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Why ‘Web-to-Lead’ Forms Suck for B2B Lead Generation

Why ‘Web-to-Lead’ Forms Suck for B2B Lead Generation

I just returned from a great week away in the Inner Hebrides – the small cluster of islands to the west of Glasgow. The single malts were stunning, the weather bracing and the walks heartening. I’m missing it already.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with B2B lead generation, but I did have one holiday experience that made me realise how wide of the mark we are when it comes to using ‘web-to-lead-forms.’

Convention has it that you build up an arsenal of banner content – white papers, research reports, etc – and then hide them away unless visitors supply you with their names, email addresses and inside leg measurements.

But how does this play out in practice? I think I have an answer for you by way of a rambling analogy…

At the end of my stay, on the way back to Glasgow airport, my rental car wobbled to a halt alongside the mighty Castle Minard on the A83. A callout to the RAC breakdown service was in order.

Castle Minard is a stunning place on the banks of Loch Fyne, half a mile off the main road at the end of a dirt track. It’s a hotel. A three star establishment, apparently – a bit rusty and crumbling around the edges. If you weren’t looking for it, or if you hadn’t broken down in the area, then you’d probably miss it.

Anyway, I parked up. The castle lights were off, so I knocked. No answer. I made my call to the RAC and sat down to admire the view. 45 minutes later (and bang on estimate), a big orange and white van trundled into view. ‘Och-Aye’ said Steve the mechanic.

‘Och-Aye indeed!’ bellowed a voice from nowhere.

Like a troll, the castle’s owner had pounced upon us from his impressive lair. A mutated cross between The Simpsons’ Mr Burns and a miniature Bobby Charlton, he hit us with the following barrage:

WHO ARE YOU?
WHAT’S YOUR NAME?
THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY!
YOU NEED MY PERMISSION TO BE HERE!
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE UP TO?
…ETC, ETC

Golly – I jumped!

Composure regained, I reassured him that we meant no harm, we came in peace and that we were really quite happy (and lucky) to have broken down in such magnificent surroundings.

Privately, however, I’d decided that I really, really hated him. I was a long way from home in the middle of nowhere, I had a baby on the back seat wailing, a wife with a busted arm (seriously) and a car that patently didn’t work. I was really in need of some help.

At the same time, the accusation of trespassing seemed ludicrous against the backdrop of a once magnificent, but now empty and crumbling hotel. What was with this guy? As the proprietor, shouldn’t he be welcoming us?!

At this point, he turned and made a dash for the door. Steve the mechanic and I were expecting a musket in our noses. Instead, he reappeared brandishing business cards and a reassurance that “we have great guests rooms” and that “you can look us up on the web!”

We decided not to stick around. We fixed the car at the top of the track and shared a joke between us. This man was a sham, worse than Basil Fawlty. He seemed to revel in our twisted little exchange. But it all seemed so misguided and back to front. A grilling to greet us and a business card to say goodbye? No wonder his place was empty! My wife and I (and Steve) vowed never, ever to return.

Which, by the way, is what the majority of your web site users do when they’re presented with a web-to-lead form.

Think about it…. When you squirrel your content away and ask people to give you their email address before you’ve even said hello, you’re behaving exactly like Mr Burns. Is this any way to treat a valued prospect?

Here’s the context… I’ve worked so hard to find you: I have a problem to address; I Googled for ‘widgets’; I searched you out amongst a thicket of competitive pages; I see you might just have a white paper that interests me. Great! But then….

WHO ARE YOU?
WHAT’S YOUR NAME?
THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY!
YOU NEED MY PERMISSION TO BE HERE!
…ETC, ETC

Well sorry. Screw you! My life’s too short and I’m off to check out another site instead. Shouldn’t you be welcoming me on to your site? Isn’t life hard enough selling widgets without giving me the third degree?

It’s kind of insane really. Unless you’re giving a stack of cash away for free, then you’re making the following fatal assumptions with your jazzy ‘web-to-lead’ form:

  • I need your stuff more than you need me
  • I can’t find similar (or as good) stuff for free elsewhere

Which isn’t going to be true in most cases. So, why do it in the first place?

Here’s some questions to ask yourself…

  • When was the last time a web to lead form clinched a sale?
  • When was the last time a web to lead form ‘tipped’ a prospect into a customer?
  • Can you afford for me to consider – even for a microsecond – that life would be easier (and more hospitable) on some other site?
  • Is ‘WHO ARE YOU?’ really an appropriate question to ask me at this early stage of our relationship?
  • If you were running a hotel, would you treat me in the same way?

Where content giveaways are concerned, please just ditch your web to lead forms right now – or those valued guests-to-be may decide to never, ever return.

Next up: “The value of free content: why giving it all away is good for your prospects and great for Google…”

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