Sales and marketing knights fighting the lead nurturing battle.

The Essential Guide To Successful B2B Lead Nurturing in 2016

You’ve created content, promoted it on social media, optimized it for search and earned some leads, but now what? How the heck can you end the age old war between sales and marketing and get them to work together to turn those cold leads into paying customers?

You guessed it:… Lead nurturing.

Lead nurturing is THE way to close the gap and actually see results from your inbound marketing. Good lead nurturing will get your leads more engaged, qualified, and save you tons of time and money.

While there are technically tons of ways to nurture leads, (social media, events, snail mail) the method with the greatest ROI is definitely email.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at these statistics:

1) “What’s the ROI of email” you ask? Oh just a mere 4,300% return on investment for companies in the U.S.

2) Even with all these content channels sprouting up right and left, 59% of B2B marketers say email is the most effective channel for generating revenue (BtoB Magazine).

3) For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $44.25 (Exact Target).

4) Email is nearly 40 times better than Facebook and Twitter at acquiring customers (Mckinsey&Company).

5) 95% of internet consumers use email (EmailExpert).

6) 95% of those who opt into email messages from brands find these messages somewhat or very useful (Salesforce).

As you can see, email is just as important as it’s ever been. Read more about why email is still relevant and how to get the most out of email in my post: Email Marketing: The B2B Marketer’s Loyal Hound.

Despite the rise of social media, email is still a person’s primary online identifier and it’s still the best way to build a consistent relationship with someone. Still aren’t convinced that email is killing it? Check out Chad White’s post: Why the Rebirth of Email is Coming in 2016.

But email isn’t the only thing you need to do lead nurturing well, marketing automation is the fuel to your fire. Using the combined power of email marketing and marketing automation you can wield the full power of lead nurturing greatness.

So what exactly does successful lead nurturing look like? I’m going to break lead nurturing down in to three parts:

  1. lead scoring
  2. segmentation
  3. workflows

Let’s look at the first part:


1. Lead scoring

Lead scoring is your foundation. A lead score is a number that shows how hot or cold and good of a match a lead is for your sales team. Most marketing automation software has lead scoring of some sort. There’s a great article: “Marketo Vs. Eloqua Vs. Pardot: A Massive Review” by Marcus Sheridan that compares three of the top marketing automaton solutions and covers lead scoring in some depth.

Effective lead scoring will help you to create an automated process for organizing, prioritizing and effectively nurturing your leads.

Here’s some stats to back it up:

  • Sales and marketing professionals agree that lead quality is far more important to revenue than lead quantity (Aberdeen Group). Lead scoring is the most straight forward way to assign each lead a comprehensive value.
  • 68% of successful marketers cite lead scoring as most responsible for improving revenue contribution (Kenkold Group).

Options for Lead Scoring

Most marketing automation software has lead scoring of some sort. There’s a great article: “Marketo Vs. Eloqua Vs. Pardot: A Massive Review” by Marcus Sheridan that compares three of the top marketing automaton solutions and covers lead scoring in some depth. Here they are:

1) Eloqua

Eloqua offers lead scoring in all their levels starting at $2,000 a month. Eloqua has two scores, a score based on any contact property (profile score), or on any touchpoint with your company (engagement score. Where other lead scores are based on numbers than could theoretical count up to infinite, Eloqua’s lead score is based on a percentage, therefore every contact will have a score from 0 to 100 percent.

Eloqua also allows for you to create unlimited scoring models if you want to score differently for different products, demographics or teams.

Summary: Eloqua’s model is incredible customizable, but is not half as hard to understand as Marketo’s. If the price doesn’t break the bank, I think it has the best lead scoring model.

2) Marketo

Marketo offers lead scoring in all their levels of marketing automation starting at $ 1,195 a month. Marketo has a range of different scores: behavior score, lead score (default), demographic score and “my score” (a score that you assign them manually). In the dashboard next to each contact, they have flames and stars.

Flames show how quickly a contact changed scores (how urgent they are).

Stars show how a contact’s score is compared to all the other contacts in the database.

