6 Steps: How to Nurture Leads and Turn them into Paying Customers


Lead nurturing begins as soon as a phone rings or a Web form gets submitted. Whether your initial contact came from someone looking to buy now or from someone opting in to your subscriber list, you need to have a basic nurturing process in place for each new contact:

  • Implement a lead intake process for hot leads.
  • Select an email marketing tool.
  • Set up a basic lead nurturing campaign.
  • Create a customer nurture campaign.
  • Follow email marketing best practices.
  • Measure and test against your email metrics.


Hot leads come first. These are the folks who are contacting your business via phone, Web form, or some other method with immediate needs. These hot leads should obviously be priority number one for you and your staff. However, many small businesses fail to properly capitalize on these leads due to a lack of a clear intake process.

Sometimes the First Is the Best

More often than not, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to Web  and phone leads. It’s critical to treat leads like the golden opportunities they are and follow up as quickly as you can, if not immediately!

While I was working with one large silicon valley start-up, we did an analysis, modeling the outcomes of thousands of Web and phone leads, measuring their value based on a number of factors including follow-up time and which percentage were reached, engaged, and eventually became customers. You’ll be astounded by the conclusions of the study:

  • Phone leads must be answered in real time via a live person answering the phone who is trained to qualify the lead and schedule an appointment.
  • Web leads should be contacted via phone and email within four hours of receipt (immediately is ideal).
  • Leads that aren’t immediately followed up with lose 50 percent of their value after four hours and 80 percent of their value after twenty-four hours.

You must ensure that everyone in your company values the importance of responding to and measuring inbound leads. If you can’t answer calls or greet walk-ins in real time, train a staff member or outsource this to someone who can. Train whoever answers the phone on how to greet, screen, and obtain information from callers. If you run a retail or dining establishment, the same rules apply.

Lead Intake Process Best Practices

  • Document the lead intake process for your business. This should include how phone and Web leads are routed, who follows up, and in what time frame. Also include how inbound leads are tracked. Create a simple lead intake process and train your staff.
  • Never let leads get answered by a machine or voicemail. While I understand that many businesses are stretched thin in terms of staff, it’s critical to have your phone leads answered by a real person. If you can’t dedicate staff, use a service like AnswerConnect. For around $150 per month, you can have professional staff answer your calls and capture and email you leads.
  • Respond to Web leads within hours. Web leads begin depreciating in value the minute your prospects hit “send” on your Web form. Make it a priority to respond immediately, preferably via phone, as doing so is much more personal than email.
  • Develop a script for inbound leads. You don’t need to turn your staff into telemarketers, but ensure that you train them on the main talking points and questions for converting leads into appointments, in-store visits, or whatever the next step in your sales funnel is. Also, train them to capture the prospect’s contact info right off the bat.
  • Always add phone leads to your nurture campaigns. Since many prospects will call rather than fill out a Web form, it’s important that your staff is trained to add these contacts to your lead nurturing database (after receiving their permission). This way, even those prospects who don’t buy right away will hear from you on a regular basis.
  • Share the results with your staff. Make a point of discussing inbound lead metrics with your employees on a regular basis. This will not only help foster friendly competition, but it will also help you identify best practices and weak links in your lead intake process.
  • Establish your “hot leads” intake process as soon as you can. You can always expand on this as you get more feedback and identify new best practices.


If your business is in the early stages of online marketing, with little website traffic or content, lead nurturing may not seem like a priority. While this assertion may be true for the most part, it’s critical to start building a subscriber/nurture list right away. Since all you need to do is choose an email marketing/list building service and slap an opt-in form on your site, it’s worth doing as early as possible.

Basic Email Marketing Software

For most small businesses, basic email marketing software will work just fine. Each of the services listed below works the same way: you simply sign up, paying from $19 to $100 per month depending on the size of your list, create Web forms to capture leads on your site, and set up “sequences,” or automated email campaigns. Any of the following four providers will work just fine:

Complete Marketing Automation Systems

If you want to do more than simple email nurture campaigns, such as accept payments online, monitor your prospects’ Web activity, and integrate direct mail and other “offline marketing” into your nurture programs, I recommend the following two providers:

If you’re new to the world of lead nurturing or are on a tight budget, you’ll be fine using one of the four basic services listed above. I use InfusionSoft and can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re more advanced in lead nurturing or need a more powerful solution.


There are two primary ways of sending email communications to your nurture list:

1. Email Broadcasts

Broadcasts are one-time emails sent to your whole database or segments of your list. The ability to reach your entire list at once makes broadcasts especially powerful for sales promotions, news, or events. Here are a few ideas you can use to generate broadcasts.

