I’m often asked by clients for examples of great nurturing campaigns: it’s not only those who have recently acquired marketing automation software, as even experienced users want to know “what works and what doesn’t”. On the fact of it, it’s a reasonable request: surely there are some best practices that you can follow to guarantee success?

In practice, I’ve found that it’s really hard to simply drop a nurturing campaign from one situation to another: the prospects, the product and the content available are all different. In fact trying to replicate a successful campaign often ends in failure.

The best way to create a great nurturing campaign is to build one that is customised to your particular situation. The good news is that while “off-the-shelf” campaigns don’t travel well, it’s easy to identify a framework to use. These frameworks define the purpose of the campaign, something that’s essential to ensure good results.

Three Broad Categories of Nurture Campaigns

At Napier, the B2B nurture campaigns we see tend to fall into three broad categories. Prospect-driven campaigns are triggered by something a prospect does (e.g. filling in a form on a website), time-based campaigns are triggered by something happening, such as a trade show, or a period of time elapsing, and customer lifecycle campaigns are slightly different and targeted at existing customers rather than prospects.

In this blog post, I’ll describe the eleven different nurture campaigns and how they fit into these three categories. To make things easy, I’ll talk about emailing as a way of nurturing, but it’s important to remember that the best nurture campaigns use multiple channels to reach their audience.

Prospect-Triggered Campaigns

These campaigns are triggered by a prospect doing something that you can track. In general, they have done something on your website, for example visited a page or filled in a form, or have interacted with an email by clicking a link.

Prospect-triggered campaigns are almost always top-of-the-funnel, and are typically related to the action the contact took indicating that they are at a particular stage of the customer journey.

1.      Lead Qualification

A lead qualification campaign aims to filter the valuable contacts from those that are unlikely to become customers. We often call this the “jump through hoops” campaign as the prospect is sent opportunities to download or interact with content, and are only defined as a MQL if their engagement hits a pre-determined level.

A very simple example would be a new contact who fills in a form to access a white paper. They might be sent two follow-up emails offering related white papers. If the prospect accesses both, they become a “hot” lead; one of them means that they are a lead and no engagement with the emails might mean that they are not considered a lead and left in the marketing database.

Lead qualification nurtures are often used where companies are getting more contacts than their sales team can follow-up, or where there are many contacts generated who are unlikely to ever become customers.

2.      Progressive Profiling

Progressive profiling campaigns are another way to qualify contacts as MQLs. They go beyond simple lead qualification because they use forms or behaviour to gather more information about the contact to determine if they qualify as a lead.

The simplest progressive profiling campaigns offer white papers or other content, and rather than linking directly to them, they link to a form. These forms have the existing data pre-filled, and feed in a single additional question each time the contact views the form, adding to the information we have about the contact every time they view content.

Another approach is to ask questions in the email or provide a “choose your own adventure” approach within an email. For example you might send an email allowing the recipient to click on buttons that link to content for engineers, technical managers and purchasing professionals. The buttons clicked therefore indicate the role of the contact.

Progressive profiling provides a more accurate way of determining which contacts are MQLs than simple lead qualification nurtures, while avoiding the need for excessively long forms. Inevitably less than 100% of contacts will engage with these campaigns, meaning that they typically result in fewer MQLs.

3.      Move the Contact Through the Funnel

Perhaps the most commonly cited form of lead nurturing, this aims to provide the information that moves the prospect through their customer journey or down the funnel (depending on your  preferred model). The content that triggers the automation is top-of-the-funnel, so typically highlighting a pain or challenge the contact is likely to have. The communications aim to encourage engagement with content that represents the “next step” in the journey.

An example might be:

  • The contact completes a form explaining a typical industry challenge
  • Email(s) are sent describing the different approaches to solving the challenge
  • Once the contact engages with the emails, they are then sent emails that describe the company’s particular product to solve the challenge
  • When the contact has engaged with the product emails, they are sent testimonials from customers to provide social proof

Of course, like any nurture campaign, there might be lead scoring in the background that will flag the contact as a MQL based on their engagement.

Although many marketing automation platforms highlight this type of nurture campaign in training, they are primarily suited to SaaS and low-touch product/service sales. For complex sales, it’s naïve to think that a few emails can move a contact from awareness to customer, and so many B2B examples of this type of nurture only attempt to move the contact a small distance through the customer journey to enable, for example, a salesperson to call.

4.      Educational and Related Content Nurturing

This campaign is a bit controversial as it doesn’t aim to produce an easily measurable result. As I suggested earlier, in many cases it’s not possible to have someone move quickly through the various stages of the customer journey and trying to force this to happen can backfire.

Creating an educational or thought-leadership campaign aims to enhance the perception of the company in the mind of the prospect by providing insightful and useful content. Although you might measure the results by the amount of engagement generated (e.g. white papers viewed), the real goal is intangible.

These nurture campaigns are ideal when there is a very long sales cycle and the contact is likely to remain at the same journey stage for some time, or if you are trying to change perceptions of people who are influencers in the decision-making unit (DMU), rather than decision-makers themselves. Although it can be hard to measure whether you have changed the perceptions of your audience, these campaigns can be extremely effective for complex, high-value sales.

5.      Sales Support

Sales support nurturing campaigns are triggered by requests from the sales team due to them interacting with a contact or prospect. The sales team might be trying to crack a target account, or could have been approached with an enquiry. Either way, the goal of these campaigns is to smooth the sales process by enhancing the perception of the company in the contact’s mind and providing information that can overcome objections before they are even raised.

