Lead Nurturing vs. Marketing Automation: What's the Difference?

Marketing lingo is always changing.

For the most part, no one cares. But, when you start trying to communicate complex strategies, and the value of different tools to the higher-ups, speaking the right language is critical.

Two terms that are often bandied about as synonymous are marketing automation and lead nurturing.

They are not the same.

Each has its place and purpose. And, while they work closely together to achieve common objectives, they are distinct from each other. It’s not rocket science, but we’ll explain the differences between the two in this article, so you can understand better how to communicate the need and uses for each marketing method.

Lead Nurturing vs. Marketing Automation: What's the Difference?

The best lead nurturing campaigns rely on marketing automation to work properly and to be as effective as possible. But marketing automation can be used for many other marketing tasks aside from lead nurturing. Let’s take a look at this more closely...

What Is Marketing Automation?

Marketo describes marketing automation as using technology to automate marketing tasks to "increase operational efficiency.” That’s essentially what it is.

Consider every marketing task you would perform on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. If it is possible to program software to do that task automatically as well as you do manually, automating it releases the time-demand for the task. That means, you are more efficient and can spend your time on other things.

When it comes to lead nurturing, automation makes a lot of sense. Follow-up emails can be automated, for instance. But, there is more power to automation than just sending emails at specific times.

Lead lifecycle stage management is another area automation shines. You can label contacts according to their lifecycle stage (buyer journey stage) based on automated triggers. Whatever manual identifications you use to mark a qualified sales lead, for instance, can be added to a software and manually applied to contacts.

Automation does so much more, and is really relegated to the creative ways marketers find to replicate and automate their repetitive, manual tasks.

Some of the most common MA software providers are HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, and InfusionSoft. While it's theoretically possible to create automation exclusively through the use of low-cost or free marketing tools, we don't recommend it. Lean Labs previous "Wordpress Frankensystem" literally cost us whatever we saved in terms of time, energy and efficiency. Here are some common marketing automation capabilities that support lead nurturing:

  • Drip Email Campaigns: Instead of manually sending emails to each new prospect, drip campaigns will automatically send pre-written emails on your behalf.
  • Smart Notifications: Automated, timely prompts to team members for required manual actions.
  • Lead Scoring: Assign "seriousness of purchasing" scores based on specific actions taken.
  • Lead Assignment: Assign buy-ready leads to specific sales team members automatically.
  • Reconnaissance: Automate feedback retrieval for an agile learning process.

Most marketing automation software also includes analytics, a centralized lead database and the ability to segment your contacts. Some options will also include social media management, mobile campaign features, landing page creation and SEO planning tools.

What Is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing is the process of facilitating a contact’s buyer journey. In other words, you are helping them go from stranger to customer by assisting, educating, and prompting them toward the buying decision.

Lead nurturing is critical for almost any industry, and has been proven to drive 20% more sales opportunities.

Most of the time, lead nurturing is in reference to drip email campaigns, which are a series of emails that trigger based on a contacts demographics or action they’ve taken.

For instance, when a new contact is added to our database, they are immediately enrolled in what we call an indoctrination series. This series welcomes them to our community, and gives them an idea of how to get the most out of Lean Labs. We start telling our story, and set expectations of what the future holds as long as they remain a contact.

After the indoctrination series is done, we have many more series that a contact can be enrolled in depending on their contact record, their actions on our website, their lead score, and so on.

Lead nurturing is not relegated to just email marketing, though. Retargeted ads can also be used for lead nurturing. SMS, Facebook Messenger, and many other channels can be utilized for lead nurturing. And, most of them can be automated!

A Powerful Combination

Lead nurturing, in conjunction with marketing automation, saves time and produces superior results. Ultimately, targeted messaging is one of the most critical aspects of a successful marketing program. Send the right message, at the right time, and you will get results.

With that said, creating an effective lead nurturing campaign takes time, and is ultimately a process of iterative optimization. So, don't fret when creating content and setting up automated triggers for each phase takes a little longer than you thought it would. And, don’t get discouraged when you notice one piece or another isn’t performing as well as you expected.

That’s all part of it.

The tools you use can make all the difference. At Lean Labs, we prefer HubSpot, which is an expensive but powerful marketing tool. And, if you’re interested in buying HubSpot, we can show you how to save up to 60% off in your first year. 

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