The problem with online B2B lead generation today is that many marketers who do it are not, in fact, generating sales leads — they are just generating inquiries and giving away free whitepapers and other content to everyone who asks for it.
What’s the difference? This: An inquiry is a request for free information from virtually anyone on the planet. A sales lead, by comparison, is an inquiry from a qualified prospect — someone who has the money, authority and desire to buy your product.
Anyone can generate an inquiry or response by giving away free stuff, because 1) people love free stuff and 2) they make no commitment and can make minimal effort to grab it online. It’s so easy.
The Qualified, the Potential and the Freebie Seekers
Generating sales leads — inquiries from legitimate prospects — and converting them into orders and customers takes a bit more strategy, planning and skill. So how do we do it online?
To begin with, there is the matter of what “qualifying questions” to include on the landing page. These are fields the prospect fills in when requesting your free content, which could be anything from a whitepaper or a special report, to an e-class or webinar. You can indicate which fields are mandatory and which are optional.
Visitors who do not complete a mandatory field are denied access to the download until they provide the missing information.
The argument against putting too many mandatory fields on an online form is the often-quoted rule of thumb that says for each additional field you make the prospect fill in, your conversion rate drops by 10 percent.
The argument in favor of including more mandatory fields is that it’s the only way to separate “suspects” — freebie seekers who just want a whitepaper — from prospects who may have a real interest in buying your product.
Here are the fields I use on my landing page that give me a better indication of whether a respondent is just a freebie-seeker or a real prospect:
- Name: I require the prospect’s name. Mandatory.
- Title: prospects with the right title are better qualified. Optional.
- Company name: someone without a real company is for me not a prospect; it may be different for you. Mandatory.
- Phone number: I do not honor inquiries without a phone number, because a telephone follow-up is critical to assessing my prospect’s needs and determining whether it’s a good fit for me. Mandatory.
- Email: also a must for email follow-up and to add them to my opt-in subscriber list. Mandatory.
- Address, city, state, ZIP: I don’t need this because I don’t qualify prospects by geographic location, I work remotely and do not travel to see clients, and I send my sales materials electronically as a PDF. Optional.
- Website: so I can see what business the prospects are in and send samples of my work relevant to their industry or product line. Mandatory.
Some Internet users try to get around this by entering fake or incomplete information such “XXXX” in the name field or “1234567” in the phone field. I ignore all such inquiries and do not honor the request for the free content.
The second way I qualify inquiries is by offering three different check-box options where the prospect can check one, two or three, but not none, since this is also mandatory. These are:
- Send me your free lead magnet.
- Send me information on your services.
- Call me to give me an estimate on a potential project or need we have.
If a prospect checks only the first item, we send the lead magnet with the realization that they are not a “hot” prospect. However, I may rate them higher if all of the other fields, especially company and title, are a good fit for me.
If the prospect checks the second box as well as — or instead of — the first box, they are someone more qualified, as they are asking not for just a freebie but for information on the services I provide. Some prospects do that out of curiosity, and some have an upcoming project for which they are looking for a vendor.
The most qualified prospects check the third box. They have an immediate need and want to initiate a preliminary discussion about it. If we are a good match and they are interested, I prepare and send an estimate; a short proposal for doing the work.
Some marketers add additional qualifying questions. For instance, a company selling to hospitals asks how many beds the hospital has, which determines how lucrative the account might potentially be. I understand why they ask, but I would rather capture the key lead information, because when you call or email to follow up, you can ask highly specific questions, such as the number of beds and other qualifying questions at that time.
My goal is to be able to quickly determine whether this is a sales lead with potential to retain my services while maximizing conversion rates. So I ask as few questions as I can to make that determination, and only make the absolutely critical ones mandatory.
However, if a person fills out the mandatory fields honestly, but requests the lead magnet only, I send it. The exception is when the person is clearly a competitor, in which case I have no desire to give away either my content or my promotional package on my services.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriterwho has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.