Best and Worst Practices in Lead Generation UX

Look around and you’ll find lead generation sites all around you. From enterprise software, to ecommerce, the pressure to close a lead is immense. Not surprisingly, the tactics employed by various businesses range from brand-friendly value-adds, to clever hacks, to outright deception.

In this post we’ll cover some of the most effective techniques, those that can actually be accretive to your UX, and some of the worst. Of note, some of the worst techniques might technically *work*, even winning out in multi-variant tests, but, as they say, buyer beware.

The rise of the self-directed buyer

Before we dig into examples, let’s take a moment to reflect on what lead to the rise of lead generation as an essential competency in modern digital marketing. The explosion of media has created an overwhelming abundance of information, but a scarcity of attention. Buyers have more resources than ever ranging from social media, to buying guides, comparison sites, and more. The capacity for research is only gated by user appetite.

In fact, according to Forrester, buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their buying journey before they even reach the vendor. This, obviously, is quite a change from the days of old where there were few channels and choices. Put simply, there’s been a power shift from the seller to the buyer. And the impact on sales and marketing tactics has been tremendous.

This shift has created a conversion imperative for businesses. Transactions requiring little deliberation, typically those that are low cost, must close the sale in a single visit or risk losing it forever. For transactions that require serious consideration: those that are expensive, emotional, or shared decisions, a micro conversion of some form is typically required to keep the conversation going. It’s this need, to harvest *something* from that initial visit, that has heavily impacted user experiences.

Best practice: downloadable guides

When considering which tactics are right for your business take a user-centered approach. What does your audience need? By focusing on value from the start you’ll be more apt to consider tactics that generate a value-add for the consumer and a lead for you – everyone wins.

One of the more successful tactics is the production of high value, but gated content. Gated content sits behind a password; typically requiring an email address as the value exchange. The key is showing just enough of the content to generate the lead, and, of course, producing content that your audience actually wants. In this regard, the in-bound marketing experts at HubSpot are world-class.

HubSpot knows the power of SEO-rich content to fill the top of the funnel. However, their landing pages do more than earn them a visit, they also earn leads. Check out their informative guide on Facebook Live – it’s a case study in value exchange.

Best Practice in Lead Generation: HubSpot


HubSpot drives downloads (and leads) by providing:

  • both a synopsis of the content and a bulleted list of what’s included (great for SEO and consumers that scan).
  • a look inside the content itself (don’t take our word for it, have a look)
  • an indication of why they want your email in exchange (when in doubt try truth and transparency)
  • a scant number of required fields (email only). HubSpot resists the urge to also mine your company name, size, title, etc.
  • persistent calls-to-action (keeping the download at your fingertips as you scroll)

Worst practice: conversion shaming

One of the most unfortunate trends in lead gen is the shaming of a consumer who doesn’t take your bait. We’ve all seen it. Most commonly this is the refrain of the retailer who wants so desperately to add you to their CRM or email drip campaign that they are not only willing to offer you an immediate discount in a site pop-up, they are willing to condescend to you in the process.

The examples of these across the web are legion. There are so many in fact there’s even a Tumblr site dedicated to chronicling them. The most common tactic is getting someone to decline via a CTA that is not in their presumed self-interest. “Want a 10% credit toward your order? No thanks, I’d prefer to pay full price.”

Worst Practice in Lead Generation


While conversion shaming might measure up in a/b tests, the more difficult to answer question is what it’s doing to your brand.

Best practices: progressive profiling

The desire to get a lead is powerful. For many CRM systems, the initial lead is just the beginning. The thirst for additional data can seem never-ending from company size and title, to budget and phone numbers. General heuristics around form field depth and conversion rates holds that the more form fields you have, the lower your conversion rate, but there are published exceptions to this rule making it more of a guideline. Regardless of where you stand, most leading CRM solutions like SalesForce and Marketo have the answer – progressive profiling.

Progressive profiling is when you build your profile of a customer over time. It starts with a unique identifier, like an email address. Taking its cues from relationships, progressive profile proponents know you don’t ask a first-date about their exes – so why rush to interrogate a user on their first visit?

When determining what data you need ask yourself first if each data-point will really enhance your ability to market effectively. If it’s not essential, don’t ask. At least not yet. Next, for each piece of additional information you need, consider the context. At what point in the customer journey should I ask for this? What value can I provide in exchange?

Worst Practice: Dark Patterns

Unfortunately, conversion shaming isn’t the only dark pattern to have proliferated. A dark pattern is a typically a misdirection – a subtle change to an interface’s design, an obscuring of a link, or ambiguous phrasing – intended to drive a business result. And again, as with the Tumblr site dedicated to conversion shaming, there’s a site dedicated to chronicling the worst offenders – Some of the language here isn’t exactly safe for work. Dark patterns elicit strong feelings; particularly from UX professionals.

Examples range from obscured unsubscribe links to more nefarious patterns that don’t make free trial periods clear or even place items in your shopping cart automatically. In the example below, courtesy of UX Planet, you can see how the unsubscribe link was deliberately colored to look nearly invisible. A more user-centered approach would focus on elevating the quality of the content to increase retention rates vs. hiding the link.Nto sure where to start? Talk to your customers.

Worst Practice: unsubscribe dark patterns

Best Practice: Credentialing

Perhaps the most essential ingredient for effective lead generation is trust. Even the most benefit-laden and friction-free of experiences will produce few leads if the customer doesn’t regard you well enough to offer up their info. Fortunately, there’s an antidote – credentialing.

Credentialing can come in a few ways. A common tactic is the promotion of your most well-known and regarded partners or customers. If you haven’t heard of us, you’ve probably heard of them. This typically takes the form of logo soup on your homepage. Also effective are 3rd party awards from industry leaders. Cloud-storage provider Qumulo is blending two tactics on their homepage – value exchange and credentialing.

By offering free downloadable copies of a Gartner Magic Quadrant report they provide the self-directed shopper with content that can inform their selection process that also endorses their product. It’s a smart move. They’re also resisting the urge to ask for too much on their first visit. More than likely they too are practicing progressive profiling.

Best practice in lead generation: Qumulo


In summary: in evaluating the best practices for inclusion in this post we erred on the side of those that fostered good will and elevated brands and experiences. The worst practices? I’d like to be able to say dark patterns are limited to fly-by-night operations, but even the Fortune 500 aren’t immune to their siren call.

When considering tactics to drive leads for your business take a page from user centered design and focus on value. If someone in your organization is advocating for tactics that feel deceptive ask them if they’d like to test Net Promoter Scores with this audience shortly after being offered your lead gen vehicle.

As a general rule, if the tactic isn’t one you’d be comfortable serving a loved one, it’s probably not right for your users either.

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