How To Avoid the Biggest Pitfall of Progressive Profiling

Questionaire from Focus GroupAccording to Google, progressive profiling is “a method of asking questions incrementally, gathering more information about a prospect over time.”

With progressive profiling, instead of putting a 15 field form in front of your next potential prospect, use progressive profiling and only ask for the first couple pieces of information. Then, as they come back over time, continue to gather a little bit more.

And then it all falls apart.

The Problem With Progressive Profiling

Most people simply don’t come back to your site that frequently and they don’t see that much content from you.

According to DemandGen Reports’ 2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey, only 38% of buyers said they viewed more than 4 pieces of content from the vendor they ultimately selected, and that includes videos, articles and other content that doesn’t require registration. (Source, Page 6)

Most of your potential prospects will never even see your second form. Even the people who ultimately buy from you will never see it!

The Biggest Progressive Profiling Mistake

Marketers bury critical information they need to identify a prospect in the second, or even the third, form.

Unfortunately your prospect never gets the chance to provide it. Marketing never gets the opportunity to identify and deliver a lead.

Alternatively, consider the math (stick with me, this isn’t that hard):

  • Without progressive profiling, you may get a 5% form complete rate on your landing page.
  • With progressive profiling, let’s be generous and assume you get a 3x form compete rate, or 15%! Now they are in your database. Next you send three emails and get a unique click rate across those emails of 30% (wow, that’s generous). If 35% of these visitors complete the second form in your progressive profiling sequence, the complete rate from the initial visit is 1.6%.

Thanks to progressive profiling, your database is a bit larger, but your conversion rate dropped by more than two-thirds with a very generous set of assumptions. Your reality is likely much worse. Return visits will only close the gap a little bit.

Fixing Progressive Profiling

Instead, the first form needs to include the critical information that identifies a potential prospect. For many marketers, this minimum can be as simple as name, email and company.

Progressive profiling can then be used to capture additional nice-to-have information, from location to current purchase plans to preferences and attitudes that can shape the following communications from both sales and marketing.

If you sell cloud services, your progressive questions could capture additional information about preferences (public vs private clouds), current state of cloud adoption or perspective on security in cloud computing. Each response helps to build a more complete profile, but it isn’t critical information.

Finally, if your critical, must have information includes 15 fields, you don’t need a new form solution, you need to re-evaluate your lead requirements.

Your Turn

Have you frequently been on the receiving end of progressive profiling? If not, is it because you don’t give most companies the opportunity to put multiple forms in front of you over time? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: Phil Manker via Flickr cc. (It took a focus group setting to get this much information!)

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  • Carlos Hidalgo

    Eric, thanks for the post, however your premise seems to be based on more of a tactical approach – a form and a few emails in a campaign type scenario. However, when you begin to take a strategic or programatic view to Engaging, Nurturing and Converting the buyer, the results are different. Why? You are mapping the content dialogue to that of the buyer. The real reason why progressive profiling falls down in most circumstances is organizations deploy it without any insight into the discrete steps their buyer takes to purchase, so the “next piece of content” does not align and the buyer moves on as there is no interest.

    • Hi Carlos, I did focus on the tactical outcome. While I didn’t call it out, the followup email results I cited require what you are labeling a strategic approach. Without that, you would be looking at a 10x drop.

      Even when the content is appropriately mapped out, you still can be lost in the crush of the inbox, miss the alignment for individuals or lose people not willing to go through another form. Taken together, for companies that aren’t already a go-to destination and rely on email to bring prospects back, that second form is often completed fewer times than a longer first form would have been completed.

      Phone call? We are overdue to say hello and I’d love to hear your side of the numbers.

  • Lara Cohen

    I am literally meeting with a client on this subject today. Today! Thanks for an insightful, timely (in my case) piece!

  • Some of those “nice-to-have” questions could come via quick poll or interactive tool (content), as well, which would be more interesting for the user, though potentially more labor-intensive for the marketer…

    • Definitely! I always prefer to ask for data that is actually being used to deliver what someone is requesting.

      Unfortunately it often doesn’t fit the progressive profiling setup particularly well, which doesn’t map specific questions to content but instead asks the next question in line. Even more work! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Dara Schulenberg

    Very valid discussion which leaves me wondering if the issue is the profiling process or the mediocrity (or low quantity, misalignment etc) of the content associated with the forms – much like Carlos speaks to?

    I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all answer here, but rather a clear opportunity to test and refine – including alternatives to capture customer intelligence as Carmen touches upon.

    Additionally, I would expect/have seen significantly higher open and conversion rates if my content strategy and messaging is based on detailed customer intelligence. Was the data also from the DemandGen Report? I’ll have to look at their source and scope as it seems to contrast with other reports from CEB and others.

    Thanks for raising another issue around which we all need to apply rigor in assessing the value to our specific marketing environments.

    • Good points Dara (as always). I’m sure there are multiple competing challenges and solutions. That said, getting multiple registrations from each person in a short period of time is a high bar, one many marketers are missing today.

      One of the more interesting possibilities is to augment the data you do capture. Demandbase, Reachforce, StrikeIron, etc can potentially help with this.

      The rates were my own (high) fabrications, checked against a couple sources including Eloqua’s benchmarking to ensure they were, in fact, high. Note the 30% was a click rate from send, not an open rate, and the 35% is to get someone to complete another short form. Both of those are high numbers versus any recent benchmark I’ve seen, but I’m always interested in seeing new sources.

      For the content consumption, I saw one report with as high as 8 pieces of content, but that was a very large-enterprise focus (and I don’t have a link to it).

      Hope this helps and thanks as always for the thoughtful comment!

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  • Great points raised and appreciate you breaking down the numbers behind progressive profiling. In our world it is all about minimizing the fields required in the initial upfront gate, but then incorporating progressive profiling principles within that same content engagement session. That way you can still capture the essentials, but aren’t dependent on the unlikely return visit to fill in all the blanks. We’ve found this to be a much more effective strategy than collecting the same data all up front, or incrementally over time…

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  • Bill Rogers

    I feel you are not right. Do you know how difficult it is to get one’s attention? We did similar exercise few months ago. Do you know the result? 90% of them did not responded for the second time from the first time respondents. From my experience you will get best result if you keep your questions 10 to 15, May be one or two page. More importantly ask smart question, club the questions when ever possible. We should keep one thing in our mind, most of the audience are not ready to give more time for any surveys, Just like patience testing for them.

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  • Nick

    Very good marketing post