Marketo Success Series: Lead Nurtures

Marketo Employee
Marketo Employee

Welcome back to the Marketo Success Series!

In this series, we partner with Marketo Champions and Champion Alumni to fully explore how some of our most celebrated Marketo experts are using Marketo Engage to drive success. In this edition, 
teamed up with Marketo Champion Alumni @Joe_Reitz  he explains what a Lead Nurture is, the difference between nurture drips and streams, why you should nurture your leads, and much more.



Good marketing is a lot like dating. There, I said it. Now, let me explain.

No one likes the first date who spends the entire evening talking about himself or herself and expresses zero personal interest in you. Rather, it takes a carefully constructed series of engagements: listening to them, getting to understand their motivations and needs, and—most importantly—responding to those needs in ways that add some notion of perceived value. 

It’s the same with lead nurture. Providing the right person with the right message at the right time to deliver the right results is the entire goal of lead nurture. Take care of your prospects and your customers, and the rest will take care of itself. The question is, how do you do that in a marketing capacity?


What Is Lead Nurture?

Lead nurture, in the most general sense, is the practice of creating a series of touchpoints along a lead's buying journey that adds value to their experience and cumulatively builds throughout their experience. You're building the case for how your widget will improve their life with every tool in your marketing toolbox—email, website, paid search & social, retargeting, and whatever else is in your marketing mix. The intended end result is a loyal customer, and potentially even a brand advocate.

The best nurture strategies start with a plan and then respond to a lead's behaviors (or lack thereof) in intelligent, automated ways. It's kind of like creating a decision tree and accounting for every detour someone could possibly take. Didn't respond to an email? Retarget those people over Ad Bridge or other third-party solutions. Did they respond to one offer? Try another one to further qualify their interests, and then try to close the deal.

Let's consider a realistic example. Say you get an email inviting you to download an ebook. You click the link, but bail at the sight of a lead gen form. Then one night while reading your favorite web comic, you see an ad to download the same whitepaper. You cave. You end up on a landing page, fill out the form, and download the ebook.  

A couple of days later, you drop some wisdom you picked up from the ebook during a meeting, and impress everyone. A week later, you get another email from the ebook publisher inviting you to a webinar. You attend because the ebook was full of valuable information and helped you look smart in a meeting. You like looking smart. A few days later, someone reaches out to you to schedule a demo for whatever solution the ebook publisher is actually selling. You think to yourself, "Hey, this could actually be a fit for my business and continue to make me look smart. I'm into that." Two months and many emails later, you become a paying customer.

Why Nurture Leads?

There's really only one reason to nurture your leads, and it's painfully simple: lead nurture creates perceived value for the products or services your brand delivers.

Many successful businesses I've worked with as a consultant or as a marketing manager operate under the philosophy that if you take care of your customers, they'll take care of you. That's why hard-sell messaging doesn't tend to work well right out of the gate. You have to guide prospects down a path that feels like you're helping them solve a key challenge or fulfill a need.


Lead Nurture & Marketo Engage

There are two fundamental methods of lead nurture in Marketo: drip nurture and Marketo's customer engagement engine.

Drip nurture describes a pre-fabricated series of messages sent to a given audience over a fixed period of time. In Marketo, you'd set up most drip nurtures like this:



The core mechanic at play here is that you define an audience based on either behavior or demographic data ( ideally, both), send a communication, wait for some period of time, and send the next message in the series.

The customer engagement engine, more commonly known as engagement programs, is a topic unto itself. For the purposes of this chapter, engagement programs operate via streams of content. Like drip nurtures, these streams are disseminated overtime on a set recurring cadence.

So the million-dollar question is: "What's the real difference between drips and streams?"

Drip Versus Streams

The answer is "quite a lot." 

Generally, drip nurtures are best used for a short series of messages that don't require a lot of course correction, meaning you put someone into a drip's queue and allow them to finish the series.

The most common format for drips is typically

Send Email 1 > Wait > Send Email 2 > Wait > Send Email 3... 