  • Content updates: Part of your content syndication strategy involves sending content updates to your subscriber list. Each time you publish a new blog post or video, be sure to send an email with a link to your new content. In Google Analytics, you’ll notice an uptick in “direct traffic” resulting from your subscribers.
  • Seasonal updates: Email broadcasts work great for seasonal promotions and updates, holiday promotions, and events. If you get creative, you can come up with an offer to match every holiday or milestone throughout the year. With little effort, you could generate a dozen or more broadcasts to send to your contacts, one for each month.
  • Sales and specials: Broadcasts work great for moving extra stock or filling slow periods in your business. Is your business exceptionally slow on Monday afternoons or during the month of August? Send your subscribers special promotions for coming in during these slow periods. For even better response, add urgency by doing a limited time or quantity offer (“Free _________ for the first 25 people who come in Monday”).

2. Sequential Emails

Sequential mailings are a series of emails pre-set to get delivered over time, allowing you to keep in touch with your prospects for weeks, months, or even longer. Consult with your chosen email marketing provider to learn more about setting up campaigns.

Here are a few ideas for sequential mailings that have proven to be extremely effective:

  • The mini course: With an “email mini-course,” you would offer your visitors a series of articles or videos (top 5 lists) delivered over time. A chef could offer “5 Dinner Party Recipes to Dazzle Your Guests,” sending those who opt in one recipe each week.
  • Case studies: Nothing builds social proof with your audience like real-life examples of other customers finding happiness through the use of your products or services. Imagine how powerful it would be to load up five or six case studies and then email them out to your subscribers over time.
  • Drip offers: With drip offers, you create a series of emails offering different products or services. If your business has more than one thing to offer, set up a long-term campaign that highlights different products or services over time.
  • Affiliate offers: A mainstay for Internet marketers, affiliate offers are a great way to generate extra revenue. Affiliate marketing is the act of selling other companies’ products and services for a commission. This is a great way to expose your audience to offerings that complement yours but that you don’t offer directly. For example, if you run a Tahoe Bed & Breakfast, why not send your subscribers emails offering discounted ski packages, restaurant deals, or other services? Just be sure you only recommend businesses you have personally used and that you know will bring value to your audience.
  • The launch formula: If you have a product launch, live event or other time-sensitive promotion, the launch formula will be extremely effective. Launch formula email sequences are a series of messages that lead up to an event or other specific time-sensitive purchase. For example, if you will be displaying your wares at a tradeshow or seminar, you could easily create a campaign to remind your audience of the upcoming event and build interest along the way. For more information on product launches, check out Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula.


As the old saying goes, “It’s much easier to keep a customer than acquire a new one.” If you recall from Chapter 9, it’s important to measure the lifetime value of a customer (LTV). When you focus on this bigger picture in terms of revenue, you can spend more to acquire a customer. If your clients visit your place of business, offer incentives to join your email list. If you provide services elsewhere, add email fields to your invoices and implement staff incentives for email acquisition. You can even use direct mail to build your list, sending low-cost postcards with a special offer in exchange for opting in. Here are several ways to leverage your customer relationships:


I have yet to encounter a stronger source of leads than customer referrals. When a customer recommends your business to a friend or colleague, a magical thing happens: You get to skip the first several steps of the online marketing funnel, as each recommendation comes pre-packaged with trust and authority. The best way to ask for referrals is to do so with class and sincerity. Just send your new client a brief and sincere message similar to this one:

SUBJECT LINE: “Hi Jim, It’s Aaron—I Have a Favor to Ask”

Dear Jim,

It’s our great pleasure to have you as a new customer; we really hope you enjoy your new bicycle. We hope you found your experience with us to be exceptional and we look forward to serving you and your family for years to come. Please contact me on my personal line anytime if I can be of service in any way: 760-777-7777.

Secondly, I have a favor to ask. As you know, Gotham City Cyclery exists for one reason: we are extremely passionate about helping people live happy and healthier lives through the joy of riding bicycles, and we’re always looking for more families like yours to help. If you have one or two friends you think would enjoy working with us as much as you have, we would be honored if you would help us spread the word.

To make this easy, I have included a link for three 10 percent off coupons for our store for you to hand out to anyone you wish. I’ve also included a 20 percent off coupon for you as a gesture of thanks for your time and consideration.

Thanks so much for your time, and keep riding!



To set up a nurture campaign for client referrals, send two or three emails every week or so using this gentle but effective approach. If they don’t respond the first time, send a reminder or two the next week. You’ll be amazed at how much new business you can generate using this simple approach.

