With acquisition costs rising, many organizations are starting to shift their focuses and budgets from pouring more traffic into the top of the funnel, to improving the funnel itself through automation and optimization.
Below are three break-out trends that will change the way in which organizations capture and convert leads in 2017. To start, let’s look at one of the simplest, yet most impactful changes in how companies are converting traffic into leads: Forms.
1. The modernization of forms
The screenshot below shows two contact forms from a well-known Fortune 100 company’s website. The form on the left is from 1996, and the one on the right is from 2016.
As you can see, forms haven’t changed much in 20 years.
In the early days of the Web, forms were just digital versions of paper forms. As the Web evolved, countless innovations in Web design improved the online user experience, but Web forms seem to have been left behind.
But why should we care about forms when it comes to lead generation? Well, forms represent the final step of the marketing funnel for most organizations. They’re what separates anonymous Web traffic from valuable leads. This means that any improvement in the form will improve the performance of all upstream marketing activity – including PPC, SEO, content marketing, and native advertising.
Last year, my team ran a form A/B test on a website called BrokerNotes. The new version of the form more than tripled the number of leads generated by the website improving the site’s cost per acquisition and marketing ROI by three times.
Like us, many organizations are starting to realize the impact that better forms can have on their bottom line. Hewlett Packard recently claimed that changing its Web form resulted in a 186 percent uplift in leads. Expedia also generated an extra $12 million per year just by removing one field from its form.
The eco-system of tools and services around forms is also making it easier for organizations to upgrade the forms on your website. With services like Leadformly (for lead generation forms) and SamCart (for checkout forms), you no longer need to hire expensive consultants to get a high-converting form up and running on your website. There are also free or cheap tools like HotJar and Formismo for monitoring the performance of forms, making it easier to identify where the bottlenecks are in your forms.
2. Prospecting on autopilot
Marketing automation has ballooned from a $225-million industry to a multi-billion-dollar industry in just a few years. While automated lead nurturing is nothing new, automated lead prospecting seems to be one of the latest trends in online lead gen.
For outbound lead generation, prospecting tends to be the most challenging and time consuming part of the sales process, especially for smaller companies that don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated prospecting team.
Instead of manually trawling the Web for suitable prospects, these tools crawl a range of databases and APIs for people matching a set of criteria. You could, for example, automatically generate a list of all marketing directors and CMOs within a one-kilometer radius of London that have stopped using a certain CRM or analytics tool in the past week.
Some of these tools go one step further, offering tools to automatically reach out to these prospects and follow-up with them numerous times if they don’t respond to the first e-mail.
Given the apparent success and cost-effectiveness of these automated prospecting campaigns, I expect that we will continue to see more and more companies switching to this approach in 2017.
3. Podcasting as a mainstream lead generation channel
The amount of noise online is growing at an exponential rate. As a result, it’s becoming increasing difficult for organizations to stand out from the crowd and acquire quality leads through saturated social networking sites, blogs and video channels.
One channel that seems to be going against the grain is podcasting. Podcast advertising has been noted as one of the most effective forms of online advertising, due to the trust and familiarity that people have with the hosts of their favorite shows. This trust means that listeners are likely to consider adverts as endorsements from the hosts themselves.
Another option being pursued by a number of forward-thinking organizations is creating a podcast to build an audience of prospects with which they can share insights and learning. While some companies, like Intercom and Unbounce, offer monthly or weekly interviews with notable people in their industries, some companies are choosing to create a podcast series – a set number of episodes focused around a specific topic.
Given the effectiveness and increasing popularity of podcasts, I think it’s fair to assume that this channel will continue to become more popular in 2017.
Where to next? Lead generation in 2017 and beyond
Lead generation will only become more competitive. As acquisition costs continue to rise, I believe there will be more attention placed on optimizing and automating as much of the marketing funnel as possible to enable a profitable return on investment, despite higher acquisition costs.
In addition to the trends mentioned above, I believe we’ll see a significant amount of innovation and new solutions being built to solve the challenge of automating the marketing and sales process.
Marcus Taylor is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker and founder of Venture Harbour, an innovation studio that has built nine high-growth online ventures, including Leadformly & BrokerNotes.