Lauren Davis, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Autopilot

Jes Kirkwood, Content and Community Marketing Manager at Autopilot

Lesson 3: Basic Lead Nurturing

You’re ready to start lead nurturing. Now it’s time to place the shapes on the canvas and publish your journey.

For your first nurture journey, we’ll use a simple email drip campaign that allows you to lead contacts down a path with four emails. When a contact clicks one of these messages, they are sent another email prompting them to engage with sales or make a purchase.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to:

How to nurture your contacts with four emails

Get started with lead nurturing

Lead nurturing is the process of educating leads and building relationships with potential customers throughout the purchasing process.

Buyers typically spend months researching and evaluating solutions before deciding on a vendor. Delivering useful and relevant content to buyers via an automated nurture journey accelerates this journey while driving higher conversion rates and improving your sales efficiency.

Practically, this means delivering early-, middle-, and late-stage content that provides leads with the industry context, best practices, and proof points needed to make an informed decision about whether to buy your product or service.

In our What is Lead Nurturing & How to Start lesson, we outline everything you should think through when developing a nurture program – from defining your goals to sourcing and creating relevant content to measuring your results. Now it’s time to craft your nurture journey in Autopilot.

Lead nurturing is the process of building relationships with potential customers throughout the purchasing process.

In this lesson, we’ll walk through building a basic four-email nurture journey.

Create a new journey in Autopilot

When creating a journey in Autopilot, you have two options:

  1. Build your journey from scratch
  2. Use a guide (or best practice template)
Start journeys in Autopilot from scratch or choose a guide
create new autopilot journey

The fastest way to create a journey is to use one of our guides—a journey template that’s based on best practices. Guides are ideal for those who are new to Autopilot and/or lead nurturing. Our “Nurture your contacts with four emails” guide looks like this:

Basic lead nurturing journey guide
Basic lead nurturing journey guide

The guide supplies you with the journey’s structure, so all you need to do is add your contacts and emails.

If you want to edit the template structure or build your own journey, keep reading. We walk through each step in more detail below.

Trigger your journey with the correct contact segment

Earlier, you defined your audience and target segments. Here are three ways to add contacts from these groups into your nurture journey.

Option 1. Trigger your journey via a smart segment

You can add contacts from multiple target groups to your journey by creating a smart segment. For example, you could add event registrants, content downloaders, and webinar attendees.

Create a smart segment to nurture
Create a smart segment to nurture

Once you’ve set up your smart segment list, add a smart segment trigger to the canvas of your nurture journey and configure it.

Configure your smart segment trigger
smart segment trigger

Once you’ve selected the appropriate smart segment, you’ll choose one of the following:

  • Add all contacts in this segment. This triggers all contacts who are currently (at the time of publish) on the smart segment into the journey. If contacts are added to the segment after the journey is live, they will not be added to the journey.
  • Add all contacts that enter this segment in the future. This triggers all contacts who enter the smart segment after the journey is published. No contacts who are currently in the segment at time of publish will be added to the journey.
  • Add all contacts in this segment, and any contacts that enter it in the future. This triggers all contacts who are currently on the segment as well as any who are added in the future.

If you want to nurture leads on an ongoing basis, you’ll want to either “Add all contacts that enter this segment in the future” or “Add all contacts in this segment, and any contacts that enter it in the future”.

Option 2. Trigger your journey via another journey

To add contacts to your nurture journey after they’ve completed another journey, use the add to list action. Place the shape at the end of the previous journey, and configure it to add any contacts who’ve completed the journey to a list.

Add contacts to a 'Nurture - Start' list when they complete a journey that qualifies them into nurture
add to list action

From there, add a list trigger to your nurture journey and select the list where contacts are added from the previous journey.

Configure your list trigger
list trigger

Option 3. Trigger your journey via a spreadsheet or Zap

If neither of the above options fit your needs, create a new list for your nurture efforts.

You can add contacts to this list by either manually importing a list of contacts or setting up a Zap to automatically import contacts.

Import contacts form a spreadsheet or connect an app
Import contacts form a spreadsheet or connect an app

If you have a specific list of contacts in mind, such as last week’s event registrants, you can import them and trigger your journey off of that list.

If you want to continually add contacts from another app, use a Zap instead.

Say you’re using a CRM system, like Salesforce or Pipedrive. You can create a Zap that triggers contacts into your nurture journey when their lead status is updated to “nurture”.

Similarly, if you’re using a third-party webinar platform or event registration system, like GoToWebinar or Eventbrite, you can add contacts who’ve registered for an event.

Once you’ve finalized your list, add a list trigger to your journey and configure it.

Keep in mind: Depending on the option you choose, you may want to add a delay before sending the first email. That way, if someone registers for an in-person or online event, they don’t receive nurture emails until after they’ve attended the event.

Structure your journey on the canvas

Next, we’ll show you how to drag and connect your emails and remainder of the shapes on the canvas.

Step 1. Add your first email

After a contact is triggered into your nurture journey, send them an email. Drag and drop the send email shape onto your canvas and connect it to the trigger.

send email action
Connect the send email action to your trigger

We recommend crafting your messages after you’ve finished structuring your journey. For now, let’s focus on the flow of your nurture journey.

Step 2. Add your second, third, and fourth emails (with delays)

After a short delay, send the contact a second email. Drop an add delay action onto the canvas and connect it to the previous email using the outcome wheel’s “on send” option. That way, all contacts will continue to flow through the journey.

