There will be no child-eating, candy-eating, witch-eating, or roof-eating here. Just breadcrumb-eating in this story. A few strategically placed breadcrumbs are all you need to take your leads all the way down the sales funnel. From casual web-browser to full-fledged customer, go the Hansel and Gretel way, one breadcrumb at a time.

Dropping Breadcrumbs. Not Bread Loaves.

The key to lead nurturing is starting small. Hansel and Gretel dropped small breadcrumbs to find their way; they weren’t leaving loaves behind in their wake. (Well, they found their way with breadcrumbs until the birds came along and ate them, but we’re going to ignore that part.)

To draw from another blog post with a fairy tale analogy, I’d like to point you over to Eloqua on Goldilocks and Lead Nurturing. Heather Foeh ends her post with a great point: good lead nurturing has to start small with a focus on segmentation and relevancy. As wonderful as it will be to have five different paths that all have ten highly detailed steps each, you can’t start out like that. Remember your breadcrumbs. Start small.

Starting small doesn’t mean you’re ineffective. On the contrary, you stand a much better chance of seeing conversions from content when you use tightly focused lead nurturing techniques. The less “stuff” you’re doing, the more you can focus on quality. So, how do you get started? It all begins by knowing who your potential customers (leads) are.

Knowing Who to Talk To

There are two tools that can take you a long way with your lead nurturing. The first is Google Analytics. With Google Analytics, you can track who is visiting your site, how they got there, what they’re looking at, the paths they’re taking, how long they spend on each page, and so much more. It’s an incredibly useful tool, and it’s totally free.

The second service that most small business owners will find useful comes with a higher price: SEOmoz. SEOmoz can help you analyze your keywords, discovering exactly what’s working and what’s not. When you focus on SEOmoz reports, you can start tailoring your content to meet your leads’ needs! If you make book jackets for publishing houses, for example, you might have thought that “book jackets” were a natural search term. However, you’re frustrated by the lack of legitimate leads that are frequenting your site. When you start using SEOmoz though, you might discover that the search term “book jackets” is dead, and in fact, “book covers” accounts for the vast majority of the keywords being used in your industry.

Saying Hello to Strangers

Once you’re using the right tools to drop effective breadcrumbs, it’s time to get friendly. Lead nurturing requires you to be outgoing. While not all leads are created equal, you better make sure you plant some breadcrumbs for the leads that really count! Again, Eloqua has a great piece about saying hello to strangers. Faced with the fact that the first 30 days of meeting someone is the best time to give and receive information, Eloqua decided to start saying hello to everyone that visited their site, and saw click-through rates that sometimes topped 20%. However, conversion rates dropped. Why? Well, you don’t want to say hello to everyone, or you seem a little loopy. But, Eloqua’s experiment still proved valuable. By the time the experiment was over, they had a much better idea of who to greet and how to do it. You might have a similar experience!

An important part of the Hansel and Gretel story to remember is that breadcrumbs are rather sneaky. When they’re well placed they aren’t going to stand out like, say, Green Apple Jolly Ranchers. Your lead nurturing efforts need to be discreet. You want to give customers what they want, but you certainly don’t want to come across as (a) presumptuous, or (b) creepy (revealing your espionage tactics).

To find out what your customers want, you’ve got several options. I love this list of 20 Questions to Ask Your Buyers from the Content Marketing Institute. Knowing how they consume content will help you figure out how you can deliver content to your leads.

It’s so important to remember that your site isn’t the only place where you can interact with customers. Many small businesses that are new to content marketing think that they can only use their platforms – be it a blog, Twitter, or Facebook account – to interact with customers, forgetting that you can go out and meet your customers where they are. Sites like Quora as well as your product review pages on Amazon or other third-party sites are great places to share your content.

Also, make sure you follow-up with those mid-sales funnel leads. Amazon does a great job of this with their ‘Recommended for You’ emails. Also, do you think it’s a coincidence that Facebook ads (at least try) to promote products you’re interested in? All of these techniques are available to you, too.

People are Going to Share Your Breadcrumbs

One of the best things about content marketing is that your customers and fans do so much of the work for you. Levi’s was a huge innovator in transferring social media to actual product sales. By integrating their online store with Facebook, site visitors could see which of their friends ‘liked’ a certain product. Also, Levi’s encouraged site visitors to recommend and share products with their friends in turn.

Levi’s has been tremendously successful in the last few years because they recognize something big about lead nurturing with content marketing: moving customers down the sales funnel happens a lot faster when your friends are the advertisers! People are willing to share your breadcrumbs, helping you with your lead nurturing efforts. You just have to provide them with the appropriate platform for doing so. If you’re having trouble, try gamification. More on that below!

The last lesson on lead nurturing is just as important. And, depending on your type of business, it might even be one of the most important lessons you learn. Breadcrumbs can be quite tasty. There’s no reason why your lead nurturing tactics have to be dry and bland. Consider using gamification to drive conversions from content.

Gamification is quite similar to enticing and incentivizing, but it’s more targeted. Gamification techniques include coupons, discount codes, free consultations, free trials, free white papers, etc. However, instead of offering these to just anyone, your gamification efforts should be aligned with your lead nurturing efforts. Don’t give 15% off your services to just anyone. Give it to the people who consume your content by tucking it away at the end of a long white paper.

In a post from this past spring, CEM founder Amie Marse explains how Eloqua VP of Content Marketing Joe Chernov influenced $2.5 million in annual recurring revenue with four free guides. Wow! This gamification technique costs money, sure, but the budget can’t be anywhere near the $2.5 million in revenue! As Amie will remind you, spending 5% of whatever Chernov had as a budget can still mean $125,000 on your bottom line. We’re big believers in content marketing techniques working on a sliding scale!

Think of Lead Nurturing as Dropping Breadcrumbs

Consider Hansel and Gretel as you think about your lead nurturing practices. Think small. Focus on quality. Target the right people. Reward and incentivize, and watch those conversions from content roll in.

What lead nurturing tips do you have to share?