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How HubSpot Nurtures Leads


Lead nurturing goes by many different names—drip email, marketing automation, conversational marketing, etc. Regardless of what you call it, this strategy can be a powerful lever to help you quickly move more leads through your pipeline and scale your marketing efforts.

At HubSpot, we don’t just build the tools that marketers use for lead nurturing—we do quite a bit of lead nurturing ourselves. We’re constantly working to figure out how to drive the best results and how we can help our customers do it easily and effectively.

Here, we take a step back to look at some of the best practices we’ve developed for effective lead nurturing. Execute on these fundamentals, and you’ll be well on your way to an effective lead nurturing program.

Sufficient Inbound Lead Volume Is the Most Important Factor in Lead Nurturing Success

In order to practice effective lead nurturing, it’s critical that you first have a steady stream of inbound leads to nurture. While this seems obvious, the gravity of what this entails is something many marketers overlook. Ironically, it’s also the hardest part of the equation to put in place.

Now, you might be thinking, “But I have a database of 50,000 names I’m sitting on!” While an existing database can be a valuable asset to leverage, there are two main reasons why an existing database will only take you so far.

First, industry research has shown that the average marketing database expires at the rate of 25 percent per year as people switch jobs, email addresses, unsubscribe, etc. Although this may not sound like a lot, at this rate a database of 50,000 leads will be reduced to just 21,000 after three years, meaning you’ll need to generate a significant number of new leads per year just to fight against natural attrition. The more often you hit your list with nurturing emails, the faster it expires, and any growth must come above and beyond that 25 percent loss.

While database expiration affects every list regardless of whether you’re doing lead nurturing, it becomes more apparent when you actually start marketing to your list. Junk addresses (previously valid addresses that have expired) and people who don’t want to hear from you are immediately removed every time you attempt a send. Expect to take a big hit right off the bat if you haven’t marketed to or maintained your list over time.

Second, inbound leads—people who have actively expressed interest in your product or service on your website—are more likely to evolve into customers over time. Contrast the value of a lead who actively expressed interest in your content versus a member of a list you bought. Establishing a pipeline of quality inbound leads will take you further in the long run.

Generating a steady stream of inbound leads isn’t out of reach for most marketers. At HubSpot, we’re big believers in inbound marketing, which is a larger set of practices that encompasses lead nurturing and other activities like SEO, blogging and social media. It’s a winning strategy for organizations of every size, and it’s what we use to generate 70,000 leads in an average month.

A Look at an Effective Campaign
Below is a screenshot of what we call a Workflow Recipe—one of several nurturing strategies that has worked exceptionally well for us. (We’ve packaged up many different “recipes” we know to be effective, giving our customers the ability to install these campaigns into their own HubSpot account and start using them.)

We consider a subscriber to be someone who has expressed an interest in our content by signing up for a regular email digest of our blog, for example. They aren’t necessarily a lead, but we know they’re at least connected to our space. That’s the trigger for this nurturing campaign—all new subscribers get added to it.

We nurture these folks by sending them a steady stream of some of our most popular offers. Each of the offers is something they’re likely to find useful. It includes a brief reminder of our product and what we do, along with an opportunity to learn more about our software.

If a subscriber expresses an interest in our software, they’re converted into a lead—the goal of this campaign. Once this happens, the campaign stops for them and they’re added to a new, more product-focused campaign.

If they get use out of our content but never express an interest in our product, they remain in the subscriber nurturing campaign. When this happens, it’s still a victory for us, because we’ve established goodwill with the subscriber, helped them learn something they can use and maintained a line of communication. When we provide useful content, it’s always a win-win.

Create Useful, Valuable, “Lovable” Content

Thanks to information gleaned from the Internet, buyers now come to the table much more informed than they were before. They can also easily tune out messages that seem interruptive or out of touch.

As a marketer, if you really want your efforts to move the needle, you need to shift away from self-centered marketing and towards more informative, useful content that people actually want to see in their inbox. It requires more time and better creative skills to develop, but the return is far greater than yet another ad buy or product-focused whitepaper.

The Marketer's Field Guide to Salesforce

Above is one of the dozens of content offers we use to fuel our lead nurturing campaigns. It’s an example of both a useful piece of content and effective segmentation (which we’ll cover in the next section).

This particular offer was an idea derived from both data and the experience of our own marketing team. On the data side, past analysis of our customer base revealed that organizations who use Salesforce are often also a good fit for HubSpot, so it’s a logical audience for us to speak to. From the past experience of our own team, we knew that Salesforce can be daunting for a marketer to wrap their head around if they’re new to the system. And thus, The Marketer’s Field Guide to Salesforce was born.

This particular offer spans 49 pages and serves as an introduction to everything a marketer needs to know about using Salesforce—terminology, an explanation of objects (e.g. account, campaign, event), how a typical Salesforce environment works, etc. It also covers the methodology and best practices behind topics like lead scoring, sales and marketing alignment and ROI tracking.

The Marketer’s Field Guide to Salesforce was designed to be a useful resource to an important slice of potential HubSpot customers. Aside from a call-to-action at the end, HubSpot’s software is rarely mentioned throughout the guide, because it doesn’t have to be. If someone downloads the guide, finds it useful and has an interest or need for a product like ours, we know they’ll follow up to learn more. The goodwill built in the process is the real value to us.

So far, this offer has proven very effective—it’s been downloaded close to 8,000 times and has helped us close a number of new customers. Not bad for a targeted, niche piece of content.

Segment, Segment, Segment

When it comes to lead nurturing, there’s one piece of advice that often holds true for every industry and every organization: a more granular segmentation of your database and campaigns can generate better returns. The tricky thing for many marketers is that they either don’t know where to start, or believe that an ideal segmentation strategy would be too complicated and require too many resources to actually build.

