How to Optimize Your B2B Lead Generation Forms for Better Results

b2b lead generation formsForms deserve far more consideration than they get. Compared to how much time we invest in every other element of a lead generation campaign – the advertising, the content download, the landing page – the opt-in form often just gets slapped in like an afterthought.

That’s strange behavior, given that the information we’re gathering through that form is the whole point of the campaign.

Of course, so long as the rest of the campaign works, we can get away with default forms.  But as advertising gets more expensive, and we’re expected to continually deliver more leads and better leads, we eventually have to up our game.

If you’ve come to the point where you’re not going to be given any more budget, but you’re expected to produce more results, and you’ve optimized everything else you can, it may be time to (finally) optimize your campaigns’ lead gen forms.

Having to optimize your forms might not actually be so bad. Thanks to GDPR, many of us have just recently gotten through an emergency primer on data management. We’ve buffed up our knowledge on what information to ask for and when. And so while it might take some testing to find it, the right tweak to an opt-in form could increase the conversion rates of your lead gen forms by 30 percent or more.

Forms can be conversion rate powerhouses. They can – if optimized correctly – deliver more leads and better leads.

What to expect when you optimize lead generation forms

But I’m not going to kid you… optimizing forms has risks. For starters, you need to be prepared for the fact that most of your A/B tests won’t work.

The other problem with testing forms is technical. If you’re the person setting up split-tests, and you’re not a coder, editing the code that creates forms can be truly terrifying. That code is much more complex than the code required to create a headline.

But the code and the split-tests are hardly the biggest problem, right? It’s those fields that are the devil.

What’s in those form fields has consequences for everything that happens downstream through the lead nurturing process. The information captured there affects the marketing and sales department.

Usually, when you test a regular landing page, you don’t have to call a data governance meeting. You don’t have to put people’s paychecks on the line. But with form testing, you might.

So, take a deep breath, and plan those preliminary meetings. Find out where the different players stand on the data being collected in your opt-in forms. Who knows… you might think that removing just one field – like the telephone number – will start a mutiny in your Sales department. But maybe it won’t cause a scuffle at all. Maybe Sales has been getting so many bad numbers from those forms for so long that they don’t even bother to call them anymore.

The benefits of this work are worth it. Expedia removed just one field on their sales page that was confusing visitors. The lift from that test was enough to drive an extra $1 million in sales per year. And even mighty Marketo earned itself 34 percent more leads by testing the length of their forms.

form fields

How many fields should your forms have?

Generally, the fewer fields you have on a form, the better. But that’s not always so. ConversionXL did an oft-cited test that actually found removing form fields hurt conversions.

Still, it is definitely possible to get greedy with information. This download page has 17 fields. They don’t just want your job title. They also want your “Job Area”, “Job Function” and “Job Level”.

What’s an ideal length for forms? It depends. Every company’s data requirements are different. But as a general rule opt-in forms should be as short as possible, but long enough to accomplish your goal.

4 Lead Gen Form Strategies

As you design and test your forms, don’t just get stuck on how many fields they have. Step back and take a larger view. Forms have evolved considerably in the last decade or so, and it may be time to re-evaluate how you use them, and even if you use them at all.

There are four major new strategies for forms. Consider testing these approaches as much as you test the number of fields in each form:

1. Two-step forms

Two-step forms are deceptively simple. Instead of showing your visitor an opt-in form, you’d show them what basically looks like a large call to action button. The image / call-to-action graphic would have copy that says something like “Find out why 78 percent of B2B content marketers fail”.

When someone clicks this call to action, a form pops up – basically a simple opt-in overlay like the ones we’re all so used to seeing when we come to an ecommerce site.

The second step of a two-step opt-in looks exactly like any other opt-in form. And these “second steps” can have one field, or four fields, or 10.

Here’s what the two-step opt-in on SumoMe’s site looks like. This is the first step:

When you click on that button, you get the opt-in form:

*Notice how it even pre-populates some information it already knows about me? We’ll talk about that in a moment.

The reason these two-step opt-ins can work better than regular opt-ins is because the user has more invested in the process. Even that one little click is a wee investment of focus and effort. It’s just enough to make people slightly more likely to finish filling out the form, simply because humans prefer closure.

Do two-step opt-in forms work? They can. According to one Unbounce test, their two-step opt-in converted 1,147 percent better than the exit pop-up they tested it against.

I think even the most skeptical of us would be partial to testing a two-step form with an example like that. Even if you only get 10 percent of the results Unbounce did, you’d still be looking at a 115 percent better opt-in rate.

2. Forms, no forms, and optional forms

Think about your larger goals before you place a form in front of every piece of valuable content. “Gated content” may generate leads, but sometimes you have to remove the gate in order to let people see how good the content is.

It might be smart to actually ungate some of your top-of-the-funnel content. According to David Meerman Scott, ungated content gets 20 to 50 times more downloads than gated content.

So if you’re among those marketers who want to build brand awareness almost as much as you want to get leads, consider removing your forms.

Consider doing this even if you’re solely focused on leads. A few companies, like Drift, have actually removed all their opt-in forms.  Incredibly, they claim this move has netted them 15 percent more leads, a shorter sales cycle, and significantly more business.

How could this be? Well, more people are now accessing their content. Without the gate, there’s less friction.  And they still do have contact forms – optional lead generation forms. The prospects who voluntarily fill out those forms are much more interested than the people who had been forced to complete them before. As a result, lead quality has gone up dramatically.

3. Forms within interactive content

Forms don’t have to just protect text-based documents, or even videos or email sequences. They also have a place in interactive content. In fact, interactive content may be one of the best lead generation tools available to B2B marketers.

These type of “forms” can be assessments, quizzes, or polls. They are certainly a major evolution of the humble opt-in form, but are they really all that different?

