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Sixty-one percent of marketers said generating leads was their top challenge before COVID-19 struck, according to HubSpot — and it doesn’t get easier in today’s uncertain environment. Some good news came from the U.S. Commerce Department, which just announced an increase of 7.5 percent in retail sales in June over May. Everyone is crossing their fingers that states will be able to manage new cases in order to keep the momentum going.

Capturing whatever new demand is happening now is an important strategy to maintain growth. Retail brands have invested in personalization, content and loyalty programs when it comes to nurturing their customers. These best practices can and should be applied to new leads, as well as loyal customers. Luckily, there are easy-to-implement tests, content strategies and engagement options to drive more value from every lead, even in a difficult market.

Not Ready to Buy, Yet

The definition of growth marketing — the process of designing and conducting experiments to optimize and improve results — could be the very definition of a digital marketer’s job. So often, these experiments stop with known customers. There’s a lot of insight to play with, e-mail addresses to send to, and customer value to analyze.

To implement a good lead nurturing program, brands should first get an understanding of the length of their typical sale cycle, set up some realistic conversion goals and put together a database that can help keep insights and campaigns for lead nurturing running smoothly. What’s next is where the rubber meets the road.

Any time a new person downloads an app, signs up for a newsletter or follows a social site, there’s a chance to nurture a new lead. Both explicit data (data being collected directly from customers) and implicit data (behavior data collected across the user experience) is going to matter more than ever now that so many more customers shop online, and there’s always a way to use past trends to personalize to new visitors, test response rates to different promotions and try to keep new leads engaged.

The Best Early Experience…

Once the bones are in place, the only way to find the right nurturing program is to test. Test messaging, content, data collection, product recommendations, and just about anything else that can be segmented and compared.

For example, it is important to find a balance in the amount of data being collected at registration. An e-mail address is a fast way to get subscriptions through the door, but by adding fields like first name and birthday, it is an easy way for retailers to begin building a relationship with the customer.

While retailers would like to know everything about their customers, there are diminishing completion rates to watch for with every new field added. Use an A/B test for each field added. If the opt-in rate is flat or higher, that field can stay. If it causes sign-ups to go down, it’s time to determine how valuable that field is to collect early on. Sometimes the answer is easy. For example, collecting someone’s gender on a shave club web site makes all future promotions significantly more relevant.

Build a welcome series curated based on acquisition channel and campaign. RevZilla, a motorcycle site created numerous highly engaging welcome series flows that are personalized to individual interests and cadence. To improve relevance even further, the company put a call out in onboarding e-mails for “want better e-mail?” giving the subscriber the opportunity to share preferences and information. This data then personalized onboarding flow to increase first-purchase conversion rate.

Even with no sign-up data at all, it’s possible to nurture leads with personalized content. Country Outfitter, the clothing retailer, segments by search term and uses different messages for people who searched for different products such as “Frye” or “Dickies.” Using algorithms to deliver recommendations for new leads can also drive increased engagement and conversion. For example, Frank and Oak use algorithms to test different product recommendations based on what’s most popular in different categories. And as people search online and buy, brands can use this history to drive recommendations for upsell and companion sales, too.

Retailers can work with partners to conduct look-alike modeling using segmentation and level of engagement to increase the scale of the effort. For example, retailers can think about creating audiences of customers engaging in certain types of emails in order to find look-alike customers on Facebook and Instagram.

Monica-Deretich

Monica Deretich, an advisory board member at Sailthru. Photo courtesy of HubSpot. 

…Leads to Long-term Value

If a new lead becomes old, they tend to follow a few paths, which can range from very engaged to totally quiet. While truly inactive e-mails should be churned out of the system to keep the database healthy, a retailer should first adjust the offer strategy and e-mail frequency to test their interests. These engagement strategies should depend on the length of the sales cycle and the typical amount of engagement. These insights make it easier to segment people into groups. If e-mail isn’t generating any response at all for someone, perhaps targeting in paid social ads could drive the first purchase to get them to reengage. If all else fails, an e-mail hygiene exercise to clear totally dark e-mails will keep the entire program healthy.

If they are engaged with e-mails and are visiting the site, there are new behavioral actions for retailers to build touchpoints on. RetailMeNot finds that 80 percent of consumers feel encouraged to make a first-time purchase with a brand that is new to them if they found an offer or discount. If a new lead has items in her cart, retailers can send a first purchase promo e-mail including personalized content based on the items in the user’s cart.

Batch and blast e-mails can also be used to help long-term conversion strategy in a lead nurturing campaign. Brands can automate audience-specific content on a large e-mail send, so even a first-time purchase offer can be dynamically called into a big blast.

Even promising leads can fade. Retailers often include reactivation as part of their growth performance monitoring. E-mail is a great channel for reactivation, but healthy lead nurturing is paramount. Retailers should reengage using a promotional offer or other hook via e-mail if a user opts-in and at very least somewhat engaged on e-mail and other channels. Building a preference center and crafting a marketing campaign to reengage and reactivate users can be effective. Bonobos and J. Crew both employ preference centers that are simple to navigate and on-brand.

Few brands involve customers in tailoring e-mail cadence even though eMarketer reports that 69 percent would like to control frequency and 63 percent would like to control content. Giving consumers the control shows the brand cares about the customer by prompting to make sure they’ve got their preferences right and improves personalization. Attention to customer needs, from the beginning to the end of the relationship, is what should ultimately drive a solid lead nurturing strategy.

Monica Deretich is an advisory board member at Sailthru.

For more Business news from WWD, see:

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Brick-and-Mortar, Digital Retailers Adjust Strategies in Wake of Coronavirus

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