Lead nurturing has been a hyped term for the last 3 years as more and more marketing automation companies talk about the need for a lead nurturing solution. However, studies show that only a small fraction of companies are actually adopting lead nurturing and from those who do, only few implement it successfully. So the question is, why is lead nurturing not picking up, and more importantly what should companies do instead?


It’s complicated and takes time to set up

First of all, lead nurturing is complicated. It requires good understanding of the sales-marketing process, clear definitions of what is a good lead and what is a sales-ready lead, a deep understanding of your prospects’ purchase behavior, and the implementation of lead scoring (a daunting and complicated process by itself). To implement it in a way that makes sense, you need to set up the system, define the stages, create the flows, create the messages, set up tracking and measurement, test it, monitor the performance, and refine based on feedback. Most B2B marketers deal with multiple tasks daily and have little to no time to implement such complicated and time-intensive system. That’s why even the ones that do buy and implement so-called lead nurturing solutions; use it primarily to send mass emails or to set up one drip campaign.

It’s hard to measure

Marketers are used to measuring results from their lead generation campaigns using the original source – the first touch. It’s easy to do, easy to explain, and marketers have been doing it for years. More sophisticated marketers have started to add last touch attribution, but even that creates some confusion and over or under counting. Lead nurturing adds a complexity to the attribution model that most systems (and marketers) can’t yet handle, and therefore stick with attributing revenue to the first (or last) touch. This leaves lead nurturing either generating no revenue or with an unclear contribution to the bottom line. And since most lead nurturing systems are expensive, with no way to show a positive ROI, they are doomed to be dropped.

It requires constant maintenance and an FTE  for most software

Lead nurturing is not a shoot-n-forget type of solution, it’s about trial and error. For it to truly be effective, you need to constantly maintain it, refine it, test it and work on it. Additionally, most lead nurturing solutions are complicated to set up and work, which means that in addition to the cost of the software, you will probably need to hire a full time employee just to work the system and keep it running.

Behavior data is guesswork and most solutions only give you partial data

Good lead nurturing is based on behavioral data collected by the system and then used to determine the next step. The problem with automating lead nurturing and scaling it is that you need to make generalizations of this data and guess what it means. If someone clicks on an email, does it really mean that they are more engaged than another person who just opened it? What if they clicked on the unsubscribe link? What if they clicked on the link, came to your website, and left because they realized your product isn’t what they are looking for? It’s all guesswork that should operate on a large scale. After months of testing, measuring and refining – most companies can’t spend the time and resources on this type of guesswork and revert to set up “dumb” flows that ignore behavior. The other problem is that only a handful of systems provide the full picture of your leads’ behavior – from their original visit as an anonymous visitor, through their interactions with your messages to the entire website behavior they exhibited. With only partial data, trying to figure out what a specific behavior means become even more of a guessing game.

Misconception: nurture=email

Lead nurturing is about building relationships with qualified prospects regardless of their timing to buy, with the goal of earning their business once they are ready to make a purchase decision. But lead nurturing has become another word for email marketing and most companies use email as their primary and almost exclusive mean of nurturing their leads. In some cases lead nurturing has become a synonym for spam. One of the main reasons for that is that from an automation point of view, email is the simplest and easiest communication method. You can’t really automate calls, or meetings (you can automate mail, but it could be pretty expensive) and most marketing automation systems haven’t figured out (yet) how to automate other means of communication. So what’s left is email and the entire lead nurturing system relies on it.

It involves Marketing & Sales

The goal of lead nurturing is to deliver sales-ready leads to the sales team. Therefore forcing collaboration between marketing and sales in defining what a sales-ready lead consists of, getting feedback on the quality of the leads, and holding both teams accountable for their responsibilities in this process. In a utopist company the connection and relationship between the two teams will be optimal, but reality is far from utopia and in most companies there’s clear tension between the teams.

Okay, now what?

To keep this post short, I will only list the main points of how to address the challenges of lead nurturing. I will cover them in detail in my next post. Stay tuned.

  • Lead nurturing is an approach
  • Software needs to enable nurturing, not force it
  • You can’t have one person managing all your lead nurturing; you have to have full buy-in and support
  • Simplify and build processes within your company
  • Treat every target lead as a person, even if you automate your interactions
  • Constantly monitor, track and improve

Thoughts? Comments? Reservations? Let me know what you think.