21 December 2016

B2B Email Marketing Basics: Nurturing New Contacts

Richard Hancock
Written by Richard Hancock

Richard Hancock is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years experience working across the FMCG, Digital Entertainment, Technology & Telecoms industries, both in the UK & overseas.

We’ve all been in situations where businesses overstep the mark and rush to close their sales too early. Imagine looking in a shop window. Before you even step inside, the owner steps out with a full bag of goods and names his price. This is essentially what you’re doing if you put the cart before the horse with your email marketing and it’s a trap so many marketers continue to fall into. More than that - this simply isn’t how things work, nor is it necessarily permitted - particularly in a landscape where the ramifications of GDPR are still being felt. Prospects must be ‘warmed up’ before making a purchase, particularly in a landscape where the ramifications of GDPR are still being felt.

Sales teams rely on leads for success, but all leads are not created equally and the leads that were once so vital - a prospect’s name, phone number or email address - and constituted great data are not quite as tangible in a world where we must recognise that the data belongs to our prospects, not us, and must therefore be treated with respect. Now more so than ever before, these leads need to be qualified before going in for the sale, and savvy, responsible and relevant email marketing can help.

Lead nurturing is one of the easiest, most cost-effective means of warming up leads for a B2B sales team. Still, 65% of businesses still feel that generating traffic and leads represents their greatest marketing challenge. This might be because they are struggling to understand the basics or what makes a successful nurture campaign in 2019.

A nurture email campaign is a set of pre-written emails sent to a new contact on a scheduled basis. New email contacts could come from networking, a sign-up box on a website or some other positive response. These campaigns exist to build attention, interest, desire and action – boosting chances of a sale by delivering value straight to prospects’ inboxes, keeping your business front-of-mind from their earliest engagement, and gently pushing the contact further along their sales journey towards a decision. Regular communication reduces the likelihood of contacts dropping through the cracks – which is essential given that the probability of converting a sale drops the longer contacts are left unattended.

In this article, which is the second in a series on B2B email marketing basics (for part one on choosing the right analytics for your business, click here) we’ll outline not only how to build simple, effective email nurture campaigns but why they should be a key formative cornerstone of your marketing strategy. Indeed, 59% of B2B marketers say that email is their most effective channel in terms of lead and revenue generation.

Say hello, solve a problem, then sell

An effective email nurture campaign effectively earns a business the right to sell, following – in the words of digital marketer Gary Vaynerchuk – the jab, jab, jab, right hook model. A solid example campaign would feature the following:-

  • First, a welcome email - Thank the reader for subscribing to the email list, and provide a breakdown of services or products offered by the business, including links to relevant web-pages and social media profile.

  • Next, a problem-solution email - Explore a typical problem the contact might experience in blog format. Feature the first half of the article in the email itself then ask the reader to click through to the website in order to finish the piece.

  • Then, a case study - Provide a case study of a satisfied client – again keep the bulk of the content out of the email to ensure readers click through.

  • Finally, a bold call-to-action - Close the campaign with a short sales message that pushes the reader along to the next step in the business’ customer journey.

The jab, jab, right hook model

Consistency and clarity

An email nurture series acts as an introduction to your business and brand. As such, you should always put your best foot forward with a well-constructed campaign by focusing on the following:-

  • Create consistency. The series needs to have not only consistency of appearance but also of experience. The email ‘from’ address and the person (if any) signing off each message needs to be consistent between emails and match with whatever triggered the subscription. If it was an anonymous sign-up form, for example, and you introduce a person in the email, it needs to be clear why they are communicating. Similarly, a personalised invitation needs to be followed up with the same persona in your business.

  • Use simple, clear subject lines. Usually, best practice is to use an email subject line to motivate the reader to open the email and scan the first few lines. However, if the first email is hot on the heels of their sign-up, the subscriber should still be engaged with the business and therefore more motivated to open. Simple and clear subject lines will be powerful and effective for an email nurture series as long as you’re quick on the draw.

  • Set expectations. Tell subscribers when and what you’re going to send and what value you plan to provide in both the welcome series and the routine communications that follow. If your plan is for ad hoc future communications, tell them so.

  • Ask for acceptance. Ask your contacts to add your email address to their white list to avoid inadvertently being filtered into the contact’s spam folder.