These campaigns are often targeted at a small number of accounts, and typically might rely more on ABM advertising than emails. Generally they involve bottom-of-the-funnel content, although some top-of-the-funnel materials might be required for influencers who are not familiar with your company.

Time-Based Nurturing

Using time as a trigger is extremely common, whether it’s around a fixed event, for example a webinar, or a fixed amount of time from something happening.

6.      Re-Engagement

At some point you will have to give up trying to convert a contact to an MQL or move them through their customer journey. Maybe you have run out of content, perhaps you feel you can’t keep emailing or possibly they have told you on a form that they will not be ready to buy for a period of time. Whatever the reason, marketing automation isn’t going to work if it’s the wrong time for the contact, so you’re better stopping and trying to re-engage at a later date.

The time you leave the contact ultimately depends on your customers’ buying cycles. If they buy a product monthly, you won’t wait long to reengage, but if they are contracted with a supplier for a year or more, then you need to allow a significant pause before you trigger one of these campaigns.

A re-engagement campaign will offer content to the contact. All that you want to do is to engage the contact, and so each of these content offers should have other nurture campaigns that are triggered if the contact engages. Quite frequently you’ll see content appropriate to several different stages of the customer journey used as the campaign aims to identify the appropriate stage for the contact.

7.      Regular Keep-in-Touch

I wanted to call this the newsletter campaign, but apparently newsletters are uncool (our newsletter still generates great leads for us, and it’s untrue that newsletters are no longer effective, but that’s another blog post). The idea of this campaign is to have a reason to send a regular email to contacts, and we’re particularly concerned with contacts with whom the sales team is not interacting.

Regular keep-in-touch content includes newsletters, blog summaries or anything that you can put together on a regular basis. It’s important to be consistent, so that the contact is expecting something, and most of the communications should allow the contact to trigger another nurturing campaign if they download the white paper, view the video or take any other action. Content doesn’t have to be top-of-the-funnel, but it should be useful to people who are not in the process of selecting or buying, otherwise they’re likely to opt out when it’s not relevant and then you won’t have them on the list when they do start looking for a new supplier.

8.      Event-Based Nurturing

Here the reason for timing is obvious: the event, whether it’s a conference, show, webinar or something else is happening at a particular time, and you need to communicate with contacts around that date. Typically, you’ll Invite them and send a reminder to attend prior to the event, and then follow-up with either support materials (e.g. the slide deck) or an email that offers them a recording because they missed the webinar.

Campaigns around events really should be stand-alone, and separate from anything you want to do with the attendees who qualify as MQLs.

Customer Lifecycle Nurturing

This category is different because the contact is now a customer. Although you might want to sell them more, it’s also possible that you want to ensure that their experience with your product or service is as good as possible. These campaigns are most often run for new customers, but can be effective to help grow long-term customers too, and typically are based on bottom-of-the-funnel content.

9.      Onboarding

This is a campaign that is loved by the world of SaaS, particularly on self-serve platforms. In this case onboarding emails are sent to walk the new customer through the product, explaining how to use it and avoid typical pitfalls. In this case, although improved customer experience – particularly in the case of free trials – is a key reason for running such a campaign, the supplier also wants to reduce support costs: it’s relatively easy for them to work out the typical things that cause a customer to be confused and need support. By pre-empting the problems, the company can dramatically reduce their support costs.

Onboarding emails are very under-used in other areas of B2B marketing. Quite often as a potential customer, you’ll meet all manner of senior executives from the supplier when you are considering whether to buy, only to find them disappear when you place the purchase order. A little nurturing can go a long way to making the new customer feel that the executives have not deserted them!

10.  Upsell/cross-sell

Getting more money from existing customers is a great way to grow the business, so upsell and cross sell nurturing can be very effective. For example you might want to offer service packages to customers who have purchased expensive capital equipment, or you might have a new service that would be of interest to a particular group of customers.

Typically these emails aim to identify potential upsell and cross-sell customers, who are then approached by the sales or account management team.

11.  Promotions

Promotional nurturing is frequently offered to customers. A great example is cart abandonment campaigns, where a discount is offered to someone who has put items in an ecommerce cart but not then checked out (yes, I know they might not technically be a customer until checkout, but they have provided contact details so hopefully you’ll let me off this technicality). Another form of promotion is a sale or price reduction.

Discounts need to be managed very carefully, particularly in B2B. Buyers are sophisticated and will soon catch on if you always offer a discount for abandonment, and they’ll never check out when they first fill the cart. Equally artificial price reductions on your main product are usually a bad idea, but reductions for peripheral products or services, such as training, can be a great way to keep a customer an engaged evangelist for your company.


There’s No Magic Bullet!

Use these frameworks to build multiple nurture campaigns that will move your business to the next level, but don’t forget that testing is critical. For example, there is no “best” gap between emails in any nurturing campaign: the only way to find the best for your unique situation is to test, although a good tip is that most marketers dramatically over-estimate how much time they should leave between each email in their campaign.

Optimizing your marketing automation campaigns is tough: unfortunately, there isn’t a golden campaign that you can implement, and it is guaranteed to work. If, however, you stop looking for the magic bullet and build campaigns based upon these frameworks, you will quickly see how nurturing can improve your marketing outcomes.