Pro-Tip: One not-so-apparent feature of Marketo's wait flow step is called advanced wait. This allows you to ensure that the wait step will not move on to the next step of the flow until a certain day of the week. For example, if you want to wait a week, but ensure you only send the next email on a weekday, this feature will extend the wait to Monday rather than delivering an email on Sunday. You can access this feature by clicking on the gear icon inside the wait flow step.




I mentioned earlier that it was also possible to make a drip-nurture a little more advanced. There are two cool ways to do so: using remove from flow and/or request campaigns. 

Let's talk about remove from flow first. This flow step does exactly what you think it does: it stops a lead from executing any additional flow steps. Typically, you would add a choice to this so that it only removes certain types of people; for example, maybe you have a three email drip where each email invites the lead to download a whitepaper, but they downloaded it from email #2. You can remove them from the flow so they don't get a redundant email #3. There are a million and one ways you could use this filter creatively, just remember to leave the default choice set to do nothing. Otherwise, everyone will get removed from the flow.



Request campaigns are the other fun trick. A request campaign flow step essentially just tells another smart campaign to begin flowing. Here's how you set it up in the flow:


The smart list of the requested campaign simply contains a trigger for campaign is requested.



So hopefully you're asking yourself, " when would I want to use this?" As much as I love the remove from flow step, you can only layer so much logic into the add choice dialog. Request campaigns help you bifurcate your drip nurture into more sophisticated diverging paths. For example, if you wanted someone to receive another series of drips based on two or more behavioral data points—like they clicked a link in these emails and have attended a webinar in the last 180 days—you can add that logic to the requested campaign's smart list. The same holds true for demographic data.



When you whiteboard the drip nurture journey for your leads, you may want to consider using a request campaign any time the journey forks based on more than one data point.

Engagement Programs

Because there is a chapter on engagement program best practices, we won't get into the nitty-gritty in this chapter. The key thing to know about engagement programs is they operate on a stream-based structure and send the next email in a stream on a regular recurring cadence. Most nurture marketers send their casts on a weekly or monthly basis.

You can use engagement programs for a lot of things, including embedding event programs and even SMS messages. But generally, for most use cases, engagement programs excel at delivering a steady series of evergreen content. Some of the more successful ones I've built over the years aligned themselves with the buying cycle, and incorporated content aimed at various funnel stages.


When designing an engagement program, there are generally three questions you should answer:

  1. What should differentiate content in stream one from stream two (and so on)?
  2. When should someone transition from stream to stream?
  3. Should leads be allowed to regress back into other streams, and if so, under what circumstances?





How to Nurture

Like everything else in the wild world of marketing automation, there is more than one way to define a nurture strategy. There's no silver bullet for the perfect strategy. However, the one commonality many successful lead nurture strategies share is a familiar arc:

Awareness > Consideration > Conversion

This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s highly customizable.



It's generally a healthy assumption to assume that your prospects—and even customers, sometimes— don't know the full extent of the value you can offer them. The awareness stream is where you attempt to come alongside your prospects and emphasize that the challenges that they're facing are, in fact, challenging. Your goal in this phase is not to sell anything. Instead, you need to demonstrate that not only do you understand your customer's needs, but you actually care about helping them find a way to fulfill them, whether it's with your solutions or your competitor’s. You're planting a seed of trust here that you're going to water more in the next stage.


"Oh, hey! Remember those challenges? We've got a thing for that. You might've heard of it, but if not, no worries; check this out. It might be helpful. We think it will be, and if so, you should totally let us know by clicking on the thing."

Your objective in this phase is to get your prospective customers to imagine addressing their challenges with your offering. Will it do the job? Is it better than the competition? Will it fit their budget? There are a hundred and one questions you probably need to answer here, and no one knows your industry and your business like you, the marketer. Make your customers envision what could be. 


By this point, you've already earned some trust from your would-be customers, and you're ready to sell them. This is where you call in the artillery and push to close a deal. 


Whether you employ a drip nurture strategy or set off down the road less traveled with Marketo's engagement programs, at the end of the day, you're taking the first all-important step into creating a customer-obsessed marketing strategy. As long as you put yourself in the customer's shoes, and think through the journey from their perspective, you'll win. Imagine you're your ideal customer and ask yourself "what would be helpful at this point?"