8 Rules For Lead Gen Forms: A Rant

Ian Lurie

TL;DR: Don’t use lead gen forms to abuse potential customers. Don’t sacrifice reach for low-quality leads. And a few other tidbits.

An intriguing ebook title zipped by in my Twitter feed today. The landing page described the wondrous information in this piece of content. All I had to do was provide a little info:

An Insane Lead Gen Form
This Is Insane

This is madness.

All that information to get an ebook. Not a Gartner Magic Quadrant. Not even a free Kit Kat.

An ebook.

Brands don’t get it. They build lead gen forms that demand an absurd amount of information for scraps of content. Then they wonder why those forms don’t work. And so, my rant, in eight parts:

1: Lead Gen Forms Are Not Surveys

Surveys collect data. Lead forms collect potential customers. Don’t get cute and try to combine them.

The nutjob form above, for example, asked me “What is my biggest challenge?”

My biggest challenge is getting used to progressive lenses and answering inane questions when I’m trying to download your ebook.

MY POINT being that the rules below do not apply to surveys.

2: Most Leads Don’t Like You (Yet)

They didn’t want to fill out that form. They had to. They don’t want to hear from you. They’ve set up separate spam collection email accounts to trap and ignore your follow-ups. Most site visitors just want whatever’s on the other side of that form.

Best case, you can change them from detractors to fans. To do it, the content you provide had better induce a state of trembling euphoria.

Or, you can make it easier for a visitor to get your content.

Require less. Deliver more.

3. More Fields Mean Fewer Leads

Every field you add to a form cuts the number of leads by 25%.

That’s my pseudo-datapoint for this post. It’s based purely on instinct and anecdotal evidence. Please don’t start throwing it around in meetings.

Marketing and sales teams will say, “Yeah, but those leads are better qualified.”

Nope. Incorrect. False. Faulty. Untrue. Erroneous.

On to #4.

4. Extraction Does Not Equal Qualification

“Qualified” means “likely to buy.” It does not mean “survived excruciating data extraction.”

That tedious form just set my teeth on edge. I’m not more qualified; I’m uncomfortable. I feel like a sucker.

How many qualified leads did you lose because they wouldn’t fill out that ridiculous form? Lots.

Also, see #2. See #5.

5. Don’t Sacrifice Reach For Lousy Leads

Detailed lead gen forms sound great, but you’re trading reach for leads. Be mindful of that. Every person who sees your content and likes it is a potential customer, but they’re more than that—they’re a prospective salesperson. They may pass your ebook or whatever along.

They might talk about it. Or tweet it.

They’re more likely to do that than reply to your inevitable follow-up email.

Note: I am not frolicking in the happy fields of brand building. Lead gen forms are a great way to capture leads, but they’re not the only way. Every reader is a potential lead. Want leads? Get more readers.

6. Open-Ended Questions Suck

The “contact us” form on Portent’s site has an optional, qualitative question: “How can we help?”

I just checked the data. In the last thirty-six hours, thirty-five people have completed the form.

  • Five of them used the “How can we help?” field.
  • Four of them asked if they could write a guest post on our blog.
  • One talked about biological acts using language I wouldn’t repeat on the subway.

Open-ended questions are lousy lead gen tools. If you must have one, make it optional.

7. Enrich, Don’t Demand

Be patient. Instead of demanding a ton of information up front, enrich it over time.

Start by giving me something useful in exchange for my name and email address. Now I like and trust you.

Next time, ask me for a little more: My company and my title, for example. In exchange, give me something even better.

Then offer me personal contact for even more information. Provide a free consultation in exchange for my phone number, the size of my team and my budget. Provide access to a private Slack channel, or a subscription to an exclusive newsletter.

Please make me a fan, not a lead. I’ll love you for it.

8. Other Rules

Keep these in mind:

  1. If you check the “Please send me information” box by default, you deserve a special place in Hell. Belay that. You deserve a whole separate hell. Just for you.
  2. For every breathlessly, ridiculously obvious statement you make in your content, remove one field from your form. If you say “Today, in [industry][thing] matters more than ever,” ungate your content and back away slowly. Please don’t take this personally. I’m as guilty as you are.
  3. If I hit [TAB], I’d better advance to the next field.

That’s It

I tried to come up with a pithy conclusion. I finally developed one using ten years’ data across 3,000 customers. If you want to hear more, please fill out this form…

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See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

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  1. You forgot the biggest lead gen form sin of all.

    Ensure the content lives up to the hype of the e-book title.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve downloaded an ebook and IMMEDIATELY upon opening the pdf became filled with regret. It’s happened so often that I just don’t even bother anymore.

    1. See 8.3. But yeah. I’ve pretty much given up on ebooks and “white papers.”

      Especially white papers, which seem designed to suck your soul out through various orifices.

  2. One thing that isn’t mentioned here is the relation between detailed forms and lead quality. There’s numerous examples in B2B where extra fields have not only increased conversion but also lead quality. All must be kept sensible, but general “strip” of the form might not be the best course of action.

    Personally I always recommend to clients a two-tiered approach. Basic, simple form for top of the funnel and a detailed ones for those likely to buy or want services.

    1. Hi Chris,

      The approach you describe sounds like the best of both worlds. My advice to clients is that you keep top-of-funnel forms (content download, contact, etc) simple, because you’re otherwise driving away truly qualified leads. For detailed trial requests, you can ask for a little more information. But you should always keep forms trimmed to a minimum.


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