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Mastering Long-Term Nurture Workflows in HubSpot

Adam Zabinsky
Long-term nurture workflows are contact sequences designed to run over a long period of time. This workflow helps to maintain touch with leads that have failed to progress through the buyer’s journey or were ultimately closed-lost.

Why are long-term nurture workflows valuable?

Lots of attention and resources are put into generating new leads, and a growing amount of attention and resources are (wisely) being put into customer retention and upselling.

However, existing leads that didn’t convert early on are often left behind and forgotten. These in-limbo leads can be an excellent source of new revenue, and failing to effectively engage them is a huge missed opportunity.

People tend to get excited about whatever shiny new toy comes their way, often to the detriment of their strategy. Hence the focus on always generating net new leads. While it’s essential to generate new leads, many companies have hundreds — if not thousands — of leads in their database that never made it to the end of the funnel.

Leads waiting

Many of these leads were high quality, but for they simply didn’t convert. There could be many reasons why they went dormant, including:

  • They were not ready to make a purchase at that time due to budget.
  • They were not ready to make a purchase at that time due to timing (too busy, etc.).
  • They chose a competitor’s solution.
  • They decided to come up with an in-house solution.
  • They fell through the cracks and were never reached out to.
  • They needed a feature or functionality that wasn’t yet available.
  • They went on leave.
  • They didn’t have decision-making authority.
  • They weren’t nurtured enough and went to sales too quickly.
  • They were locked into an existing contract.
  • There was a change in leadership and vision.

None of these scenarios rule the company out with it comes to becoming a new customer — a dormant lead isn’t dead. With the right type of long-term nurture workflow applied, many of them could resume their buyer’s journey.

Benefits of long-term nurture workflows

There are several advantages to implementing long-term nurture workflows, some of which might not be as obvious as others, but still hold significant value. These include:

  • More Customers: Obviously, this is the most straightforward of the bunch. Even if you are only able to convert a very small percentage of dormant leads, that’s still more than you would have otherwise.
  • Better ROI: The beauty of long-term nurture workflows is that they require very little work. The hard and expensive part — generating the lead — is already done. Some upfront effort is needed to set up the workflows and sequences, and the manual elements for close-lost leads and SQLs will necessitate some manpower. But otherwise, it’s pretty much automatic.
  • Built-In Information: One of the most difficult parts of lead nurturing involves gathering enough background information to convincingly pitch them. In this case, that info is already in place. These leads have either already engaged and provided much of that information (closed-lost leads or SQLs) or they have interacted enough to provide the sales team some decent background information -- Marketing Qualified Leads (or, MQLs).
  • Improved Marketing Performance: The more data that can be acquired from automation, the more insights there are to optimize in the future. Long-term nurture workflows enable companies to see what types of emails, content, and offers are connecting the most with their leads and update accordingly.
  • Enhanced Marketing-Sales Alignment: Long-term nurture workflows can support the relationship between marketing and sales in several ways, including:
    • Facilitating collaboration on lifecycle stage definitions and lead scoring.
    • Demonstrating that leads brought in by marketing have residual value, even if they don’t immediately convert to customers.
    • Supplying sales with quality leads that may have been ignored or dismissed.
    • Giving confidence to marketing that sales is actively pursuing leads they provide.

Implementing a long-term nurture workflow

This is where CRMs and marketing automation platforms like HubSpot (or Marketo, SalesForce, etc.) come into play. It's also a juncture at which marketing-sales alignment plays a huge role. A wide range of factors must be considered when determining the strategy and structure of your long-term nurture workflows. 