Best Practices for More Referrals

  • Ask right away. The best time to ask for a client referral is right away, while your new customers are still excited, with your business fresh on their mind.
  • Make it easy. Give your customers an easy way to create referrals, whether that means a link to a short referral form or a business reply card in the mail. Don’t just ask for referrals and expect your customers to do all the work.
  • Provide incentives. We’re all driven by incentives, including gift cards and discounts. Use incentives to get referrals from your customers. Even if you send a gift card in advance, many of your customers will follow through out of a sense of reciprocity.
  • Combine online and offline. As cost-effective as email can be, you might get better results when it comes to obtaining referrals using offline means such as postcards. Many marketers have foolishly abandoned direct mail in favor of all-digital means, but postcards can really cut through the ice and help your message STAND OUT.
  • Follow up immediately. When you get a referral, treat it as your hottest lead, applying the same follow-up rules we discussed earlier.
  • Track your referral sources. Make sure you measure your referral sources using your intake process and CRM or client database. You may find that one or two of your clients or other sources are lighting up the scoreboard with referrals, triggering you to reinforce their behavior with incentives.
  • Launch a referral program. If you really want to crank up your referrals, go beyond your existing clients and launch your own referral or affiliate program. Any other business serving the same market you do could be a great source for referrals. For example, a carpet cleaner could partner with a landscaping company, painter, or furniture retailer, sending campaigns to each other’s client lists for mutual gain.

KEY CONCEPT: Use List Segmentation to Target Your Campaigns

One of the common mistakes people make when first using email marketing and lead nurturing tools is placing all their contacts into one huge “bucket.” It’s important to segment your list into separate categories (“customers,” leads,” “former customers”), allowing for targeted communications down the road. Most popular email marketing software programs accomplish this using “tags,” which are easy to create and set up. Start with the following three list segments:

  • Master subscribers: This would be everyone—both clients and prospects. Many times you’ll want to send broadcasts to your entire database.
  • Leads: This should include everyone on your list who has yet to purchase from you.
  • Customers: This includes all the folks who have already purchased from you at least once.


Depending on your reputation and point of view, online reviews sites have become one of the best or worst things to happen to small business owners. In our modern, connected world, people have become accustomed to reading and leaving reviews for everything. If you recall from Chapter 4, reviews are also a great sign of “social proof.” Whether your customers are ecstatic, infuriated, or somewhere in between, you can expect to find reviews on your business. Search engines also view reviews as evidence of “trust.”

How to Ask for Reviews

Just as with referrals, there’s a good way and a bad way to ask for reviews. Instead of saying something like, “Please fill out a review, we really need more reviews for Google to like us!”, use the same direct, service-based approach you would for referrals:

SUBJECT LINE: “Hi Jim, Aaron Here—Please Tell Us

How We’re Doing”

Dear Jim,

Hello again! It’s Aaron from Gotham City Cyclery. It’s been a few weeks since you purchased your mountain bike and I hope you’ve found time to get on the trails and enjoy this great weather.

I am writing to gather some quick feedback about your experience with Gotham City, and your level of satisfaction with our customer service, pricing, and the bicycle itself. We place a great deal of emphasis on getting feedback from all of our customers, as this allows us to provide the best possible services, train our staff, and decide which bicycles to carry.

You’re the type of customer we want to attract and your feedback would mean the world to us. To make it easy, I have included links to our reviews pages below. Please pick one or two and tell us how we’re doing—good or bad, we appreciate your feedback:






P.S. I really do appreciate your time. Once you’ve completed a review, I’ll leave a free inner tube here at the shop for you to grab during your next visit.

Can you see how friendly and non-promotional this approach is? Once you view reviews sites as critical customer feedback channels, you’ll find the process of getting more of them much easier.

Top Reviews Sites

For your review acquisition program, stick with a short list of social sites and build from there. It’s important to note that your niche might have separate, industry-specific directories that are great for reviews, such as Avvo.com and Lawyers.com for lawyers, and Caring.com for senior care providers. Start with the top three to four of the following established local directories:

Best Practices for Managing Online Reviews

  • Make it easy. Send your clients a list of three specific sites on which you’d like them to post a review, making sure to link to the exact URL.
  • Never pay for reviews. As previously mentioned, don’t take shortcuts like using automated methods or paid reviews. Giving clients a gift or discount for their time, however, is fine.
  • Go beyond your client list. One way to increase your review volume is to request reviews from prospects, associates, and other business contacts. People don’t have to pay for your products or services to have an opinion or receive value from you. If you write a blog, your subscribers may be inclined to comment on the value your content has brought them.
  • Respond to both good and bad reviews. Make it a point to be engaged in your online reputation, commenting on and responding to reviews. Instead of trying to hide from or bury negative reviews, respond to the clients’ concerns and engage in a discussion. Many times, negative reviews result in more new business than positive ones!
  • Monitor your reviews. Use Google Alerts or a service like Review Trackers to monitor your online reviews.


