When it comes to nurturing leads, there’s no better bang for your buck than email autoresponders. They’re the most effective way to build rapport with leads and organically nurture them through the sales process.
Here are a few stats that demonstrate just how beneficial email autoresponders can be for nurturing leads and generating sales:
- Companies that use email to nurture leads generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. (Forrester Research)
- Nurtured leads produce a 20% average increase in sales opportunities compared to non-nurtured leads. (Forrester Research)
- For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average ROI is $44.25. (Campaign Monitor)
Email marketing is unique because it provides a simple way to automate interactions with leads and prospects that builds rapport and establishes your company as a trusted authority in your industry—without having to invest a lot of time in the process. Over time, you can optimize your autoresponders for conversions and create branches for customer segments to make them more effective.
In this article, we’ll break down what an email autoresponder is, how they can help almost any business with a digital presence, and go over some of the best practices to keep in mind when crafting your first email autoresponder sequence.
What Is an Autoresponder and Why Should You Use One?
First, let’s cover the basics: An email autoresponder is a tool that you can use to send automated, scheduled emails to a select group (or several different groups) of subscribers. These messages are scheduled in advance and go out automatically to your leads at set intervals.
There are many different types and styles of autoresponders that are used in email marketing. For our purposes, we’ll focus on autoresponders for lead nurturing. Lead nurturing autoresponders are typically delivered to new email subscribers when they first subscribe to your list. Messages can be delivered for several weeks or go on indefinitely, depending on your goals.
Autoresponders are particularly effective because they allow for advanced personalization. You can input data that you have for each subscriber, including their name, industry, or other information you collected during the subscription process.
According to a study by Episerver, 92% of first-time visitors to your website have no intention of buying anything. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. You can’t expect a new visitor to be intent on buying when they know nothing about your company and product.
That’s where lead nurturing comes in handy.
Using lead magnets like eBooks, white papers, case studies, or other resources to capture lead information from your visitors gives you the opportunity to continually send marketing messaging to visitors that otherwise would have left your website, never to be heard from again. The process of walking a new subscriber from uninterested lead into paying customer is known as “lead nurturing.”
In short, lead nurturing is all about developing relationships with your buyers and walking them through the buyer’s journey. According to Annuitas, nurtured leads aren’t just more inclined to buy; they also make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.
Email autoresponders have become a popular option for lead nurturing because of their effectiveness and hands-off nature. Although autoresponders can be scheduled and sent out en masse, they provide a more personal one-on-one style of communication that allow companies to develop their relationships with customers without a high-touch nurturing experience from your sales and marketing teams.
The typical nurturing process walks your leads through the buyer’s journey, moving them deeper into your sales funnel and catering the content delivered to the specific stage that a prospect is in at a given time:
- Awareness Stage: The beginning stage. In the informational stage, prospects are simply interested in receiving more information about your company, product, and industry. They want to learn more about how your product can help them solve their problems. During this stage, it’s important that your autoresponder conveys that you understand their pain points and subtly positions your product as a solution to those pains.
- Consideration Stage: In the evaluation and consideration stage, you’ve identified a pain point and your leads are transitioning into researching the different options that you provide to address that pain point. By now they should have a solid understanding of your company and product and are moving toward being ready to buy. During this stage, your goal is to position your product as the best fitting solution to the problems they are looking to solve.
- Decision Stage: In the decision stage, the lead is aware of the problem that they’re experiencing and knows that your product can help them to solve it. Now they’re conducting broader industry research to ensure that your solution is truly the best option for them and inching their way toward the buying decision.
A carefully planned autoresponder campaign will gently walk your leads through these stages while endearing them to your company. A properly nurtured lead will not only identify your solution as the best fit for their problem but will also have developed an affinity for your brand as a whole.
Now that we have an understanding of what an autoresponder is and how it can help any company to facilitate more sales and develop deeper relationships with prospects, let’s dig into the nuts and bolts of what makes for an effective email autoresponder.
How to Create an Effective Lead Nurturing Email Autoresponder
As with all forms of copywriting and marketing messaging, there are some best practices that you should follow when crafting an autoresponder. Your typical autoresponder campaign is between 5 and 15 emails with a specific goal. One autoresponder may be followed by another, going on indefinitely until the sale is secured. Additionally, marketing automation software can allow you to schedule autoresponder campaigns based on the actions that the lead takes throughout your engagement.
As you begin to put together an outline for your first email autoresponder series, keep these best practices in mind:
Define a Goal for the Autoresponder
Every autoresponder campaign you deliver should have a defined singular goal for the campaign as a whole. That isn’t to say that each campaign needs to be laser-focused on only that goal. If your ultimate goal is to convince your leads to buy your product, the nurturing process itself provides other benefits like building rapport and growing brand awareness. But your autoresponder needs to have a main goal. In an email series with the goal of nurturing leads toward the buying decision, you want to craft each email to walk your prospects through the three stages we outlined earlier.
You should have a defined goal for the autoresponder as a whole, as well as each individual email in the sequence. Your overall goal might be to nurture your leads toward making a purchase, but an individual email might have a goal to endear them to your company, position your product as a solution to a pain point, or educate leads on an industry topic.
Identify Questions, Needs, and Goals for Your Audience
Lead nurturing autoresponder sequences are only effective when they answer the questions that your audience has while speaking to their most concerning pain points. Before you can begin crafting your autoresponder messages, you have to identify the most pertinent topics to touch on throughout the sequence.