  • Provide something useful. In the example campaign above, this means the problem-solution email. Restating how your product or service traditionally provides value or new uses that readers may not have thought of, are ways of reminding and reinforcing your value offering. Remember that the most important thing when it comes to lead nurturing is relevance. Targeting users with content that’s relevant to their current position in the buying process yields conversion rates that are 72% higher. So, being able to assess current needs is a vital component.

  • Clearly state your call-to-action. Each email in the series should have the desired call-to-action; what do you want the contact to do as a result of reading that email? Create your email and squint at it from a distance and see if the call-to-action is obvious and apparent. If it’s not obvious to you and you know what’s in the email, then it’s time to revisit your creative!


Automation is perhaps one of the most powerful tools modern marketers have at their disposal, with marketers using automation experiencing a 451% increase in qualified leads. One key benefit of an email nurture series is its ability to be automated using email software, and integrated with CRM and automation tools to deliver rich customer data to sales teams.

Emails can be ‘triggered’ when a new subscriber fulfils a certain condition – for example, making their first purchase. This automation represents a massive marketing time-saver; especially useful for businesses who want to send regular newsletters. Emails can also be automated as drip marketing campaigns, which - as the name suggests - drip emails to prospects to keep the brand on the top of their mind at certain times based on specific timelines or actions.

55% of the B2B marketing industry is now using automation and whilst you should always be making an effort to blaze your own trail, there is also wisdom in keeping one eye on the competition. Allowing a machine to crunch the numbers and generate leads for you in a fraction of a second will allow you time to focus on the more personal and creative aspects of your strategy.

Automation not only saves time but leads to more timely communications and increased opportunities for up-selling that don’t feel random or forced. 68% of marketers also believe that automation has led to greater consumer engagement and it allows marketers to cut through the noise and build meaningful relationships with prospects earlier in their journey.

GDPR and lead nurturing

With many lead nurturing tactics relying on email marketing, you might be forgiven for thinking that GDPR has spelt the end of traditional contact nurturing methods, particularly bought email lists. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the regulation enforcement last year, 1 in 3 B2B marketers expected their lead conversion rates to drop and more than half anticipated that their mailing lists would get substantially smaller.

However, whilst it has meant some serious changes for B2C marketers, it’s important to note that GDPR affects B2B marketing differently.

Ultimately, most B2B marketing doesn’t rely on consent as the reason for data processing. During  the build-up to the regulation enforcement, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a concept for B2B marketing, called legitimate interest. Legitimate interest is a legal basis for data processing which matches the needs of B2B firms.

So, as long as you are processing data for the reason that constitutes “legitimate interest” and that you balance the motivations of you as a business with the rights and expectations of the individual then you should be worry-free as long as you undertake and document a thorough legitimate interest assessment to make sure you comply. This is particularly true if you make an effort to explain why your interest is legitimate in the email copy. On a wider scale, GDPR has undoubtedly affected lead generation practices, but as long as you remain transparent, then your strategy shouldn’t need to drastically change.

Final tweaks

Whilst following the information above should set you in good stead, there are always potential tweaks to keep in the back of your mind. While an email nurture series can be automated, for example, it’s important to review and refresh a campaign regularly to update information and make sure the tone of voice is consistent.

You should also always ask yourself whether the content included in each campaign and the customer journey it promotes, still fits your wider sales-marketing strategy. Using email analytics – covered in part one of this guide –  check which links in your emails drive the most traffic to your site. Consider A/B tests using different subject lines and creative approaches.

Nurture series are not only useful for introducing new contacts to your products and services. The approach also works well for re-engaging lapsed customers, for following-up sales, or any other situation where your business needs to reclaim customers’ attention. They are also incredibly useful for developing email segmentation, which 51% of marketers believe is the most effective way to personalise lead nurturing.

With this in mind, consider how different types of contact interacted with your campaign and use this analysis to form the basis for email database segmentation for future campaigns – covered in the next instalment of this guide.

Automation software and GDPR might be subtly transforming the way brands approach lead nurturing, but the basics remain the same: think strategically, aim for consistency, and deliver value. So, what are you waiting for?

Part one of our email basics guide on choosing the right analytics can be found here. Like what you’ve read so far? Follow us on Twitter for more insights.


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