If you’ve invested in a company website, especially if it’s to be a core tool for generating new business, then you’ll want to ensure you’re doing all you can to grab every potential lead.
Being able to capture the contact details of your web traffic is likely to be top of your wish list, as without knowing who has visited it is very difficult to start working on turning them into a paying customer.
One very effective way to get hold of this information is to use intelligent digital tools, such as IP tracking software, that can identify and track the behaviour of B2B visitors even if they never make themselves known to you. And there are also other steps and mechanisms you can introduce within the website itself to try and collect contact details – the most popular being the use of forms.
So what are they?
Basically, a website form is a small questionnaire that will ask a visitor to provide their details (or other information) in exchange for something of value – i.e. something that they want. As websites have become more sophisticated, and marketing processes and web strategies have also evolved, forms now play many different roles and come in all shapes and sizes.
For example, they may be used for everything from making a payment on an ecommerce site, to registering to comment under an article. Commonly on a B2B lead generation website, a visitor will be encouraged to enter their details into a form to gain access to content they are interested in – like a downloadable advice guide or webinar – or to gain access to an otherwise hidden area of the website.
But it doesn’t end there. Forms are not only helpful for generating leads and finding out the identity of web visitors, they are also useful for helping you learn as much as possible as you can about them. By asking different things at different times, and analysing how leads behave, forms can help you put together a detailed profile. This can help with everything from qualifying a lead, to providing information that can ultimately be used to help nurture them on towards a sale.
While the theory behind using forms may be a simple one – encouraging visitors to share information in exchange for something they want – it can be surprisingly easy to get it wrong in practice.
So what do you need to think about to ensure you create a winning B2B website form? And what are the most common traps that you can fall into?
Asking too much upfront
The biggest mistake many B2B companies make is to ask too much upfront. They are so eager to make the sale, and have such fear of losing any good leads, that they come across as pushy. But online lead generation is a gradual process and cannot be rushed. It is about helping a lead to feel comfortable enough to give you their information. You’re looking to gain their trust but must also have something relevant and interesting to offer them.
In the face-to-face world of sales a good sales exec will be able to read the signs a lead is giving off and to adjust their pitch accordingly. They’ll also be able to judge whether they should push on for the sale, or whether they should back off for now. Shortcutting this process online by going in too hard too early will seriously impact on results.
On a website you need to start the process with a very simple, easy form – just asking for their name and email address in exchange for a download, or webinar. Avoid the temptation here to ask for a phone number straight off. It can be a huge put-off – especially if you make it mandatory that they give you one (which we’ll come onto in more detail in a minute).
You will have the opportunity to quiz and better engage with the person later on, once you know who they are and you have their email address. You will be better able to judge whether they are keen to go further or not by how they behave and respond to your marketing moving forward.
One way to think of it is like a first date. If you ask too much too soon, and come across as too keen or very pushy, then you’re unlikely to get a second date. But take your time, build up a relationship and get to know the person, finding out more about them gradually, and you’ll be in a far better place to assess what your best next steps are going to be.
Intelligent marketing automation software (tools you can use to pull together information about leads) now give you the option to do something called ‘progressive profiling’. The idea is to get a lead to repeatedly come back to your website and to enter more details every time they do so. With each interaction you will gain more insights into what the person is interested in, including their behaviour on the site and the pages they look at. Together with the information they provide via forms, you can then apply filters to help you qualify your leads – and even get smart with your content and provide pieces based on what you know about them. Clever stuff hey.
You need to start with a clear definition of what will be a qualified lead, and this needs to be discussed and agreed by marketing and sales teams working together.(Check out our e-book for more hints and tips on doing that.)
It works by using smart fields. When a contact revisits your website they will not be asked the same questions again. Instead they will be presented with a new set of questions. So over time more and more information will be gathered, such as the size of the company, job title, etc. This info can help you put together targeted nurturing campaigns for your top targets.
