Lead Nurturing 101 for Online Educators

How should you be following up with marketing leads via email?

If you’re like many online educators, you probably feel pretty confident in the content and quality of your course. After all, this is what inspired you to begin your elearning adventure in the first place.

However, many online educators are less confident when it comes to selling their course. And it doesn’t help that many of us use industry terminology that may or may not be familiar to those trying to learn the basics of sales and marketing. So, for this post, we’re going to take a step back and look at one of the basics: lead acquisition and nurturing.

1. What is a lead, anyway?

A lead is anyone who might be interested in taking your course. In some cases, the leads you attract will be your exact target audience. They’ll have the time, the motivation, and the budget not just to take your course, but to become engaged members of your community who stick around for more classes and may even spread the word about your program to their network of friends, family, and coworkers.

At other times, your lead won’t be such a good match. Maybe they have the time and budget, but aren’t interested. Or maybe they want to take your course… but not right away. Or maybe they have the potential of a good lead, but they’re not a good fit for your brand.

The goal of your marketing should be twofold: first, to attract the right kind of leads, and second, to filter out the lower-quality leads so that you don’t waste time trying to market to people who are never going to become customers.

2. What does it mean to “qualify” leads?

Qualifying leads is what it means to filter out the promising customers from the ones who aren’t a good fit. And bear in mind, someone might be the wrong fit for your course for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re trying to pitch your IT course to professionals with a decade of experience, but you keep attracting learners who struggle to connect to WiFi. There’s nothing wrong with those leads (in fact, it sounds like they could use a class!), but they aren’t the ones you wrote your course for.

Or, it’s possible that you’re trying to reach individual learners who are ready to drop a couple hundred dollars for your program, but instead you’re hearing from the HR department of a major corporation who will require more time and resources than you have to fully satisfy their requirements. Qualifying goes both ways, and this case, you’re the one without qualifications.

The point is: you want to do your best to ensure that the people who come your way are going to benefit from your course as much as you will benefit from their business. No one will be helped if you put a lot of effort into pressuring people who aren’t a good fit into taking your course. Focus on enthusiastic learners, and you’ll build a much healthier community for everyone.

3. How do you keep track of your leads?

It’s all well and good to talk about best practices when it comes to lead acquisition and nurturing, but how are you supposed to turn a visitor to your website into a lead anyway? A visitor can spend hours reading through the content on your website, but until they do something to reach out and make contact, it will be hard for you to bring them along.

One simple way is through email marketing. You offer your visitor some compelling reason to give you their email address—say, by asking them to sign up to your newsletter—and if they do that, you have their email and you can now contact them. However, now that you’ve acquired that lead, you have to be careful not to drive that person away through aggressive marketing or email spam.

4. Should you email potential learners directly, or as part of a list?

Generally speaking, there are two ways to respond to leads once they’ve submitted their email through one of your online forms. The first is through a series of direct emails, and the second is as part of a marketing list, such as a newsletter.

Newsletters are a long-term lead nurturing strategy. You shouldn’t ever add someone to your newsletter by default, but they are a great, low-pressure way to stay front of mind with interested learners. So long as a lead voluntarily signs up for your newsletter, you can continue to email them indefinitely.

Direct emails work well for new contacts. Essentially, this is a way for you to follow up with them—thank them for signing up for your newsletter or downloading your infographic or whatever it is they’ve done that left you with their contact information. If they respond, you can send them more information right away, and it may be that they quickly convert from leads to learners. However, if they don’t respond, then you might want to wait a few days before emailing them again.

5. How many should you email a potential learner before you back off?

Again, this is only for direct mail (newsletters are for as long as they remain subscribed). In a direct email campaign, I usually draw the limit between three and six emails. If you send three emails spread out over a month (one within the first day, the second a week later, the third a month later), you’re maintaining a connection without being too aggressive.

However, there are some situations where you might not be being forward enough. It’s easy for people to get busy, and in that case, you want to make sure you stick around long enough for them to act on your emails. A six-email campaign might contact a learner three or four times in the first month, then drop off to just once a month after that, with maybe a couple month’s gap before the final email.

Even in this circumstance, you can reach out every few months to see if they’re still interested (until they asked to be removed from your email list). The important thing is not to email them every week forever if they haven’t signed up to be on your mailing list.

6. What does all this stuff about “asking permission” and GDPR mean?

As you might have gathered from the previous point, a lot of lead nurturing involves working with your leads to understand how much they want to hear from you. Sometimes this is through indirect signals (are they opening your emails?). However, most of the time you want to be explicitly looking for permission. This is as simple as telling a lead that, if they sign up for your newsletter, they should expect to receive the newsletter they asked for, and maybe the occasional marketing email. Then you have to deliver what you said—and nothing more.

In some cases, abusing this system can have legal consequences. You may have heard of the regulations passed in the European Union lately, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This mostly applies to large tech companies who are gathering lots of user data to ensure they aren’t abusing that information, and there are some exemptions for marketing purposes. However, the bulk of it relies on principles of informed consent: that when someone gives you their personal information, they expect you to protect that information, not to sell it or distribute it needlessly to third parties, and not to use that information in ways they did not agree to and do not benefit them.

LearnDash is GDPR compliant, and while the entire issue can get very technical, the crux of it for most users is simply: if you’re putting your learners and their needs first, you’re almost certainly on the right side of the compliance issue.

Lead nurturing is like building a relationship.

The relationship you have with your learners is just that: a relationship. And for that relationship to remain healthy, you need to both demonstrate enough value to your learners that they want to stick around, and also respect them enough to make sure that they aren’t getting bombarded with marketing materials they don’t want.

The best way to maintain a good relationship with your leads—and your learners—is to make sure they want to hear from you in the first place, then give them the control over how much they hear from you. It’s unlikely that a lead who feels pressured or manipulated into signing up for your course is going to have a positive experience. So remember: happy leads result in happy learners.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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