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The Oldest Debate: Lead Nature vs. Lead Nurture

Recently, Sean Callahan of LinkedIn asked me (and a few more notable names) to weigh in on the juggernaut that has become known as Lead Nurturing. I remember, back in 2008, when Jon Miller (who is now launching his third notable venture) sat in a small conference room at Marketo’s 2000 sq ft. office and broke down the tactics for delivering ongoing messaging to prospects. Marketo, like nurturing, was in its infancy. I remember being amazed at how simple it was to execute. I had been forged in the fire of batch and blast marketing and when marketing automation came along, my mentality was still very much aligned to that practice. Nurturing presented a different possibility, something more engaging. At least, that was the idea.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one – an email delivered every two weeks walks into your inbox.

It’s not funny, and we’ve all done it. And many are still doing it and it’s not as if there is a huge case being built for anything to the contrary. We have become indoctrinated with the concept that we should be staying in front of people and if they engage (read: “open and click”) then we should call them, quickly. On and on it goes. When I was on my honeymoon in September of last year, I made it a goal to unsubscribe from much of the junk that either routes directly to my spam/promotions folders or that I delete with ritualistic precision each morning with one-eye open. This is not a small task – each day I receive over 500 email messages across five different email addresses. By the 5th day of my vacation, I was feeling good about my progress. In the resulting weeks,s I came to realize how much of a loosing battle it truly was. My email is well known and with 6 years under the same moniker, aliases in all of the conventional formats and a penchant for filling out my competitors, prospects and partners forms to consume content, I am truly a marked man.

Nothing changed as a result of my experiment in ‘opting out’ – in fact it was truly unnoticeable. I received an average of 540 emails per day last week. The root cause of this – lead nurturing. For most marketers, nurturing has become a highly repeatable, blindly agnostic, one-way conversation – and the buyer is becoming desensitized at a rapid pace. Those that are consuming the hard earned content marketers offer are often doing so devoid of a buying impetus. After all, it’s often great content that’s interesting – what’s not to love.

Well, scoring is a good answer to that question. No love comes from scoring. What we expect to happen from lead nurturing is simply wrong. Opens, clicks and downloads don’t indicate interest – we just finished a massive study that proves this without a shadow of a doubt. Activity like opening and downloading or clicking to read based on a nurturing email simply indicates that someone wanted to read what you offered him or her. Think about that.

The call to take another look at how we are utilizing Lead Nurturing is loud and clear. Content sits atop its kingly throne and laughs. We wanted great content, and we got it – now it rules us, we don’t command it. Those that read that content are focused on fulfilling their needs, not ours. We have to open our ears and realize that those old batch and blast, one-way conversations, when served up every two weeks with a wait step in between, don’t take into account the buyer’s voice. It’s time to change what we have come to expect from lead scoring and nurture activity in general. It’s time to get better at nurturing.

Check out the final piece LinkedIn produced here, the Crash Course in Lead Nurturing. When you have folks like Ardath Albee and John McTigue you know it’s going to deliver value. Just don’t forget that your scoring methodology also requires some attention. If you want to check out how we are starting to flip traditional scoring practices on their heads, you can check out the results from our scoring study we assembled with our friends at Everstring here.

And if you’re sending me an email every two weeks despite the fact that I’ve never clicked on a single one – please stop. I don’t take enough vacations to manage all of the subscriptions.

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