded 50 percent.

“We felt like we were on to something here. We were giving our members relevant content based on the behaviors we had identified through your scoring system. And obviously that’s what people want. They want relevant content.”

What Is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing is a marketing activity that moves undecided prospects along an educational path through the buyer journey. Over time, as people respond, you can learn more about their needs and interest to refine your targeting, which will provide increasingly relevant information to make prospects ready for contact from sales. Lead nurturing creates a cadence of contact with your prospects and keeps the lines of communication open so you’re top of mind as they get closer to purchasing.

What Are Automated Email Nurture Programs?

Theoretically, lead nurture programs can be developed one email at a time, and that may work for some businesses just getting started. But how do you scale to hundreds, thousands, or millions of customers? Squeezing all your talking points into one email is going to create information overload that your audience won’t be able to digest.

An automated program automates the process of sending a series of emails to a targeted group of customers or prospects based on criteria you establish.

Once created and launched, you should continue to optimize your automated programs to test subject lines, copy, visuals, CTAs, and so forth. At Act-On, we meet weekly with our content, demand gen, and marketing operations teams to discuss ways we can improve the performance of our automated programs.

Building successful automated email segmentation programs takes hard work. Depending on the size of your shop, you’ll need to involve sales, demand generation, content marketing, graphic design, and marketing operations from the get-go. You’ll also need to understand your target audience, what their ideal buyer journey includes, and which content assets best match their wants and needs. 

Drive Engagement Around Your Offerings

What Is Marketing Segmentation?

Segmentating your automated email program to target numerous audience groups is a great way to personalize your emails and send relevant messaging to prospective buyers. According to Econsultancy, 74 percent of marketers say targeted personalization increases customer engagement. And according to Aberdeen, personalized email messages improve click-through rates by an average of 14 percent and conversions by 10 percent.

You can set up lead nurturing at each stage of the sales funnel and segment your campaigns based on target industries and the different stakeholders within each prospective organization.

You can segment just about any data set, including geography, role, stage in the buying cycle, business size, and more.

Act-On’s Core Segments

1. Engagement: Using lead scoring rules, organizations can define the top, middle, and bottom of their marketing funnel, as well as the marketing qualified lead (MQL) criteria that triggers a hand-off to sales.

2. Customer Status: You know who your customers are, so make sure that data gets into Act-On! Segmenting customers from prospects is vital to preventing message confusion.

3. Persona or Role: This is absolutely the most important type of segmentation you can have. Persona-based segmentation usually fits into three key categories:

  • Decision Maker: Budget and contract authority
  • Influencer: Recommends solutions and advocates for your products and/or services
  • User: Benefits from or uses the products and services you offer

4. Industry: Tailoring your messaging with industry terms and relevant content can be a huge competitive differentiator. We recommend that organizations define the industries that they sell to and customize the messaging and content for them. Often this is as simple as changing simple nouns. For instance; (depending on the industry) prospect = donor = patient.

5. Product or Interest: This type of segmentation is based on tracked behaviors. These segments can be used to trigger specific email nurture programs or to exit people from programs they are currently enrolled in.

6. Geography: Timing your messaging and content distribution based on cultural norms and specific time zones is a great way to dramatically increase your campaign efficacy.

The Role of Marketing Automation With Segmentation and Nurturing

Act-On has one of the most sophisticated lead segmentation engines available on the market today. Our platform allows you to create dynamic segments based on profile (intrinsic) and behavioral (extrinsic) attributes that automatically refresh on any system engagement.

Each prospect’s or customer’s online actions automagically sorts them into the right segmented automated program based on the pages they visit, forms they complete, and the links they click. And those APs would be different based on their role, their location, and so forth.

If you’re not an Act-On customer, you can check to see if your platform creates audience segments based on criteria such as demographics, firmographics, psychographics, and behaviors.

How to Get Started With Automated Customer Segmentation

Before you begin to personalize your marketing efforts through segmentation, you need the data to customize your campaigns. Check with your ops or CRM teams to learn which data fields you can use. If your existing marketing technology is tracking website engagement, you can tap into that as well.

In the planning stage, you’ll want to consider mapping out your audience, goals, and workflow. Here are a few pro-tips:

  • Define who you are targeting
  • Define why you are targeting them
  • Define the outcome you want
  • Define how you will report on this outcome

Creating Segmented Workflows

Workflows are the automated programs you create for each audience. Most successful organizations should have campaigns for cold leads, prospect nurturing, and existing customers.

As you create your workflow, you should consider which questions each segmented audience will have for this workflow and the goals you want them to achieve. In simple terms, you will send your audience a series of emails, and the messaging will change based on their engagement.

The number of emails assigned to each workflow depends on the audience and their needs. Think of a workflow as a funnel within the funnel. You are giving your audience a focused, guided series of related messages about a specific topic. So, for instance, if a customer downloads an eBook on lead nurturing, you could place them in a four-email automated program educating them about related topics.

Customize Your Lead Nurture Content

It’s crucial that the content of your segmented automated programs speaks directly to your various audience segments in the language they use and covers the issues and questions they care about. You should regularly revisit your automated programs to tweak the content as needed to improve engagement. As you better understand your audience, you can map out the questions they’ll be asking on their buying journey and match the content to that in your AP workflows.

Put Your Plan in Action!

Now that you better understand the benefits of segmented automated programs, it’s time to create your own. And don’t stop at one. Create campaigns for prospects at each stage of the funnel; create them for prospects currently using your competitor products; create them for the different buyers you’ll engage with at each company from decision-maker to user. Utilize any number of segmenting strategies as long as they make good sense for your business from an engagement and communications standpoint.

Finally, before you hit send, make sure to test the following”

  • Confirm you have the right data
  • Clean your lists.
  • Make sure your marketing platform can adapt the email if the data is missing from the field

And, as always, if you have any questions about lead nurturing, segmentation, or marketing automation in general, Act-On is here to help, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Drive Engagement Around Your Offerings