If you do not have software that can do progressive profiling then you need to think your process through extremely well. Asking perhaps one additional question upfront that helps you segment the incoming leads and better spot the most interesting ones. If you have a very niche product or service then this will be slightly easier to do. For example, asking: ‘How much coffee machine cleaner do you use each month?’ would be a good question to ask if that’s your area of business. By offering several brackets which in turn give you information that may show whether they are big enough to pursue, you can also segment the leads more easily.
Another hotly debated topic is whether to make questions on a form mandatory to fill out, meaning a lead can’t leave them blank. You need to think about this very carefully. Yes of course you’ll want everyone to fill out every field right away, but this can come at a cost. The question to ask yourself is always going to be: ‘do I really, absolutely need this piece of information now?’ Their email address is going to be a must, otherwise you can’t send them information and start nurturing the relationship but other details are not, especially early on in the relationship building process.
Every time you have a mandatory field you seriously risk losing leads – keep this in mind. Particularly when it comes to first time visitors, who do not know you that well yet and most likely won’t trust you yet. Unless they view the information you are offering as being critical to them, then they will think twice before sharing their details with you. You can include the questions if you really want to, but don’t make the fields mandatory.
As with everything in marketing, it will come down to testing. If you can A/B test your landing pages – i.e. try adding in mandatory fields and compare the results against a form that doesn’t have them – then you can check on any differences in conversion rates. Test and see what works better for you. If you cannot A/B test then set up different forms on different landing pages to try and get an idea. Just bear in mind that there could be other factors at play too, so don’t just take the numbers at face value. Make sure you are always comparing apples with apples.
Wording on forms
Key to good conversion rates on your landing pages, where forms are typically placed, is to use the right choice and style of wording. This will be strongly influenced by your target audience.
‘Submit’ is a word commonly used at the end of a form but it’s better to use a word that’s closer to what the user is doing, for example, use words like ‘download now’, ‘request …’, or ‘send’. People may also type things in a different format, so make it clear how you are expecting the information to be entered. Putting a hint in brackets next to the question is one good way to do this. You can also layout the field box in the exact way you want the information to be added, including dashes and slashes, etc.
Visitors may also make mistakes when typing in their answers. Being able to pick up incorrect email addresses at the same time that the form is being filled in will be a major benefit for you. You could use a form that will spot common errors and even make suggestions, such as – ‘Did you mean…’
What happens after a form is submitted
Once a form has been filled out something needs to happen. Typically, you may then redirect the visitor to a hidden “thank you” page with a link to the download they’re after. This has the advantage that you can immediately offer the download, so the conversation rates on this tactic are very high.
If you choose to only display an inline message make sure you add some link in there to send them to a further offer.
Sending a follow-up email immediately is a courtesy and will be expected. Add the download link there again as many people will use this as a reference, rather than a bookmark on the page.
Sending more emails
Don’t fall into the trap of hitting leads hard with sales emails. Filling in a form is just the first step, it is not an invitation to sell to them. They may just be interested in the download you’re offering and actually never be a potential prospect. Instead, treat this as the start of a relationship and getting to know each other better. Continue sending them topic related emails and other interesting information at set intervals. Again you will need to test what will the optimal intervals for your specific target audience. Watch carefully to see if those emails are opened, read and clicked on.
If your nurturing campaign is well thought through then you can expect a conversion rate of around 30-50%, sometimes even higher. Anything around 5% or 10% is definitely not working and you need to look at what you are sending people and why they aren’t interested in your emails.
Overall, you need to think carefully about where you are going to use forms and what you are hoping to achieve with each one. Give consideration to progressive profiling techniques and other tools that can help you streamline your processes.
Every form you go on to produce needs to follow the same set of basic rules – it has to be quick and easy to fill in, incredibly user-friendly, and not asking too much, too soon. The form itself shouldn’t be too difficult to complete, with enough details and hints given so that visitors know exactly what you’re asking them and in exactly what format you want it in.
Where ever you can, include functions that will help instantly flag up any errors or mistakes, such as with an email address, so a visitor is prompted to check it there and then – meaning you haven’t potentially lost a lead. And make sure you are using all of the insights you are gaining to help you shape your future marketing, to qualify them and increasing your chances of landing the sale.