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Lead-capture form best practices for collecting actionable data

Lead-capture forms have long been a staple of B2B marketing, and for good reason: they provide an easy way for businesses to attract, nurture and convert potential customers into long-term advocates.

How you build your forms—and the data you collect behind the scenes—has a big impact on how effectively sales and marketing teams can nurture new customer relationships and build engagement. By following these 5 lead-capture form best practices, you can ensure your forms are delivering real customer value and helping you achieve your goals.

What is a lead-capture form? 

Simply put, a lead-capture form is a place on your website where visitors can provide their information in exchange for something of value (like a downloadable asset). You might have forms for people to request a product demo, access an e-book, provide valuable feedback, subscribe to your newsletter, and more. 

At a minimum, the best lead-capture forms gather a person’s name and work email address, but they don’t have to stop there! You can certainly ask for additional information that will help you personalize your marketing throughout the customer’s journey, like, job title, company, location, phone number, and interests. 

Once you collect data through lead-capture forms, you can send it into your sales and marketing tools, such as your customer relationship management platform (CRM), marketing automation platform (MAP), and customer data platform (CDP). Here’s the catch: to make the most of this data, the information you gather has to be seamlessly ingested and activated by all the tools in your stack. That allows your teams to easily use the intel and eliminates time wasted cleaning data or fixing errors in automated processes.    

Best practice #1: Capture clean, consistent data with solid data hygiene

Formatting inconsistencies, input errors, and nonsensical entries can make or break your ability to leverage the customer data you’ve worked so hard to collect. Practicing good data hygiene, like using input masks, data validation, and standardized formats when creating your lead-capture forms can solve potential problems before they even happen. Follow these 10 techniques for getting cleaner, more accurate data from your lead-capture forms.

Best practice #2: Use hidden form fields

Generally speaking, the less effort it takes to fill out your form, the more likely a prospective customer will complete it. Using hidden fields allows you to collect important data without requiring your leads to do the heavy lifting. You can capture valuable intel like referral sources, IP addresses, timestamps, and cookie data (like a person’s activity history on your site) with hidden fields. That data gives you a wealth of insights to build out a more complete profile of customers. 

Best practice #3: Employ regular expressions (RegEx)

If data from your forms isn’t in the right format, you can run into problems when you send it into other tools. A bit of coding magic can resolve a lot of these issues. You can create complex validation rules for form fields using RegEx, ensuring that the data entered follows the correct format. For example, if you want to validate that an entered value is a valid URL format, you can employ a RegEx pattern like ^(http(s)?://)?([\\w-]+\\.)+[\\w-]+(/[\\w- ;,./?%&=]*)?$ to the relevant field. The tool you use to build your forms may even have this functionality built in so that you don’t need to write a single line of code yourself.

Best practice #4: Limit characters in free-text fields

You’ll likely use API requests in automation workflows that send your form data into your CRM and other tools. Both APIs and third-party tools tend to restrict payload size, and long strings of text can easily send you over the limit. The result will be an error when the customer tries to submit the form. Yikes. That leaves them with a bad experience and leaves you with a lost opportunity to connect. Enforce character limits in free-text fields to keep data within the payload size limits for API requests. Even better? Try limiting the use of free-text fields altogether and opt for radio buttons (a circle option that is filled when selected) or checkboxes for fields with a limited number of possible entries.  

Bonus tip: Sometimes you’ll find errors with free-text fields after the form is successfully submitted. This happens because the text limitations of your form fields do not match the text limitations of the tools you’re sending your data to. It’s always best to vet the free-text limitations of any tool in your martech stack before creating your forms.

Best practice #5: Implement conditional logic

This functionality shows or hides form fields based on previous input, creating a dynamic, personalized experience for customers. For example, say your form includes a survey question asking people to rate their experience with your website on a scale of one to five. Conditional logic could be used to display a field asking customers who give a low rating to suggest how you might improve. Then, you trigger automated messages based on the customer’s form response.

Another use case is sending people to a specific page based on the option they select from a list of topics they’re interested in learning more about. Conditional logic lets you show people the content and fields most relevant to them and gives you more detailed data at the same time.  

Better data capture = better lead engagement 

A lead-capture form is often the first chance you have to connect with a potential customer and start a relationship. You want to capitalize on that opportunity as seamlessly as possible so your team can focus on nurturing leads instead of untangling messy data. These lead-capture form best practices can help create a smooth pathway from data collection to activation—and, ultimately, long-term customer engagement. 

Bonus tip: If you use Journeys for your messaging automation, you can seamlessly feed form data directly into the platform to trigger personalized messages that start your relationships off on the right foot.