The more time I spend as an analyst, the more I dislike the term “best practice.” I think it is often misapplied. Let me explain.

What’s best practice for me may not be best practice for you. What may be best practice today is unlikely to be best practice tomorrow. And when you believe you’ve achieved a best practice, don’t be surprised when that victory proves fleeting because the definition of the best practice has evolved.

Best practices are not something you achieve – best practices are something you continually pursue. More importantly, don’t expect to go out and mimic someone else’s best practice and see the same results. It doesn’t work that way. What you can see and replicate is just part of the solution.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take inspiration from companies that are achieving great success, or advice from analysts who are in a unique position to observe and synthesize practices and trends across multiple companies and industries. But you must also reconcile what you learn with the situation you face and make the hard decisions on what is feasible in the near term and what will take longer to achieve.

It’s not good to tear down something as sacred as “best practice” without recommending an alternative, so let’s start with these options:

  • Accepted practices. If you’re truly in learning mode and being asked to do something new, you want to understand accepted practices, which I’ll define as tried-and-true practices that are generally advisable in almost all situations. They will help establish a starting point for your project and provide context for assessing what you need to do. For example, accepted practices for lead nurturing programs would include defining entry criteria, treatment options, transition signals and disposition paths for each nurture stream (vs., for example, entering all contacts into a universal drip email program). This will at least give you a framework for your initial nurture program.
  • Emerging practices. These practices are not yet widely accepted or even proven (except perhaps anecdotally), but they may make sense to test if you’re ready and able to execute. Emerging practices for nurture programs could include building recycled lead nurture programs triggered by sales actions deep in the waterfall; aligning nurture content, offers and messages to persona information needs; basing transition criteria on changes in buying cycle stage; and executing nurture program across multiple delivery vehicles (including email, direct mail, phone and even retargeting).  All of these are relatively new developments that could incrementally drive improvement in your nurture programs. Notice that I use the word “could,” because success ultimately depends on many related factors.
  • Recommended practices. This is where the real fun begins, and where I think advisory services like SiriusDecisions can be most useful. Armed with the knowledge of accepted and emerging practices, you must consider and evaluate each practice within the context of your unique environment and take into account internal and external factors that could impact performance. For example, poor data quality can hurt nurture programs, especially if the data elements used to determine entry criteria into the right program are sparsely populated. Persona-based treatment options in the nurture stream will be of limited value if have not yet figured out how to match contacts in your database to the right persona. Without strong adherence to service-level agreements, marketing may end up delivering nurtured leads to sales reps who are ill-equipped to act on them. I could go on, but I think you can see that many specialized situations are possible, and that the real value comes from carefully identifying and considering the opportunities, risks, dependencies and overall feasibility of taking certain actions. This is where analysts get really excited to help their clients: by helping you think through the variables, weigh the tradeoffs and identify a recommend set of actions that you are equipped to defend, measure (against a baseline), and adjust as needed.
  • So have patience, and recognize best practices for what they represent: the ongoing pursuit of intelligent growth. We can help you and provide guideposts on that journey, but ultimately your success is tied to the accepted and emerging practices you follow (or develop) and how you adjust them to drive the most value within your organization. Be the one who owns that pursuit, and take a moment to celebrate the results. Then set the bar higher, and do it again!