You can set the stars and the flames to draw on any of the scores (demographic, behavior, lead or my score).

Summary: Marketo’s lead scoring capabilities are immense, but can be overwhelming for the beginning user. Out of all these options, I had the hardest time understanding Marketo’s model.

3) Pardot

Like Marketo, Pardot offers lead scoring in all their levels starting at $1,000 a month. Pardot gives each lead a numeric score based on their engagement with your company and a grade based on demographic factors like industry and job title. You can customize how many points are assigned to your leads based on each factor.

Summary: Pardot’s lead scoring is simpler than the previous two, offers slightly less options and is slightly more affordable.

4) HubSpot

Lead scoring is a feature in HubSpot’s professional level which is $800 a month, but not their basic level. HubSpot also offers predictive lead scoring at their enterprise level which is $2,400 a month.

Custom Lead Scoring is semi automated. You have to decide what actions will add or subtract points and how many points. Once you have your model, it will automatically assign a score to each contact in your database.

Predictive Lead Scoring is completely automated. It analyzes your database and uses an algorithm that is completely customized for your contact database that organizes your contacts into three categories: most engaged, least engaged and those in the middle.

Predictive lead scoring gives you insights into how to engage your leads and why it organized them the way it did.

HubSpot’s enterprise level allows you to develop your own custom lead scoring in tandem with their predictive lead score.

Summary: HubSpot’s lead scoring is the simplest, cheapest but offers the least customization options.

How To Score Leads

Lead scoring is one of the hardest marketing tasks to do successfully, especially if you are a large company with lots of touch points.

Marketo had a webinar on lead scoring last year and polled the audience on what their struggles were. Here were the results:

Marketo Lead Scoring Difficulty Audience Pole

The struggle that most people expressed was not knowing what data to score on. The answer to that is, any characteristic that shows a lead is engaged or unengaged. There are a lot of different things that you can score your leads on and developing an accurate lead score is an ongoing process. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, start simple and then go from there. You can always tweak your lead score to make it more accurate.

The first thing you need to figure out is on what scale you want to score your leads: from 0 to 10? 0 to 100? This will effect the numerical values you give to each data point.

***If you’re trying to score your leads from 0 to 100 you wouldn’t want to give a lead 100 points just for clicking on an email.

Here are some good data points to score your leads on:

  1. Website engagement
    • page views/visits
    • time since last visit (1 day, 2 weeks, 6 months…)
    • what forms have they filled out? (gated content, blog subscription, contact us…)
  1. Email engagement
    • emails clicked
    • emails opened
    • emails bounced (hard or soft?)
    • time since last email click
    • time since last email open
  1. Contact properties
    • job title
    • industry
    • company size
    • *****it will be up to you to figure out what qualities in a lead are green lights or red flags. Whatever you decide, make sure your lead score reflects that.

Once you figure out your data points, you have to figure out how important each one is. If a lead with a score of 100 is supposed to be standing at your front drooling with cash in their fists, how much do you think clicking on an email could contribute to that? 10 points? 5? It’s ok to start out with a gut feeling. No one can tell you what is right for you business and you can keep tweaking as you get more data and see how you lead score is working.


Make sure you have the ability to go in and manually mess with lead score. There’s a limit to automation’s ability to know what constitutes “good” and “bad” leads. Read this scathing and completely valid attack on fully automated lead nurturing from Tom Webster: The Fatal Attraction of Lead Measurement.


2. Segmentation

Once you have some basic lead scoring set up, it’s time to segment your contacts. Creating lists to segment your contacts into distinct groups is integral to good lead nurturing. These lists will help you automate tasks with workflows and save time.