Unless you run a funeral home, repeat business or customer renewals should be a cornerstone of your business and marketing plans. If you did no other marketing but launch a great customer renewals campaign, you’d likely see a dramatic increase in bottom line sales. Sometimes all your customers need is a gentle reminder that your business is right around the corner.

Whether your business has a very long sales cycle (tax accountant), or a very short one (coffee shop), it doesn’t take much to communicate with customers on a regular basis, prompting them to patronize your business just a tad more often.

Many businesses approach renewals way too late in the game, contacting customers right before their services expire, or worse yet, after. The better approach is to stay in contact often, adding value to your customers’ lives, maintaining your position of authority in their minds.

Reasons to Stay in Touch With Customers

  • Content: Just as with your nurture campaigns, your existing customers should be included in your email broadcast announcing new blog posts and videos, news, and other valuable content.
  • Birthdays: As mentioned, make it a point to capture your customers’ birthdays and send them a message, along with a gift or coupon as an expression of your gratitude for their business. These gifts aren’t expenses, they’re investments. For example, if a restaurant owner sends a coupon for a free birthday entrée, the customer will almost certainly bring one or more guests with her to the restaurant on her special night.
  • Service Reminders: Using email campaigns to trigger renewals or service reminders can have a huge impact on your business. A carpet cleaner could send out six-month cleaning notices, or a nail salon might remind you that it’s been two months since your last pedicure.
  • Surveys: Use a tool like Survey Monkey to perform customer surveys covering a range of topics, including key challenges and strategies, general client satisfaction, and other poll topics. You can even publish the results to participants or create a blog post using what you’ve learned.
  • Just Because: It’s important to stay in touch as a human being, reaching out just to see how your customer is doing, what’s new in his life, and whether or not he or she has any questions. This engagement will set you apart from your competitors and accomplish the prime goal of all marketing—establishing a bond between people.

KEY CONCEPT: Use Facebook to Reach Existing Customers

Your nurture campaigns can reach beyond your website and personal leads database. Social media sites like Facebook provide their own lead and customer nurturing ecosystems that can greatly enhance and supplement your email marketing efforts.

One great lead nurturing activity is to send messages to your Facebook fans and groups, following the same best practices listed in this chapter. You can place Facebook ads (https://www.facebook.com/advertising) targeted at only those who have “Liked” your business page. Here’s a powerful use for this:

 Offer an incentive to get your customers to like your page on Facebook. This can be done via electronic means (Web form or email) or in person (“Like us from your mobile phone for a free beer!”).

Place an ad for a special promotion targeting only your followers. For example, if you’re doing a Taco Tuesday special in your restaurant, you can place a display ad targeting only your followers within a specified distance from your business.


Like a blog article, video, or online ad, your emails should be written with the online copywriting funnel in mind (Chapter 11). Use attention-grabbing headlines, engaging copy, and calls to action in every email message you send. Also, remember to be personal and concise with a basic format/structure, to contact regularly (once a week), to request permission from clients to be on your list, and to avoid spam filters by not including “spammy” keywords and links to questionable sites.


Your email marketing tool of choice should provide metrics related to each campaign and broadcast you send. The main metrics you want to pay attention to are:

  • Open rate: the number/percentage of recipients who opened the email (this is a rough number, as some email opens won’t be tracked based on the recipients’ html settings). Aim for an open rate of 20 to 30 percent.
  • Click-through rates: the number/percentage of the recipients who clicked on the link in your email. A good click-through rate is 8 to 15 percent.
  • Bounce rate: the number/percentage of emails that bounced or failed to arrive in the recipients’ inboxes. Shoot for a bounce rate of less than 2 percent.
  • Unsubscribes: the number/percentage of recipients who opted out of your email campaign. You shouldn’t get more than 1 percent unsubscribes.
  • Complaints: the number/percentage of recipients who marked your message as spam. Aim for zero complaints.

Once you’ve sent your first few email campaigns, you should start testing different subject lines, messages, offers, and sending times, always trying to beat your best open and click-through rates.


For more on email marketing tips and best practices, check out:


In the end, marketing success is graded on a pass or fail system: either dollars came in or they didn’t. By implementing a clearly defined intake process for “hot leads” and setting up nurture campaigns for leads and customers, you’ll close the loop on your marketing systems, resulting in a growing and self-sustaining ecosystem of new referrals, reviews, and renewals.


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