Getting Lead Generation Right

I do a lot of work with “lead gen” (lead generation for the uninitiated) clients. Lead generation is really its own discipline. In this space, a conversion is not a sales transaction and therefore is more the end of one process and the beginning of a potentially lengthy next process before a prospect becomes a customer. I love lead gen work. I love working to find ways to hit that sweet spot that makes a person willing to surrender some personal information in exchange for something we have made them feel is valuable enough. I love being able to improve those completion rate numbers by massaging the messaging and the actual forms.

But, man is a lot of lead gen executed terribly. It seems like there is very little, if any, thought about the process from the prospect’s perspective. SO MANY lead generation pages, and particularly forms, are designed to get what the business wants from the prospect as quickly as possible. And it’s a shame because the ultimate conversion numbers could be a lot stronger, I think, if more businesses were willing to get less and give more in the early stages of customer wooing.

How Bad Is It, Really?

In some instances it really is pretty good. Forms are short and sweet, especially if the expectation is that a person will complete it on a mobile device. Minimal information is required in exchange for the first goodie. Perhaps only name and email. That threshold for most people is pretty low these days and often just expected. But have you seen in your own experience or worse, when you audit a new client’s landing pages, something that looks like this:

White Paper Form 1

This one is not even that bad, but it begins to illustrate my point. The three required questions, I would predict, seriously impact the form completion rate. From the business’ side, I completely understand why questions like these end up on lead gen forms. I have been in many, many meeting where clients insist that they absolutely, positively must have this information about any potential lead. Except, that they don’t NEED it. They want it and would prefer to have it to be able to pre-catergorize potential leads, but it is not a critical need to begin a conversation with a lead or to allow that lead to download an information resource.

Too often, businesses want to skip directly to what really should be more like the third or fourth interaction right from the jump by asking for this type of information in the initial form. Remember that one of the things people like most about today’s world is that they can research products and services on their own WITHOUT A SALES PERSON until they are actually ready to talk with a company representative. Businesses that understand this dynamic and work with it instead of fighting against it tend to have more success in their online lead generation programs.

Why Does This Happen?

Initial forms have fields added to them for many different specific reasons, but they tend to fall into several categories, in my experience. Let’s get right into the client reasons for doing this/objections to not doing it and some ideas for how to redirect them onto a better path:

Statement #1: All leads need to be qualified so we are not wasting our time following up on garbage and wasting time doing it.

Rebuttal #1: Yes, part of our goals as online marketers should absolutely be to produce the most quality, and when possible qualified, leads to our clients. But there are better ways of doing it than making forms unnecessarily long. And, sorry sales people but part of your job is to qualify leads and nurture them down the path to purchase.

Statement #2: We only want to work with (fill in the blank with all the qualifiers in the extraneous form questions).

Rebuttal #2: Then we should craft strategy and messaging that is geared toward that profile and be deliberate in doing it. Help prospects to self select by providing enough information to let them know if your solution is definitely not an answer to their particular problem.

Statement #3: Well, if they are actually a potential customer who is really interested they won’t mind filling out the full form.

Rebuttal #3: How high of a bar to you want to set for a first interaction? What is reasonable from a potential customer’s point of view to provide in exchange for what you are offering them at this stage?

How Can We Help Clients Do This Better?

Step one is to have a serious conversation about just what, exactly, the lead generation form is supposed to be capturing. This might seem like too basic of a question, but it is really important because so often we see a gigantic disconnect between what the stated goal of the form is and the way that the form is designed. For example, if the stated goal is to capture basic contact information from people who are interested in a white paper’s topic, then the form associated with the landing page should be very, very short.

If you have a client that is open to doing things differently, then there is hope! One of the best ways to inspire confidence in suggested changes is if you can back up your assertions with hard numbers. If you have not tackled this particular issue with a client, those numbers will have to be taken from work you have done for other clients where you made changes to the length of lead gen forms and what the positive end result was for the other client. Sometimes a client will dig their heels in and just say no to trimming the forms, but if you give them an example like this (which are real numbers from one of our clients):

Significant changes to the lead gen form, including:

  • Removing the Position Title field
  • Removing Address fields and replacing with just a State field
  • Removing 2 qualifying questions (similar to the ones in the example form above)
  • Not requiring the Company Name

We increased overall form submission rates by 50%. That’s right – 50% increase in form completions. What client wouldn’t be happy about that? For this client changes to the form were made incrementally – first removing the Position Title field which increased completions. Once they saw that little bump, we then made the other changes listed one by one to reach the shorter form version and the significantly increased completion rate.

Some Tactics To Try

I like to provide actionable items so here are a couple of great places to start:

Competitive Research

I love to start by showing clients what their top online competitors are doing. This can be a fantastic conversation starter as you will most likely see the good, the bad and even the ugly as you review competitor landing pages! By showing clients what their potential customers are likely to see as they go through their process, you can begin to help them formulate a lead gen experience that better meets those prospects’ needs.

Analytics Analysis

Digging deeper into how site visitors are behaving on pages with lead gen forms is also really helpful in warming clients up to the idea of doing things a little differently. Go beyond simple bounce rates or new visitors and look at page paths for different types of visitors. Look for patterns of behavior that you can use to better define how your lead generation process should look to get better completion rates.

What are your favorite lead generation tactics? What kind of resistance have you encountered when trying to help clients nail this process? As always, sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon). I love to hear about others’ experiences!


  1. I have a 4th statement: “Our CRM won’t let us create a lead without all these fields.” We hear this DAILY from clients. My response is usually “Well, your CRM isn’t set up correctly.” If your first step in lead gen is to move soft leads to a nurture program, then you absolutely do not need 10 fields to qualify the lead. Just get their name and email address and put them into nurture. Add a check box to the field that says “Please have someone contact me immediately” so you can filter out the hot leads. That’s it. A CRM is supposed to help your sales team follow up on leads – not discourage leads in the first place. Great post as usual, Julie!

    • Neptune Moon says:

      Yes on the CRM! Good lord that drives me insane too.

      I knew this post would be right up your alley as we have talked about these things a number of times.

  2. Agree for B2B. Especially about checking out the competition when they have (hopefully) spent a lot of time and money optimising their forms already.

    For some lower value B2C lead gen stuff though, there are *so* many time wasters out there that I’m pretty sure it isn’t always the best policy to ask for the absolute minimum info… (sometimes…)..


  1. […] Getting Lead Generation Right: Check out this post and walk away feeling ready to improve all of your clients’ lead gen forms! […]

  2. […] If your client is insisting on having a few too many fields on the landing page, here’s a great article to help. […]

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