Connect your second, third, and fourth emails following a delay step
add next emails gif

Rinse and repeat this step, including the delay, for the third and fourth emails. After these steps, you journey should look like this:

Four email journey, spaced ten days apart
Four email journey, spaced ten days apart

Step 3. Add those who don’t click to a list

Next, add contacts who didn’t click on any of the emails to a list.

Add contacts who didn't click on any emails to a 'Nurture - Done' list
add contacts list gif

This list can then be used as a trigger for another journey. After all, it’s possible they’re simply not ready to buy. Don’t let that deter you from continuing to send them valuable content until they either respond or opt out.

You could also try engaging this audience with another marketing channel, such as SMS or Headsup, since they didn’t respond to email.

Step 4. Send those who click a follow-up email from sales

If the contact clicks an email at any point, accelerate them through the buyer’s journey by sending them a call to action. These contacts have shown interest in your nurture content, which may indicate that they’ve graduated to a sales-ready lead.

Accelerate those who engage with a sales touch
send sales email gif

Remember the goal you defined earlier? Your call-to-action email is the ask that helps you achieve that goal. For example, your call-to-action email might encourage them to sign up for a free trial, schedule a meeting with sales, or purchase a product. Here’s an example.

Example sales accelerator email
Example sales accelerator email from Autopilot

Step 5. Add those who received a CTA email to a list, then eject them from the journey

After someone receives your call-to-action email, add them to another list. Having separate lists for those who engaged and those who didn’t will help you track and follow up with leads who are in different stages of the buying process.

Add contacts who received a sales email to a 'Nurture - Received CTA' list and remove them from the journey
add list eject gif

Finally, eject them from the journey to stop them from receiving nurture emails in the future. This is typically where the handoff between marketing and sales happens.

Now that you’ve structured your journey, it’s time to craft your messages.

Craft messages and add them to your journey

To populate your email content, navigate to the send email action. When you click to configure the shape, you’ll have two options:

  1. Search for and select an existing email
  2. Create a new email

If you choose to create a new email, you can do so from scratch. Alternatively, you can use one of our templates as a base.

email template
Choose an HTML email template

Pro tip: If you’re going to upload your own template into Autopilot, we recommend adding editable tags to your template so that you can edit your email in Autopilot before publishing your journey. Follow these step-by-step instructions to add editable tags to your HTML templates.

If you choose an editable template, you’ll have the ability to customize the images and copy. While doing so, don’t forget to leverage personalization variables (complete with fallback options), customize the unsubscribe link, and add list-specific unsubscribe links.

When you’re done, publish the email and add it to the appropriate shape. Don’t worry, publishing the email isn’t the same as publishing your journey. No one will receive your email just yet.

Another pro tip: Standardize your message naming conventions for easy searching and selecting.

If you need email inspiration, check out these 8 lead nurturing email examples  or this gallery of the best email sequences in existence.

Lead nurturing email examples from Shopify, Neil Patel, and EMyth

Now that you have all shapes and content in place, the next step is to review, test, and publish your journey.

Review, test and publish your journey

Congratulations! You’re moments away from publishing your nurture journey. All that’s left is three small steps:

1. Review your work

Make sure that your messages (and the journey as a whole) are aligned with your goals. It’s also important to read each email to check for typos as well as grammar, syntax, and spelling mistakes.

Did you know? Reading your messages backwards helps your brain identify these errors.

2. Test each email

Send yourself a test of each email. Once you receive it, make sure all the links and personalization variables are working. Don’t forget to view each email from a variety of browsers and devices. Once you’re confident, send the same tests to at least two colleagues, requesting their honest feedback.

Remember: Personalization variables will only populate if you fill the personalization variables with a random or specific contact when sending the test.

personalization variables
Send yourself a test email using a random contact to see populated personalization variables

3. Double check the journey trigger

The last thing we like to do before publishing a journey is confirm the trigger configuration.

List and smart segment triggers default to “add all contacts in this segment”. But like we explained above, this configuration prevents new contacts from being added after you hit publish. Since lead nurturing is an ongoing task, you’ll want to select one of the last two options.

Smart segment configuration options
Smart segment configuration options

Once those steps are complete, it’s time to push your journey live. When you hit “Publish” in the upper right-hand corner, Autopilot will confirm how many contacts will be added to the journey. If the number looks right, go ahead and publish your journey.

Review, test and publish your journey when you're read
publish journey

Wrapping it all up

With this journey, you’ll educate potential buyers with a series of relevant content. By the end of the journey, many will voluntarily request a follow-up meeting or call. These are considered reactivated leads.

If implemented at scale, with thousands of contacts nurtured, it can be exponentially powerful for your business.

There is one limitation of this basic nurture journey: A user only needs to click on one email to be sent a call to action. More often than not, more clicks are needed before a lead is ready to engage with sales. In other words, educating and qualifying leads takes time.

You’ve already made massive progress by publishing your first nurture journey, so congratulations! In the next lesson, you’ll learn about a more sophisticated lead nurturing strategy.

If you need help creating your first lead nurturing journey, watch our Autopilot Training 102 webinar

Next Lesson

Lesson 4: Lifecycle Lead Nurturing

71% of high-performing marketers leverage marketing automation to nurture leads. Our lifecycle lead nurturing framework takes a more sophisticated approach. It combines the best practices we’ve learned from a variety ...

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