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progressive profiling

Progressive profiling is a marketing technique that involves gradually collecting information about leads, or prospective customers, with iterative releases of forms asking questions intended to advance the sales cycle. This practice improves lead nurturing by reducing the number of answers a customer has to provide each time they reach the landing page, or a page triggered each time a consumer clicks on a marketing email or promotion, online advertisement or search engine optimized (SEO) search result.   

Progressive profiling enables digital marketing team members to streamline their lead nurturing workflows by setting up iterative forms that collect increasingly specific information in order to provide a complete understanding of a specific consumer. A progressive field will only appear for the customer if it has not been answered yet; if it has been answered, then a new question will take its place. For example, if a lead has already responded to with their name and email address, then it is unnecessary to ask for this information again. Instead, the next time the lead reaches the landing page, a new form can be designed that asks more specific information, such as a location or company name.

In this way, progressive profiling allows digital marketers to gradually obtain information about their leads without overwhelming or annoying them with long lists of questions at the first interaction. This results in higher conversion rates and increased customer and brand loyalty as marketers continue to tailor their content to each lead as more information is collected.

How does progressive profiling work?

Progressive profiling can be implemented using marketing automation tools, such as HubSpot and Marketo, which offer dynamic or smart form fields; these allow the question form to react with the customer's previous behavior by reading their attached cookie.

Whenever a customer first answers a question on a website landing page, they are assigned a cookie that tracks their activity on the site and replaces any previously answered form fields with unanswered questions.

Setting up progressive profiling varies based on the specific marketing automation software being used, but most processes involve:

  • defining the desired questions;
  • adding them to the progressive profiling queue; and
  • specifying the order in which they should be asked.

For example, a digital marketing team will decide that they want to know their customer's first and last name, email address, birthday, company, job position and location. Marketers add these requests to the marketing automation tool forms. Then, they designate that the fields asking for first and last name, email address and birthday appear on the form presented to the customer upon their first visit to the site, and that the company, job position and location fields appear on the form for the second visit. The marketing software will then attach cookies to each site visitor and ensure this progression of fields appropriately interacts with each person.

Progressive profiling best practices

Some progressive profiling best practices include:

  • Ask the most important questions first, such as name, email and company. The first version of the form given to customers should collect the information that is necessary to contact, segment and nurture the lead in the future.
  • Similarly, it is best to start with the broadest questions and then narrow into the more product-driven and detailed questions once a stronger relationship and trust has been built with the customer.
  • Customize the fields to buyer personas and different customer segments. Change the questions to be more relevant to a specific group of customers and add the forms to any pages related to the segment.
  • Coordinate the questions with a customer's position in the sales cycle. This means that when specifying the order in which the questions are asked, marketers should consider if the customer has just started expressing interest or if they're further towards closing the deal, and arrange accordingly.

Benefits of progressive profiling

There are three main benefits of progressive profiling: forms that are shorter and easier to fill out; time and effort saved by decreasing the number of forms created; and increased information collected about website visitors. Other benefits can be seen as a result of these first three; they include:

  • Creation of a better user experience - Shorter question forms are less obtrusive and the ability to remove fields once they have already been answered decreases chances of annoying the customer.
  • Higher conversion rates - A better customer experience increases the chances of leads becoming committed customers.
  • Focused lead nurturing - Every field provides new data about a lead. This information can be used to target the data provided or questions asked based on what is already known, thus also improving conversion rates.
  • Drive customer segmentation - Considering the buyer persona that has been revealed in the questions can help create forms that direct specific customers to landing pages related to the interests or needs they have expressed.
  • Replaces questions for secondary offers - If the marketing strategy includes a redirect to a thank you page after the order has been completed, then progressive profiling will replace all fields that have previously been answered with new questions. This allows more information to be gathered and understanding of the lead to increase.

Overall, progressive profiling allows marketers to receive the maximum benefit from a lead's every visit instead of asking the customer the same questions each time.

However, questionnaire forms are not the only way to collect information about leads. Implicit data -- such as a customer's engagement on social media or behavior on the company's website -- can offer information just as important as the answers given on the forms.

This was last updated in August 2019

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