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Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

Avoid Asking for the Lead Too Early

By Melissa Burdon
February 1st, 2010

My best girlfriend, Brittany was searching online for an apartment in Salt Lake City last week. She told me about her frustrating experience with Rent.com. I want to share her experience with you, to show you what NOT do on your site. This is a perfect example of a reputable company, getting a boat load of qualified traffic, who may be losing out on a lot of leads because some visitors are hesitant to enter personal information, as the first thing they are asked to do when they arrive at Rent.com.

Rent.com-homeThis is the homepage of rent.com. They are asking Brittany to enter her email address in order to see the listings. Brittany doesn’t want to signup for another junk mail source, as she’s already frustrated with the amount of junk mail she gets on a daily basis. She decided to enter her email address that she never uses in order to at least be able to browse the listings.

Rent.com- Search ResultsRent.com- locationscreenWhen she gets to the listings page, she chooses to get “More Info” on one of the properties and sees a pop up that makes her now enter a password for her account. She definitely didn’t want to create an account! She just wants to see the property, see if it meets her needs. Only at the point that she thinks you have a property that meets her needs, will she be ok to “create an account”- and even then, “creating an account” isn’t the language that would resonate with what she’s looking to accomplish. She was frustrated and felt that Rent.com was being sneaky and didn’t have her needs in mind throughout this process. She left.

In this previous post; 5 simple tips for lead-generation sites, one of the tips is to “Avoid Asking For The Lead Too Early”! I have worked with hundreds of clients in a large variety of industries over the last 5 years at FutureNow. Anytime a client asked for too much personal information on their website too quickly, and made the visitor click too many times in order to get the information they came searching for, we helped them increase their conversion rate by simply changing this portion of their website to be more customer focused.

Remember, it’s not about you or your sales process. Your visitors are volunteers in the process and are coming to your site with motivations and intent. In my girlfriend’s case, it was Rent.com’s lead to lose and they lost her. By the way, she rented an apartment through another website that didn’t ask her for any personal information until she had found the property that interested her.

Are you possibly losing leads for this reason? If you are guilty of asking for the lead too early, try testing a new approach to your signup process. Remember, sometimes it’s not about the number of email addresses you get, but it’s instead more important to focus on the “quality” of the leads that you get.

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Comments (64)

  1. I know! I simply hate when sites ask me to enter my info before I make any action at all at their sites. In this case for example, if I managed rent.com I would mayble ask for email or account creation when the person wants to contact the person renting the place.

  2. It makes sense to pay attention to how the big players do it. Even eBay will allow you to watch items as a guest, and most big players like Amazon do not force you to log in until you actually want to pay.

    On the converse side, they give you something worthwhile for logging in early – user specific recommendations, better tracking, history, etc.

    If a site is offering something (in this example, property rentals) you need to ensure it is available as soon as possible – anything that interrupt that flow will lose you traffic.

  3. So true, every time I am on a website and I feel like they are trying to force me into something, I never go back

  4. In my opinion, our visitor are the king in the selling process because they are are coming to our site with motivations and high intent.

  5. I truly agree, quality is more important than quantity!

  6. First you should try and build relationship with the visitor and then ask for personal information.

  7. I’ve clicked away time-and-time again from real estate websites that require an account to view listings.

    I’m guessing this type of strategy leads to more bogus email addresses than actual leads.

    Plus, it’s not the best strategy when the visitor can simply click to a competitor and get the info without creating an account.

    If you are asking for personal info too soon, I would suggest you re-evaluate your strategy.

  8. Asking for lead early may be considered as spam therefor give the visitor time to trust you and then ask for the lead.

  9. Asking for such user information should be transparent as to why it is needed. It should also be optional in most scenarios.

  10. asking personal information too early will make people get bad thinking.

  11. #

    So true, every time I am on a website and I feel like they are trying to force me into something, I never go back

  12. Great example. From the research I’ve reviewed there are two issues here: one is trust… if you ask for the personal info too early, you haven’t established trust, and also reciprocity. Research by Gamberini shows that if you provide valuable information FIRST, then people will feel that it is their turn and will be more likely to fill out a form. (Gamberini, Petrucci, Spoto, Spagnolli, “Embedded persuasive strategies to obtain visitors’ data :Comparing reward and reciprocity in an amateur, knowledge-based website.” In Persuasive Technology, Second Intl Conference on Persuasive Technology, Springer, 2007)

  13. [...] Our Blog BLOG HOME ARCHIVES & SEARCH RSS FEEDS EVENTS « Previous Entry Home FutureNow Post Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010 at 7:50 [...]

  14. When sites ask for information upfront they are thinking of themselves. For some reason, people forget to treat their online visitors (or customers) as they would with someone who were physically visiting a store location. If a customer were to visit your physical store, you would never approach them by asking for their personal information. An online business should be no different. People are worried about spam and identity theft when they are online. By asking for unnecessary information a good amount of site visitors will be put off.

  15. It is irritating if websites are asking you to enter your personal information, I think it’s not safe and my security is at risk. I never go to that kind of websites again.

  16. I also avoid that type sites, ask me to enter my personal information. I think these type sites lost their visitors because people hesitate to enter their personal information

  17. a#

    sking for lead early may be considered as spam therefor give the visitor time to trust you and then ask for the lead.

  18. I couldn’t agree more. Websites that ask for too much personal information too quickly just scare me away from them.What concerns me is what they do with this info, as they never tell you what they’ll do with it, or who they’ll share it with!

  19. [...] FutureNow addressed this topic recently and I loved this line for their post, Remember, it’s not about you or your sales process. Your visitors are volunteers in the process and are coming to your site with motivations and intent. [...]

  20. