How do companies nurture their leads? Do they do it well, badly, not at all?

To answers these questions, we invented an employee, Freddie Fox, and sent him out into the world to sign up for various companies to see how they would treat him. During February 2021, Freddie registered with 21 different companies. But he did not respond to any communications from those companies apart from double opt-in emails, because we wanted to see how those companies treated him and how they went about trying to retain his interest.

The companies ranged quite widely, with a number in the area of industrial technology with products such as motors and drives, a couple of companies that offer software development tools, and a couple in the electronic component space. We also looked at the marketing automation area and requested data from six different marketing automation companies. Three were business software companies, and a couple of other sorts of companies were also thrown into the mix.

The ways to subscribe to the companies also showed some variation – some just wanted an email address and you were on the list, while others required quite a lot of information, such as phone number and how you heard about the company, your role and type of business.

But Freddie only filled in one form per company – so who failed to even follow up Freddie’s initial contact? Fully five out of the 21 failed to respond to Freddie – INVT, Softstart UK, Rotronic, Clever-touch and NetSuite.

Because Freddie obviously isn’t a real person, it was hard to track whether any of these companies called us – some may have tried to get hold of Freddie, decided that he wasn’t at the company, and then decided not to send an email.

However, we suspect that most of them simply did not have an email follow up process in place. In fact, these companies have no lead nurturing, which clearly puts them behind. So, just by following up, a company can be in the top 75% with just one email.

One thing worth mentioning is that Clevertouch, a marketing technology company, failed to follow up. Although there could have been some problems with the data from the form being uploaded to the company’s database, you would hope that wouldn’t happen.

When we look at the number of follow ups per company, six sent just one email – the companies here were a bit of a mix, industrial automation, electronics components, and some of the business companies. Then we start seeing more and more emails. Videojet sent two, then there’s a group of companies that sent three. At the high end is Adobe – here Freddie actually filled in a form on the page for Marketo, an Adobe company and from both we received a total of 15 emails.

In the space of two months, HubSpot sent 17 emails and Dotdigital sent 11. The interesting thing Is that Dotdigital, Adobe and HubSpot are all marketing automation companies. As such, they all have access to a vast amount of data that shows what works not only for them, but also for their customers. So, it’s very reasonable to assume that these companies know that following up with multiple emails is more effective, which is why they’re sending so many.

By contrast, the fact that a lot of the industrial companies are sending very few emails probably doesn’t do much for the performance they’re getting, so sending more would make a big difference.

Another interesting thing was that almost half the companies used more than one email address. Many used different corporate email addresses, but a lot of them, particularly companies that were more sales focused, had individual salespeople emailing. Looking at some of the campaigns, we felt that some of the best actually use these multiple email addresses very effectively.

All the emails were sent Monday to Friday, in extended working hours, from about eight in the morning, through to about five o’clock, with no real consistency in time.

So, we can’t say people running good campaigns were sending emails at a different time to people running campaigns that were not so good.

Earlier we mentioned the double opt in. A couple of companies did this – you signed up on a form, then received an email asking you to confirm that you want to sign up. These emails are pretty functional, not heavy on graphics, but very straight to the point and a slightly different approach. KEB, an industrial technology company, sent an email with the option of just subscribing to the list, whereas Dotdigital gave an option of signing up or reporting abuse – you would assume that most people, once they’ve gone to the effort of signing up, would probably be quite happy to click on the email.

Dotdigital also used the opportunity to say thank you for signing up and actually offered some resources – as a user, clicking on a link to sign up, and just getting an email back saying it worked isn’t a great experience. So, Dotdigital made good use of the opportunity – having someone sign up and request information is a huge opportunity for a company. If you don’t take advantage of it, then you’re definitely missing out.

Different strokes for different folks

There were some different approaches to delivering information – some of the requests Freddie sent were for content, some were white papers. Not all companies would send these, but they sent an email, even if you could download from the landing page. Pardot not only gave the opportunity to click on and download from the email, but they also had some marketing information and an opportunity to see the tool in action, a highly graphical approach.

This compares with Protocol, another marketing automation company, which offered an email with no graphics, but which was much easier to use, so you could very easily click to download the eBook you’d requested.

Pardot sent the email from a generic email address, whereas Protocol actually sent the email from a named person, so you do get some personal involvement.

One email from Testo was probably the biggest example of a missed opportunity. It sent quite a graphical email, but which only tells you how to download a PDF from the website.

Another approach was Videojet which sent an email from a generic email address, just saying, ‘someone will contact you’. There’s nothing in here that’s going to really add any value to the user. It’s another massive, missed opportunity in a communication that you’re pretty confident your prospect is going to open.

Nurturing flows

Looking at nurturing flows, the simplest flow that was more than one email was probably Testo, which had a double opt in. As soon as you click on that, they then send you the email we discussed earlier, with a download. Freddie obviously didn’t do anything with this email, so three days later, the same email was sent with a reminder at the start of the subject line. Again, this is very much a wasted opportunity, as there’s so much more that could have been done within that email in terms of offering additional content.

That was also the last communication from Testo.

Other companies had very complicated email flows, which I suspect was the result of multiple campaigns working together. For example, with Tableau we filled in a form, and got nothing for days, then two emails came together. And then we got nothing for six days. We then got an AI email after another two days, we got a personal email, then a white paper, and then we got another two emails sent together, so it’s a really inconsistent process.

This is an example of where there can be problems with campaigns, particularly if a company is running multiple campaigns – running a promotion to the entire database, and also running a nurture flow can overload the user with emails.

If you’re trying to do many things at once with your database, as well as nurturing, then it’s really worth thinking about what the impact will be in terms of the user and what emails they receive.

One of the things worth mentioning is weekly newsletters. With Dotdigital, a market automation company, there were eight different categories of content that Freddie could request. He requested them all, but what he actually received was a weekly newsletter.

It’s interesting to see that weekly newsletters are still alive and well – the blog posts do have content offers and newsletter signup forms, so there’s an opportunity to engage. However, it was disappointing from an automation company that there wasn’t really any personalization, or anything that really indicated that it was targeting any specific interest.

Adobe sent the second-highest number of emails, with over half of them being for online events as well as some specific content offers, and some newsletter style emails. But it shows that where companies are sending a lot of emails, they’re not necessarily driven by classical nurturing campaigns – the digital experience conferences on the webinars were happening at certain times. So, Adobe is making use of signups to promote the events and also using templated designs and keeping it simple.

One of the things perhaps less good about Marketo was they sent us webinars and content offers with almost the same layout.

They obviously think that people receiving these emails are not going to be worried by seeing similar layouts, and we have to assume they have tested it. So, creating something from scratch and creating something custom is not always the right way to go with emails.

HubSpot was clearly very keen, as they kept emailing. They sent a blog newsletter every Wednesday interspersed with several other emails, making it hard to see any pattern. But HubSpot did have a strong brand identity, which was incredibly effective – it was always easy to pick out the HubSpot emails.

One thing to say, is people make mistakes and actually HubSpot made two, sending Freddie an email with the wrong subject line, as well as a duplicate of an email. But if you’re running email marketing campaigns, you’ve got to accept that sometimes things go wrong. It probably isn’t the end of the world but checking things like subject lines is vital.

How are engineering companies doing?

The most proactive companies are in marketing automation, but what about engineering companies? In general, these were pretty poor. An email from GE is a good example, which was a brochure. And that was it – there was no other follow up, no other interaction, which sets the bar pretty low for most engineering companies.

So, anything you do or try is probably going to set you ahead of most of your engineering-based competitors. It’s really not hard to be competitive in an engineering environment and send better nurturing emails and better sequences than your competitors. Most of us are probably sending too few emails and sending those emails too infrequently when people request content.

Looking at the Perforce sales sequence, the first email they sent out was initial outreach, which asked technical questions about what Freddie needed. If I was an engineer, I would immediately respond very well to being asked questions that show someone’s trying to understand my problem. This was a positive approach.

From our research, we found that the companies that are really engaging with their audiences are those running multiple events, and they’re promoting those events to everybody on their database. This means that one of the ways to really increase the number of emails in a nurturing campaign is to have a consistent programme of events.

A question of style

One thing to say about styles is that nationality can matter – it was quite interesting to see that, for example, KEB is obviously a German company. However, as someone in the UK looking for a supplier, you’d probably want an email that felt much more local.

And clearly, if we’ve got emails coming through from Germany that don’t feel local to us, then equally, as companies based in the UK or the US, you may be sending emails out to Europe that don’t feel local either. This means it’s vital to consider how you make things feel a bit more local – what feels right to you won’t necessarily feel right to everyone else across the world.

Tips for top nurturers

To sum up, what tips would we give to companies seeking to boost their lead nurturing?

It may sound simple and obvious but the first thing to say is, start sending nurturing emails. Sending even two or three will put you ahead of most of your competition, and it will drive leads.

Looking at the marketing automation companies, they send much more frequently than everybody else, and with their access to huge amounts of data, this suggests you should send more frequently than you think is right. When looking at the emails, the plain text emails from individuals were really effective.

Also, don’t overthink things – not everything has to have an amazing new design. Create email templates and use them, it clearly works. One of the things from our research was that HubSpot was very noticeable by its branding, which made the emails jump out, yet the templated approach can actually be more effective.

Don’t discount the old blog and newsletter approach. It’s something a lot of people use and we know it works very well from our own experience.

And finally, as a bonus tip, we saw HubSpot make mistakes – so don’t worry if you make a mistake, everyone does.

Interested in finding out more about how B2B technology companies use lead nurturing? Why not register for our on-demand webinar ‘Lead Nurturing, the Good, The Bad, and The Non-Existent, and join us as we analyse the strategy and emails used.