Many of the lists you need to segment your contacts will be unique to your company, but there are a few generic lists that you need to have:

  • Bad Contacts – contacts with invalid emails or that have unsubscribed from your emails (a smart list triggered by invalid email or unsubscribing)
  • Weak Contacts – contacts that are unengaged with your company (a smart list triggered by a low lead score Ex: 0-30)
  • Leads – contacts that are engaged and a good fit for your company (a smart list triggered by a mid level lead score Ex: 30-60)
  • Marketing qualified leads – contacts that are more engaged and a good fit (a smart list triggered by a higher level lead score Ex: 60-80)
  • Sales qualified leads – contacts that are the most engaged and a good fit (a smart list triggered by the highest level lead score Ex: 80-100)
  • Customers (a static list)
  • Employees (a static list)


3. Workflows

Once you have created your lists, it’s time to create workflows to automate tasks for each list of contacts. Here’s what your workflows need to do with each of these contact lists:

  • Bad Contacts – These contacts need to be deleted from your database.
  • Weak Contacts – These contacts need to be reengaged. This workflow will need to send these contacts emails with top-of-the-funnel content: send them relevant blog posts, top of the funnel ebooks and other offers that will grab their attention. You could send out a survey asking them what kind of content they are looking for, or giving them the option to unsubscribe.
  • Leads – These contacts need to be pushed farther down the funnel. They are somewhat engaged and have been deemed a good fit for your company. They need to be sent emails that keep them engaged and point them towards what’s next.
  • Marketing qualified leads – These contacts are more serious. They need to be sent more in depth, personalized content that pushes them towards making a buying decision. Send them content like white papers, and middle / bottom of the funnel ebooks. Also, you may want to send out an internal email to relevant people notifying them whenever a person becomes an MQL.
  • Sales qualified leads – These contacts need to be contacted by sales. This workflow should send out notification emails to the sales team whenever a person becomes an SQL. Communication with these leads should probably be personalized.
  • Customers – These contacts need to be delighted and shown that you appreciate their business. Thank them for their decision to buy and invite them to connect with you on social media. After awhile send them an upsell email inviting them to consider another purchase or an upgrade.
  • Employees – If you are a larger company, you may want to come up with a workflow for new employees welcoming them and asking for feedback. If you are a smaller company this probably won’t be necessary. Either way, your employees need to be kept track of and filtered out of your other lists and reports. When Bill the marketing manager downloads all your ebooks to see if the forms are working properly, you don’t want him in your sales qualified lead workflow.


You don’t want your workflows to send shoot emails at your leads too fast. A good rule of thumb is to not send out automated emails to a lead more than once a week.



Implementing accurate lead scoring, segmentation and effective workflows is a never ending process. Don’t try and get too complex too fast. If you are producing content (like you should) you will have to keep tweaking to incorporate your new content. Need more guidance? Check out Vero’s blog. It’s a blog solely focused on email marketing. They have a guide on lifecycle email marketing which is basically lead nurturing.

Inbound Marketing 101: 5 Keys to Generating Leads on Your Website

5 replies
  1. Gab
    Gab says:

    It just clicked for me, for the first time, something I intuitively grasped but wasn’t working on… not all my leads are equally qualified. I need to give priority to the best ones so that I can close more sales. Thanks for helping me reach the ‘aha’ moment Luke!

  2. Luke O'Kelley
    Luke O'Kelley says:

    Gab, thanks so much for sharing this ‘aha’ moment with me! So glad I got to help you. Hope to hear from you again soon :).

  3. Caroline Cronk
    Caroline Cronk says:

    “Sales and marketing professionals agree that lead quality is far more important to revenue than lead quantity.”

    Better quality leads mean quicker movements into the sales funnel. With your lead nurturing, you should identify the best new prospects and then acquaint them with your products or services, to move them through the sales process. It’s not about finding the most leads; it’s about finding leads that are a good fit.

  4. Kayli Kunkel
    Kayli Kunkel says:

    This is so true! We often read about the pieces of this process, but it’s really helpful to see them put all together like a complete puzzle. I’d say defining leads into customer lifecycle stages can be the most tricky step. Mostly because lead scoring/defining is unique to each company and its specific customers. I’ve been thinking a lot about customer lifecycle stages a LOT lately and actually put my research into an eBook about defining leads: Next step for my own agency is actually better defining leads within our own lifecycle!

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