Last week I was having a phone call with the CEO of a major lead aggregator business in the insurance industry and he described to me how web-based lead forms used to be a huge originating source (like 90%+) of all the leads they generated, captured and resold to their clients and how today’s prospects just were not filling out the forms anymore. Form abandonment is at an all-time high in his business and he said they’re scrambling to find new methods to collect the lead. After hanging up the phone, my very next call was with an executive leader of a real estate technology firm who mirrored the sentiments of the insurance exec. What I’ve been hearing constantly now is: the lead gen form isn’t DOA, but it’s on life support.
So, is it time the lead form is 86’d?
Well, not so fast. The lead form is still one of the most practical places to help a visitor, prospect or customer who has developed purchase interest or intent to state their purchasing desire to your organization. Before pulling the plug on the lead form, we have to acknowledge that there is a dearth of replacement mechanisms. If you pull out X and X is critical to your business model you better have Y to replace it, right? Well get back to that Y in a second.
The reality is that buyers and consumers don’t like lead forms, and here’s why:
· Lead forms are impersonal
· Lead forms don’t address a buyer’s sense of immediacy or urgency
· Lead forms ask the buyer for something BEFORE offering something
· Lead forms don’t generally explicitly state how disclosed information will be used
· Lead forms assume the buyer is ready and willing to part with their anonymity
· Lead forms are not evident to WHEN the buyer will get a thoughtful response
· Lead forms are not evident to HOW the consumer will hear back
· Lead forms are insulting to a buyer who has endless choice
· [insert your own reason here based on your personal experiences]
Salespeople don’t necessarily like lead forms either, and here’s why:
· Lead forms create latency between buyer desire and a sales response, and salespeople know that reaction time is critical to sales success
· Lead forms DO NOT introduce personality and personal selling skills
· Lead forms generically qualify a buyer
· Lead forms give an otherwise interested buyer a reason to abandon
O.k. So what is the Y?
What can replace the web-based lead form, a data extraction tool used since the dawn of the Internet? The prospective replacements are few, but let’s take a look at each:
· Commodity Chat Support: Tools like legacy live chat which are used by the call center to capture the lead and follow up with the buyer through another method such as phone or email.
o Pro: Relatively quick
o Con: Impersonal, unauthoritative, buyer may sit in queue, buyer can never find the same chat call center rep again
· Immediate Direct Engagement: Tools like Engage.co provide instant one-to-one interaction and relationship development between customer facing agent and buyer.
o Pro: Personalized, trusted, immediate (really fast), relationship continuity
o Con: Requires change and utilization by the sales force
· Virtual Agents: These can be pre-scripted and automated Q&A interactions with the buyer that allow natural language to help guide the buyer to an answer in a self-service fashion.
o Pro: Relatively quick, doesn’t require humans
o Con: Impersonal, cannot cover 100% of questions, can frustrate/dead-end customer
· In-Asset Collection: Tools like Docalytics.com can take the existing concept of form collection, and make it feel less threatening by tastefully asking the right lead extraction questions to the buyer at the right time, inside of assets like digital brochures and landing pages.
o Pro: In-context data extraction is subtle (less pushy)
o Con: Impersonal, requires thoughtful integration, less than immediate response time
· Click-to-Email: Enables the buyer to email your organization directly.
o Pro: Makes the inquiry/outreach quick
o Con: Impersonal, typically generic (info@company), open-ended, less than immediate response time
· Click-to-Call: Enables the buyer to connect to your organization via phone.
o Pro: Relatively quick
o Con: Typically unknowledgeable reps supporting calls, difficult phone tree system navigation
· Facebook (and other auth/sign-up tools): Tools like Facebook enable website publishers to empower customers with a way to join the site with a single click. And, customers LOVE clicking things. The Facebook API provides an obvious replacement for lead forms and letting people fill out a form with a click ... your conversion will likely ascend back to where it used to be.
o Pro: Relatively quick, convenient for visitor/customer
o Con: Requires integration work
What about a hybrid approach?
Blending a combination of traditional lead forms, as well as these alternatives above may extend the life of your lead form practices without a complete overhaul or removal. On the page where you want to collect the lead, can you surface 2-3 of these tools? It’s possible by giving the buyer a choice over the available methods to reach out you’ll catch them through THEIR preferred method vs. trying to force them into YOUR preferred method.
Lead forms are no longer attractive to many types of buyers for a number of reasons. They also are not appealing to the sales force. However, there is a short list of alternatives. Rather than killing off the lead form, or continuing to use the lead form ONLY (at your own peril), consider a blended model that empowers buyers with choice. This may offer the next step in the evolution of lead collection practices.