What a scalable workflow solution looks like

It starts with a robust lead processing system. Marketing and sales will need to come up with workable definitions for each lifecycle stage, then work together to establish guidelines for lead scoring. Once the lifecycle stages and lead scores are set, they should be assigned to all existing leads in the database.

email workflows

At that point, we recommend segmenting the database into four categories for the purposes of building long-term nurture workflows:

  • Closed-lost leads
  • Dormant SQLs (as defined by sales team, but 3 months of inactivity is a good benchmark)
  • Dormant MQLs (as defined by marketing team, but 3 months of inactivity is a good benchmark)
  • Dormant non-qualified leads

Closed-lost leads are often overlooked, but can still pay huge dividends. Of course, this relies on the sales team, who will need to mark a deal as closed-lost in HubSpot and maintaining the contact record with notes. That way, there is visibility into why they wound up being lost.

Closed-lost leads should be dealt with outside the traditional long-term nurture workflow — Instead, they should be handled manually. A six-month cadence makes sense for most closed-lost leads, but this should ultimately be determined by the sales team. A notification should be set up in HubSpot to alert the sales rep that worked with the lead that it’s time to follow-up and check in.

The outreach should be customized based on why the deal was lost. Closed-lost deals that went poorly should either be sent to a different sales rep or not followed up with at all.

Dormant Sales Qualified Leads can easily be forgotten, especially when things are good and business is swift. But, forgetting stalled SQLs can result in a missed conversion opportunity, and (not unlike this terrifying and adorable cat) this lead may still want your attention. The best way to handle dormant SQLs is with an automated workflow that incorporates periodic manual check-ins from the sales team. 

A sample sequence would be as follows:
A monthly automated email featuring a piece of valuable content (blog post, content offer, etc.) or a product/company update (sales flyer, press release, etc.). These monthly emails should be interspersed with quarterly manual emails from the sales rep designed to keep in touch.

Once the dormant SQL takes specific predetermined actions — such as returning to the website, clicking through the email, replying to the email, etc — then they would be removed from the automated long-term nurture and to be manually contacted by the rep.

Dormant Marketing Qualified Leads, like all MQLs, should already be a part of short-term nurture workflows — no matter whether it’s a post-downloading workflow from a content offer or an auto-responder that comes from a contact or quote form. Every MQL should get some sort of follow-up after entering the database.

The trickier part — and the part where most companies fall short — is in staying in touch with MQLs after these short-term workflows are over. If they haven’t proceeded to SQL status by the end of the short-term workflow, they are typically ignored and sometimes never touched again. This is a blown opportunity.

We recommend handling a dormant MQL in a fully automated fashion. A sample workflow would be sent bi-monthly and be something similar to this:

Email 1: Link to the resources section inviting them to check out all content offers
Email 2: Link to the blog section inviting them to check out all blog posts
Email 3: Invitation to join a social media group or follow us on social
Email 4: Incentive offer of some sort (free trial offer, free consultation, free sample, etc.)
Email 5: Nudge to request a quote, product information, etc.

Once the dormant MQL takes specific predetermined actions and gets scored as an SQL, they should move on to the sales team for manual follow-up. If they remain dormant after these five emails, they get put back into the next set of emails.

Dormant Non-Qualified Leads should be reviewed by members of your sales and marketing teams. The first step in dealing with all unqualified leads is to determine whether they even belong in the contact database to begin with. If not, they should be labeled “unqualified” and should not receive any correspondence from the company.

There may be instances, however, where a lead is not deemed an MQL, but might be from an industry that could be targeted at a later date. In those instances, the lead still has long-term value and should receive email blasts concerning major company news or updates.

Most dormant non-qualified leads should be kept in your HubSpot database, but not included in any automated long-term nurture workflows designed to move them toward the point-of-sale.

attentionBasically, long-term nurture workflows allow you to give attention to leads that need it, and keep in touch with prospects who may re-engage.

These sequences present marketers and sales teams with the opportunity to meet potential customers wherever they may be on their buyer's journey. At the very least, they offer a relatively simple way to maintain a line of branded communication between buyers in your space and your company.

Once you've established your long-term nurture workflow strategy, it's time to focus on the actual copy. Check out our 6 tips for stellar nurture emails.
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