For nearly two decades, B2B marketing organizations have focused heavily on attracting and engaging users with website content. And as the data below from Hubspot reveals, the strategy works.
Generally, B2B sites receive many more unique visitors per month than B2C sites, or all other sites:
|# of Unique Monthly Website Visitors||All Websites||B2B Websites||B2C Websites|
|1 to 10,000||39.6%||41.2%||39.1%|
|10,001 to 40,000||24.2%||25.5%||23.8%|
|40,001 to 100,000||21.0%||16.7%||22.5%|
|100,001 to 2 million||13.9%||14.7%||13.7%|
For most B2B organizations, however, simply attracting visitors is the easy part. Getting these visitors to self-identify by filling out an on-site form — to download an ebook, for instance — is hard. Really hard.
We conducted research to find out why.
B2B Buyers Hate Filling Out Forms
In a recent survey conducted by 6sense Research, respondents reported that, on average, only 3.5% of their web visitors filled out forms.
This number is consistent with findings from other research:
- Digital marketing software provider Unbounce found that the median conversion to form-fill rates among their customers was 3%
- As far back as 2014, search engine news website Searchengineland.com reported similar rates, and was still finding a 3% to 5% form-fill rate as of 2022
- Digital marketing technology provider Wordstream studied Google ads customers and found a unique visitor to form-fill rate of 2.4%
- (While Wordstream notes that some organizations experience much higher conversion rates, the median conversion rate cited remains at 3%.)
In our study, we found statistically similar form-fill conversion rates across industries (such as technology, manufacturing, and professional services), across regions (APAC, EMEA, NorAm, LatAm), and across company sizes.
Interestingly, SVPs and C-level marketers tend to have rosier views of these conversion rates (4.2%) than respondents who were closer to the action (3.4%).
(Note: As 6sense Research continues to collect more data, this result may change, but it comports with other findings, which will be presented in a future article. The data suggests that executives differ markedly in their assessment of an organization’s performance from their frontline employees.)
Average B2B Buying Teams Comprise of Nine People
The many thousands (or millions) of visitors who never complete form-fills should play a more important role in how B2B organizations recognize and prioritize selling opportunities:
- Nearly all B2B purchases are influenced by multiple individuals acting as a buying team
- Buying teams comprise an average of approximately 9 individuals, according to our research
- Small deals involve an average of seven buying team members, medium deals include about 10 members, and larger deals 19 members, according to software provider Clari
My 25+ years of experience as an analyst at SiriusDecisions and Forrester strongly suggests that within the leads data of a typical B2B organization, 1.5 to 2.5 individuals per buying group fill out on-site forms. The rest conduct research and consume content anonymously.
At 6sense, our ratio of form-fills to account is around 2. As organizations adopt more targeted, account-centric go-to-market practices, these ratios tend to grow. (After all, when an organization increases its marketing investment on a smaller set of accounts, the natural, most logical outcome will be more anonymous traffic and more form-fills from that set of accounts.)
Since the data say that for approximately every three unique visitors who fill out a form, there are 97 visitors who don’t, it stands to reason that out of all the individuals from a single buying team who fill out a form, many other team members do not.
Even stipulating that buying team members are more likely than others to fill out forms (which we have no evidence to support), there’s still likely to be more anonymous visitors from a buying team than there are those who fill out forms.
Focus On Enabling Buyers, Not Collecting Emails
The conundrum of getting anonymous visitors to convert into form-fillers isn’t a new one.
Organizations have tried to improve form-fill conversion rates for as long as there have been forms. In the early days of digital marketing, most organizations put all high-value content behind forms, hoping to capture visitors’ contact info. But after years of being hounded by incessant sales calls and emails, people are now very circumspect in how and when they fill out forms.
So, rather than demonstrably increasing form-fill rates, more forms tend to lead to greater frustration on the part of buyers — and less ability for vendors to influence them.
Recently, more and more companies are removing their on-site forms and enabling users to freely access content. These companies reckon that when real buyers are in-market to buy, they’ll eventually reveal themselves.
This is the strategy that 6sense both employs and recommends to its customers. It’s explained in detail in our CMO Latane Conant’s book, fittingly titled No Forms, No Spam, No Cold Calls. On our own website, we’ve consistently decreased the volume of content behind forms while also doubling revenue year-over-year for three consecutive years. (Our current form-fill conversion rate is less than 1%.)
But to do so and remain viable requires that you use the signals provided by anonymous visitors to finely tune the organization’s focus on deals that are in-market. This means matching anonymous visitors to specific accounts and — for organizations with multiple solutions — tracking which solutions anonymous visitors are showing an interest in.
De-Anonymized vs. Self-Identified
Here’s a simple thought experiment that reveals the importance of these anonymous visitors:
- Imagine that you have four MQLs from four distinct but equivalent prospect companies and individuals
- Now imagine that for one of those MQLs, you also know that there have been five anonymous visitors from that same organization on your website in the same week
- They’ve all been looking at content related to the same solution
- Anyone reading this would know immediately that the organization’s revenue team should prioritize the MQL who has anonymous friends on the site
De-anonymized visitors are not necessarily a substitute for visitors who self-identify. However, a similar thought experiment reveals that a certain number of anonymous visitors will trump the value of an MQL.
- Imagine that you have an MQL but no anonymous visitors from Acme Corp.
- You also have 10 anonymous visitors and no MQLs from Beta Corp.
- Depending on how complex your visitors’ buying committees may be, you might immediately determine that the account with 10 anonymous visitors is a more likely buyer
- (Perhaps five anonymous visitors would be convincing enough to trigger your sellers to prospect, or perhaps the number is 15)
- Regardless, at this point, you’re really just negotiating the ratio of anonymous visitors to MQLs, and not if there’s some number of anonymous visitors that would do the trick
In the real world, this puzzle is even more complex because in many cases, you won’t just have MQLs. You’ll also have form-fillers who aren’t yet MQLs, plus MQLs, plus anonymous traffic.
Add third-party intent signals to the mix, and you have a very robust, but complex, set of signals with which to identify buying teams.
The Modern Approach To B2B Revenue Generation
A modern approach utilizes all available intent signals across the entire buying and selling process. Acquire and combine third-party intent signals with de-anonymized web traffic, pre-MQLs, and MQLs to create one powerful, coherent signal of which accounts are really in-market.
This is the approach I advocated for at SiriusDecisions and Forrester for years, and it remains the approach I advocate here at 6sense. In fact, helping B2B organizations solve this “97% problem” is why I came to 6sense. Our customers harness the power of the other 97% of website visitors to prioritize selling opportunities for their teams.
These selling opportunities convert to customers at a substantially higher rate than others — at often more than double the rate, in fact.
So let’s recap:
- B2B sites receive hundreds of thousands to many millions of unique visitors every month — but only 3% fill out an on-site form.
- There are 10+ people on the typical B2B buying team, but only 1.5 to 2.5 of those individuals are expected to fill out a form.
- As a means to minimize buyers’ frustration over filling out forms — and in turn increasing vendors’ influence on visitors — leading organizations like 6sense eliminate gated content and instead rely on de-anonymization and third-party intent signals.
- Using de-anonymized web traffic together with leads creates the most robust picture of which accounts are in-market
- Abandon efforts to increase form-fill rates and harness the power of the 97% instead
It’s time for B2B marketers to give up their designs on increasing conversion to form-fill rates. They should instead create compelling content targeted at the right personas, then use all buying signals — both anonymous and known — to prioritize opportunities for their teams.