Use the information that you have on hand to determine the topics that will be most relevant to new leads. What kind of questions do visitors typically ask through email? What are the biggest concerns that new customers have about your product? What features are typically requested by new customers? What do they want to achieve in using your product? These are all good questions for identifying topics that will resonate with new leads.
Be careful not to rely only on your own interactions, either. Doing so could keep you from discovering new opportunities and segments that would be worthwhile and profitable. Dive into industry communities and hangouts to better understand the motivations and concerns of your intended audience.
Choose the Types of Content You’ll Deliver
Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to text throughout the process. As you begin to deliver content to new leads, be creative. While it might seem easiest to limit yourself to email and text, branching out into other forms of media can help to develop more personal connections with prospects.
Other types of media that you can deliver through email autoresponders include:
- Videos and webinars. Videos may be the most personal way to connect with prospects but it does require more effort to produce professional-quality videos. Even just getting in front of the camera and delivering your message in a one-on-one speaking style can be a great way to break up the monotony of an email sequence and deliver the same information in a different way.
- White papers and case studies. White papers can be a great choice during the informational stage of the buyer’s journey. You can use white papers to explain complicated industry topics and help your leads to better understand your product. Case studies are effective content choices during the Evaluation and Consideration stages, showing prospects how you have been able to help similar companies achieve the results they’re hoping to emulate.
- Audio and podcasts. If you already produce a lot of content, repurposing that content for your email autoresponder series can be a great way to increase the value that you provide. Audio and podcasts are great for developing rapport and facilitating a more personal connection with prospects for many of the reasons that video does the same.
The content you deliver in your email autoresponder will ultimately be influenced by your goals for the series, the length of the autoresponder, and your overall strategy.
Focus on Delivering Value
One mistake that many companies make when crafting their first autoresponders is diving too quickly into the hard sell. A majority of the people that subscribe to your email list won’t be anywhere near ready to buy. While you eventually want to ask that your subscribers buy your product, you want to be careful not to do so until they have been properly nurtured and have built a connection with your company.
Instead, adhere carefully to the three buyer’s journey stages that were outlined earlier. Keep the focus on delivering value to your subscribers. At first, the messages you deliver should be broader: information about your company, industry, and category. As your sequence goes on, your information should become more specific to your solution and how it can help your prospects solve their problems and reach their goals.
When you have a great product, you should have no issues positioning it properly when the time comes. The hard part is developing relationships with your subscribers before that point. You want those that receive your autoresponder series to want to work with your company because they connect with you, beyond the benefits that your product provides.
Your job is to educate your prospects. You want to slow walk them through learning about your company, industry, and product and provide a broader context. All autoresponders include sales- and product-focused pieces, but the best autoresponders provide value outside of product information.
Outline Your Sequence
Before you can begin putting together your autoresponder series, you must have a plan in place. Going in blind isn’t going to produce good results. Your first step is to decide how long you want the sequence to be.
There are a number of factors that influence how long each autoresponder sequence should be. The price of your product is a big one. A product that costs $1,000 will take more nurturing than one that costs $100. Make sure that each email focuses on a specific topic that your research indicated would resonate with your audience.
Here’s an example outline for a basic seven-email autoresponder sequence for nurturing new leads:
- Email #1: Introduction email. Say, “Thank you” for subscribing and deliver any materials that were promised for signing up.
- Email #2: Develop a personal connection with your prospects. Explain information about your company and industry. Tease the topics and pain points you’ll cover in your autoresponder series.
- Email #3: Detail the specific pain point your product addresses. Provide facts and stats to back up your assertions. Begin building rapport by speaking to their biggest concerns.
- Email #4: Deliver more value pertaining to the topic. This is a great place to deliver a video, podcast, or white paper on the topic.
- Email #5: Introduce your product as a solution to the pain point you’ve been discussing, but keep things educational. Speak to the topics and don’t place too much focus on your product, but plant the seed.
- Email #6: Compare your solution to other options and positioning your product as the superior choice.
- Email #7: The hard sell. Ask for the buy.
This is just an example, but one that shows the basic approach of beginning with informational topics and slowly transitioning to ask for the buy as you begin to develop a relationship with your prospects.
Create Sequences for Different Segments
The pain points and concerns of one segment won’t always align with those of another. A VP of Marketing has different concerns than a Chief Technical Officer—but both might have a legitimate interest in your product as a solution to their problems.
As you begin to roll out your autoresponder sequences and collect data, consider creating branches of your autoresponder that appeal to specific segments and speak to their concerns. Marketing automation software can help you to deliver a different autoresponder to different segments and increase your conversion rate in the process.
Test and Optimize
Like any landing page, your autoresponders aren’t going to be at their best the moment that you click the Publish button. Over time, you should test changes to the autoresponder sequence and compare the results to previous versions. You’ll find strategies and phrases that appeal to your audience and be able to use those same techniques in other marketing materials as well. Optimization is important for getting as much as you can out of your autoresponder and keeping your lead pipeline filled with nurtured leads.
Autoresponders Save Time while Generating More Sales
Email autoresponders are the ultimate tool for nurturing prospects. Using them to educate your prospects and leads on your company, product, and industry can help you to develop relationships while walking them through the buyer’s journey toward buying your product. High-touch nurturing processes are effective but costly. Autoresponders require an initial time investment but provide a foundation for all future nurturing endeavors.