Marketers Refine Segmentation Strategies To Boost Lead Nurturing Success

Published: August 20, 2014

B2B buyers rarely make a buying decision on the first touch. Marketers have incorporated lead nurturing initiatives into their marketing mix as a way to keep the brand top-of-mind among prospective buyers. However, they continue to struggle with keeping prospects engaged during prolonged buying cycles.

More than half  (58%) of B2B buyers  spent more time researching purchase decisions than they did a year prior, according to Demand Gen Report’s 2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey. As buying cycles grow longer and longer, marketers need to have a deep understanding of their prospective customers so their content and engagement have a positive impact on buyer decisions. By segmenting their lists, marketers will be able to tailor each message specifically to individual buyer’s expectations.

Ultimately, marketers need to understand where their prospective buyers are in the sales funnel before they can effectively segment and nurture them, according to Cari Baldwin, Founder and Partner at Bluebird Strategies. “Marketers have to know where their leads are in the funnel, or they miss out on multiple opportunities.”

Four Key Ways Lead Nurturing Is Changing

The first step to understanding where your nurturing capabilities need improvement is to run diagnostics on your “sales waterfall,” a procedure explained thoroughly at this year’s SiriusDecisions Summit in Orlando, Florida.

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Terry Flaherty, Research Director of Demand Creation Strategies at SiriusDecisions, highlighted four ways that lead nurturing has evolved over the past year:

  • The role — and goals — of lead nurturing are expanding into several different areas of the sales funnel, including recycling old leads that did not qualify with the sales team to understand why prospects will not buy;
  • Marketing automation technology has evolved to allow nurture campaigns to trigger automatically based on certain behaviors from prospective buyers, compared to marketers having to manually construct campaigns for particular lead segments;
  • Relevancy has become a key focus, with marketers constructing content and nurturing campaigns based on where particular leads are in the buying cycle; and
  • The touch points where lead nurturing can take place has changed drastically.  Now marketers can use channels including social media, ad networks and dynamic web sites to engage buyers.


A common form of nurturing — which Flaherty called Aligned Sequential Nurturing — is when content is mapped to certain stages of the buyer journey and walks buyers through the cycle. Although the tactic can see results, it is not the most effective method.

“The problem is that [aligned sequential nurturing] creates a monotonous conversation, and each conversation isn’t unique,” said Flaherty in an interview with Demand Gen Report.“Buyers may already understand the information that you provide to them.”

Having a nurturing system that adapts to prospect behavior is considered the optimal strategy for nurturing leads, according to Flaherty. “Instead of having the same experience, an aligned adaptive nurture approach lets marketers analyze buyer behavior to offer a more customized experience based off what the prospect needs.”

Segmentation can be as simple — or as complicated — as a marketing team desires. However, according to Baldwin, marketers need to “walk before they run” with their lead segmentation strategy in order to optimize their nurturing campaigns.

“You have to get the basic segmentation first before getting really specific,” said Baldwin in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “You have to keep your data clean, and you have to understand your buyers so you can easily place leads in buckets.  “Knowing your buyer personas is also one of the critical first steps that you need to take. There are always key insights that you would have never considered, which can ultimately affect your nurturing capabilities.”

A common misconception among marketers is that the more segmented their database is, the more successful their nurturing campaigns will be. While segmentation is vital, marketers often spend too much time and resources segmenting down to the individual level — which isn’t always necessary for effective lead nurturing.

“Campaigns can get so complex that they perform no better than broad segmentation,” said Jim Meyer, VP of eTrigue. “This is partially due to mixing persona information with segment information. Marketers have to keep it simple, start at a high level, and slowly go into it while watching and measuring their campaign.”

If leads are not targeted and segmented, response rate is going to drop, according to Heidi Bullock, VP of Demand Generation at Marketo. “You shouldn’t segment for segmentation sake. You have to keep testing and make sure that your segmentation is creating maximum results.”

 As with all marketing campaigns, it is critical to measure the success of lead nurturing programs.  “It’s important to hone in on the segment that is vital to your business, and go from there,” Bullock said. “Make sure that you have the content and make sure you’re seeing results. For better or for worse, today’s buyers expect businesses to get them. So the content and the communications has to be relevant to them, or you will not succeed.”

Leverage Data To Target Content

The primary objective of lead nurturing is to promote meaningful, ongoing engagement with prospective buyers to increase the likelihood of closing a deal. But understanding potential customers and the messages that resonate with them is only part of a successful nurturing campaign.

“Today’s lead nurturing programs not only focus on delivering content to remain top-of-mind with prospects, they focus on delivering the right content at the right time,”said Adam Blitzer, GM of Salesforce Pardot. “Nurturing campaigns have a greater level of complexity than in the past, meaning that marketers can take variables like a prospect’s actions or their stage of the sales cycle into account to trigger an email send.”

One of the biggest hurdles for marketers is having the right content to support each step in of the nurture program, according to Blitzer.  For example, having a library of blog posts and easy-to-digest graphics for top-of-funnel prospects, and buyer’s guides and case studies for prospects further along in the sales process.

 “In order for nurturing campaigns to reach their full potential, you want content that’s targeted toward each of the segments that you’ll be nurturing,” Blitzer said.  “Depending on your audience, that typically involves creating resources that are specific to the stages of your buying cycle.”

With the help of various tools and solutions — from marketing automation solutions to CRM systems — marketers can now leverage the data they collect to highly personalize messages targeted for specific groups of prospective buyers. Without personalized content, lead nurturing cannot have make a significant impact on buying decisions.

“We can do so much with personalization now; the details of content can be tailored to individuals,” said John Stetic, VP of Products at Oracle Marketing Cloud. “Segmentation is a good high-level tool to understand the general message you want to send to your market.”

Marketers also need to consider each segment’s content preferences to improve the relevancy and effectiveness of campaigns. For example, if a buyer tends to gravitate to more visual content, a text-heavy white paper will not be as effective.

“Content has to be considered as part of the segmentation,” said Meyer.“Marketers can run into problems when segmenting via content since content works better in certain areas of the funnel than others, but content preferences as a segment is a major factor.”

Marketing, Sales Alignment Boosts Nurturing Effectiveness

Marketing and sales alignment plays a major role in any marketing mix, but alignment is even more crucial when it comes to effectively segmenting and nurturing leads. While marketers can obtain a large quantity of data on prospective buyers via online engagement, sales teams have a vast amount of valuable information from working with buyers on a one-on-one basis.

“Your sales team is on the front lines; they’re the ones with the best understanding of your prospects’ pain points, needs, and interests,” said Blitzer.“Don’t let your sales team become just another untapped resource.”

Using insights from sales teams, marketers are able to formulate the right messaging aligned with the wants and needs of each particular segment. This ultimately can have a significant impact on the buyer’s decision.

“Yes, nurturing is designed to make your sales reps’ lives easier, but it also requires input from your sales team in order for it to be truly valuable,” Blitzer explained. “Without any guidance from sales, the marketing team is forced to guess at the most effective approach to automating sales communications.”

Aligning the marketing and sales team prevents the wrong messages from being given to various lead segments. Irrelevant messages can create dissatisfied or even frustrated buyers.  Alignment also draws a clear line in the sand for when the sales team should get involved with particular leads and when the marketing team should be send SQLs over to sales.

“When you’re a customer, you don’t want to hear from a company when they’re trying to just sell to you,” Baldwin said. “It really depends on the company, but you need to have marketing and sales aligned to understand where marketing stops and sales begins.”

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