3-2-1 Nurturing Technique for Lead Generation

  |  December 5, 2013   |  Comments

It's common for marketers to find themselves struggling for relevance because they don't know the buyer's stage. The 3-2-1 technique is used to help marketers quickly and easily identify a buyer's stage when that information is otherwise unknown.

shutterstock-154962107The case for stage-based marketing has been proven by many of us in the marketing profession, and I've even written a few articles to further this point. Let's take this one step further into stage-based marketing and talk about some practical applications of this stage based marketing approach.

A common scenario most marketers find themselves in is how to be relevant to a buyer's stage when you don't know their stage.

This is the case when a marketer comes back from a trade show with a .csv list, for example, or is given a cold database with out any behavioral information. The 3-2-1 theory is a technique used to solve this issue by helping us to quickly and easily identify a buyer's stage.

The Basic Premise 3-2-1 Nurturing for Lead Generation

Before we dig too deep into the theory, let's lay the groundwork. In my previous articles, we have defined the buyers' journey to three stages of engagement while in marketing's control. It is our goal to identify a buyer's stage so we can be as relevant as possible with our campaign to increase our odds of engagement to its highest possible outcome.

When listing out the stages, you should know two things: the value of a lead in each stage, and the time you have to engage before those leads are sales ready.


In looking at the image of the typical sales funnel, you will always notice the top of the funnel is the largest, and the furthest away from sale. This means leads within this stage are the least sales ready, and hence less valuable to the organization at the current time than leads further along in the funnel. This would suggest leads in stage 3 are the most valuable to us at the current time, and also likely to have the smallest window of engagement left. This is the basic premise of the 3-2-1 technique.

The 3-2-1 Engagement Technique

The 3-2-1 technique is based on the idea of limited engagement time. If we understand the closer a lead is to sales-ready, the less time we will have to engage with them, then we should look to approach these leads first.

Failure to do so will result in us waiting a period of time, in which those leads will already have passed us by. This is why the technique is called "3-2-1," because our first engagement is going to be directed to the stage with the highest value, and the least amount of time to derive that value.

To begin, you will be marketing to the entire database, with a hyper-targeted email to stage three prospects. It will have a subject line tailored to stage three prospects, and content for stage three as well. It will not have any other content for any other stage. We will then wait a period of time before sending a second email targeted to stage 2 prospects, following the same guidelines, and finally a third email to stage 1.

Repeat this set as many times as desired. You will then repeat this "Set" of emails for as many times as you feel is necessary, until the data from reactions allows you to identify the different stages.

Logic Proves This to be True

The 3-2-1 technique is based in game theory. The theory helps us understand why the 3-2-1 technique will start marketing to prospects in stage 3 first, stage 2 second, and stage one 1 last.

Remember, your outcomes can be proven with math in this situation, because you are trying to optimize for a specific outcome with a given set of parameters. This is a simple exercise of optimizing outcomes. To play the game theory out, see the scenarios below. You can do one of the following, but only one, so which one will drive the highest return?

Scenario 1: You can send an email to everyone in the database, using a generic subject line and 3 different call to actions to help you identify each persons stage.

Scenario 2: You send an email to everyone but make the subject line specific to stage one. Your call to action is tailored to stage 1. This ignores stage 2 and 3 prospects, but is highly engaging to stage 1 prospects.

Scenario 3: You send an email to everyone, but make the subject line specific to stage two. Your call to action is tailored to stage 2. This ignores stage 1 and 3 prospects, but is highly engaging to stage 2 prospects.

Scenario 4: You send an email to everyone, but tailor the subject line to stage three prospects. Your call to action is tailored to stage 3. This ignores stage 1 and 2 prospects, but is highly engaging to stage 3 prospects.

The logic works out to say the following: focus your efforts where the highest returns are possible, in the shortest amount of time.

The highest return will come from marketing to the demographic who is the most valuable, and is likely to convert in the shortest time frame. These are time sensitive as well, so identifying them first is critical. If you do not, you run the risk of losing your most valuable assets. Your second highest value will be identifying stage two prospects so you can move them into a stage three state, and then stage one. The equation to support this is below.

Putting the 3-2-1 Lead Nurturing Technique to Use

To put this this lead nurturing technique to use you'll need a few things:

  1. A cold database: A .CSV file from a trade show, or a new list are good use cases for this technique. 
  2. Three email templates: These must be built using correct lead nurturing email techniques. I talk about how to do this in this previous article. 
  3. A nurturing program: Example of this below.

You'll take your given segment and put them all on the same nurturing program. The program will look like the following example program.


Taking It to the Next Level:

You can take this to the next level by simply repeating the set multiple times. You can also add a layer of complexity to your nurturing program by removing people from the 3-2-1 program once they have engaged, then nurturing their stage of interest until they are ready to move to the next stage.

Have you use the 3-2-1 technique? Share any questions or comments below!

Title image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Mathew Sweezey

Mathew is the head of thought leadership for B2B marketing at Pardot, a Company. A consummate writer, he has been featured in numerous publications such as Marketing Automation Times, DemandGen Report, Marketing Sherpa, ZDNet, and is the author of Marketing Automation for Dummies (published by Wiley February 2014). As a speaker Mathew speaks around the world at events such as Conversion Conference, Dreamforce, SugarCon, and to companies including Microsoft, Investec, NetJets, and, to name a few.

Follow @msweezey.

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