Interactive tools often work best if they have an ungated part, too. That way visitors can use the interactive tool to get some basic information, but if they want to know more, then they need to give their contact information.

Here’s an example of this in action. The Email Marketing ROI Calculator is an excellent, useful tool (an elaborate form) even if you never get the benchmark information.

But notice how smart that little form is. It asks for company size, industry, current email software and a business email address. That’s lead information. This could be a genius little lead-generation device for an email marketing company or an agency. (But they would need to add a checkbox allowing the company to send them newsletters and promotions; otherwise they’d be in breach of GDPR. More on that in a moment.)

4. Progressive profiling

What if you didn’t have to ask for so much information in the lead generation form? If you could create a nice, lean opt-in form with 3-4 fields, but then use later messages to learn more about your prospects?

That’s progressive profiling. It makes things far easier on your prospects… but it is a bit more work for you.

Here’s how a simple set-up might work. Say you have an opt-in form that asks for:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Company
  • Email address
  • Permission to send them updates and promotions

Immediately after someone has filled out this lead gen form, they get their gated content via a link in an email. That email also includes a question or two. These questions have multiple choice answers, and each answer is a link.

If your prospect clicks on any of those links, they get tagged with that information. Going forward, you can segment them out so they get content (or an entire lead-nurturing program) tailored to their responses.

Here’s a real-world example of this from Remotive’s welcome email:

This tactic keeps the opt-in forms short (and conversions high) and gets you all the information you wanted.

How GDPR affects forms

As I’m sure you remember, GDPR went into effect on May 25th of this year. You may be reading this article in part because now that the dust has settled, you have to rebuild your email list.

Here’s the simplest way to describe how GDPR affects opt-in forms:

1. Don’t pre-check any boxes on your opt-in forms.

If you’re offering a sign-up form and plan to use the user’s contact information for anything that is not expressly described on that form, you need to tell the user they are also signing up to have their information used that way.

Here’s an example of this in action: If someone gives you their information in exchange for a report, you may NOT automatically add them to your email list and send them marketing messages without their express permission (or “consent”, in the language of GDPR).

You’ll need to either ask for permission in a separate checkbox beneath the report request form, or you’ll need to explain that requesting this report also adds them to your marketing emails list.

Like this:

Don’t send them follow-up surveys, “partner announcements” or anything else. If you did not specifically tell them they’d be getting that stuff when they signed up, don’t send it to them later.

2. Mention that you have a privacy policy, and include a link to it.

Many companies are also adding language to their opt-in forms that reminds people they can unsubscribe at any time from any email. This is basically just good GDPR etiquette. Hopefully it won’t hurt your conversion rates, but will instead actually build trust with your visitors – they’ll know you’ll be good with their information, so they can trust you with it.

3. If you might want to send other types of messages (like the aforementioned surveys), or use these peoples’ information for something else later on, then ask permission for that, too.

Consider adding a checkbox below the form fields for these kinds of “we might also contact you about X” messages. And if you are getting consent for multiple purposes (like you need to confirm people are over 16 years of age, and you need to ask them if you can send them your newsletter) then consider having two checkboxes.

Like this:

4. Don’t ask for information you’re not going to use.

The spirit of GDPR is to let consumers control what companies and entities know about them. A small part of that means that unless a business has a plan for using the information they collect, they shouldn’t be collecting it. This, clearly, nudges us all towards shorter opt-in forms. But it also presses us to only ask for the information we truly need.

11 Testing Ideas for Lead Gen Forms

Now that we’ve talked about all the possible things you could do with forms, where should you start to test?

Here’s are 11 ideas:

  1. Test removing the telephone number. Many people really resist giving out their phone number. So much so that in one test, adding a phone number field reduced form conversions by 48 percent.
  2. Test a two-step opt-in. Test a few actually – you need to know if the two-step format works… not if just a particular combination of design and copy is working. Two-step forms might also work really well in some places (like in blog posts), but not well at all in, say, landing pages.
  3. Test pre-populating information in the fields versus having them blank.
  4. Test labeling fields versus having the labels be pre-populated in the fields.
  5. Test the incentive you’re offering to get people to sign up. Test this relentlessly. Test the format, too: Would “10 Ways to Cut Your Accounting Costs” get more conversions if it was a PDF, a video, a checklist, or a 10-day email series? Different content formats often get different conversion rates:

6. Test the call to action copy on the submit button.

7. Test the title of the opt-in field. Or if there is no title, test the description of your incentive or the copy that explains what people will get if they complete the form.

8. Test surrounding the form with an eye-catching color.

9. Test auto-completion for the forms.

10. Try testing where the form itself is. Upper right-hand corner? Just below the image of the whitepaper cover… or to the left or right of it?

11. Test validating form fields. So when somebody like me types in “wgonbfinbs” as their job title, the form asks nicely for something more accurate.

Forms for the beginning and the end of the buyer’s journey

Whew – who knew there was so much to forms! But you can see why they’re so important.

Just remember: Getting more conversions from a form is not everything. This is not just about getting more leads – it’s also about getting better leads. That’s why many B2B marketers are now prioritizing getting better leads.

That may well be the best argument for actually adding more fields to your opt-in forms. Sure, you’ll get fewer conversions. But if you make it just a wee bit harder for people to reach you, it’s possible the people that do complete the form will be more genuinely interested. And that could mean that sales won’t have to weed out so many mediocre leads.

That’s why opt-in forms are such powerful elements in your marketing. They may be the first step in your relationship with a prospect, but – done right – they can shape communication all the way through to the end of the customer journey.

Before you just slap that same-old form on the next landing page you create, think about what you want the final results of your campaign to be. Then adjust the form accordingly. It may be “only” the first step of your buyer’s journey, but it can shape that journey all the way to the end.

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