At HubSpot, we’ve created a segmentation formula that’s both easy to get started with and scales nicely over time. If you were to look at our lead nurturing campaigns, we divide them according to two characteristics: persona and lifecycle stage.

Persona refers to one of our several buyer personas—individuals we’ve identified who typically represent good fit customers for HubSpot. These personas are from companies of different sizes that have different interests and needs, so our marketing content must be customized in terms of tone and topic to cater to these distinct audiences.

We use a number of means to bucket our contacts into different personas, including the content they download on our website and details they’ve filled out on our forms, i.e. the “What’s your company size?” question we’ve all been asked. By categorizing leads in this way, we can more easily market to different leads using content, language and other nuances that are most likely to resonate with them.

Here are a few examples of key personas that we’ve identified, along with details on how we approach them differently:

PersonaPositionResponsibilitiesTypical Campaign Content
Enterprise ErinErin oversees marketing at a larger enterprise organization.
Erin likely manages a departmentalized marketing team with mature processes and sophisticated technology in place. Erin is often judged on lead volume or revenue targets.Campaigns typically feature content that covers marketing thought leadership and advanced topics.
Marketing MaryMary heads up marketing at a mid-sized organization.Mary manages a small team of marketers and is often stretched for time. She is often judged on lead volume and is always looking for new ways to increase lead quantities.Content is framed around lead generation or other marketing strategies she’s expressed interest in.
Owner OllieOllie is a small business owner who’s a real “jack of all trades”.
Ollie doesn’t have a background in marketing but he needs to figure out a way to generate marketing results to keep his business alive.Features shorter, introductory-level content designed to introduce someone who might be new to marketing to some basic yet important topics.

Lifecycle stage refers to where we judge each contact to be in the customer lifecycle. Are they someone who represents a good fit for our product, but aren’t considering a purchase right now? Or are they actively considering a software purchase in the next month? What if they’re an existing or past customer of ours? Marketing to a contact without knowing where they are in the lifecycle stage is the easiest way to come off as tone-deaf.

The intersection of these two characteristics generates a relevant, targeted marketing approach that resonates with our leads. Over time, we’ve built out dozens of campaigns, each of which addresses a different persona-lifecycle stage combination.

Below is an example of a campaign designed for Marketing Mary leads. Since we know this lead is actively considering a purchase, the content is mostly product-focused.

Content OfferCall to Action (CTA)
Step 1Learn How to Prove the Value of Your Marketing EffortsSign up for a free assessment
Step 2eBook offer: Generating More Leads With Your WebsiteDownload the eBook
Step 3Watch a Quick Video Demo of HubSpot’s Marketing Software
Watch the video
Step 4Deep Dive: Email Marketing with HubSpotRequest a demo

By pursuing this strategy at HubSpot, we’ve scaled up from just a handful of campaigns to dozens of targeted lead nurturing tracks that we’re constantly refining and improving over time.

Take Your Lead Nurturing Beyond Email

Marketers are getting better and better at personalizing their prospects’ experience through email by using context and information they have about each prospect to target the messages they receive. But what about every other touch point with your prospects? What if a prospect clicks on a social media link, or performs a Google search that takes them to another deep page on your blog or website? What about your homepage?

The truth is that in these scenarios, most websites show the same static, generic message that may or may not apply to any one contact, which makes for a crummy prospect experience.

At HubSpot, we use our own tools to do this on many different parts of our website. When a known lead or customer comes to our website, we serve them the next most relevant call to action (CTA). For example, we wouldn’t prompt a lead to sign up for a newsletter they’re already subscribed to, or show them an opportunity to learn more about our software when we could instead invite them to attend an upcoming user group.

The technology to customize CTAs does exist today, and has the power to supercharge your lead nurturing efforts. At HubSpot, our Smart CTA tool allows marketers to easily create CTAs and embed them in their website without design or IT help. They can then control which segments see which CTAs from the HubSpot back-end simply by assigning different CTAs to different segments. A number of third party tools offer similar functionality.

Below you can see a simple example of how we show leads and customers different CTAs on our site that are logical next steps for them to take.

An example of Hubspot’s Smart CTA tool

Map Out Your Lead Nurturing Campaigns to Accomplish Narrowly Defined Goals

Last but not least, it’s easy to get lost in a maze of lead nurturing campaigns and not know exactly what the purpose or goal of a given campaign is, much less how well it’s working to help you meet your overall business goals.

For that reason, it’s critically important to first map out your campaigns (as with the Subscriber Nurturing campaign example) and understand how they work together. If there are three possible campaigns a lead can flow through, do all three aim toward getting your leads to complete the same goal, or do they work in a step-by-step fashion to move leads through multiple stages?

When you start with the end in mind—meaning you have a goal for each campaign before you start building it—creating the campaign and selecting the content it will contain is much easier. This goal might be as simple and obvious as turning leads into customers, or it may be more nuanced, e.g. raising the lead score of leads in a campaign to a certain threshold, or getting leads to demonstrate product interest by signing up for a product-centric webinar. The complexity and structure of your goals will depend on your sales cycle and process.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed!

We’ve covered a few strategic best practices for creating effective lead nurturing campaigns. If you’re just getting started with lead nurturing, the key is not to get overwhelmed. Start with the end in mind, address the biggest groups of your leads first and scale your program as you learn what works and what doesn’t. Once you figure out how to make lead nurturing work for your organization, there’s no end to the level of learning and optimization you can do to improve your campaigns.

The thumbnail image was created by Helena Jacoba.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Russo is a Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot, a marketing software company based in Boston, Massachusetts. As the chief advocate for HubSpot's middle-of-funnel tools, Jeff acts as an expert both on the HubSpot product and on the larger space.

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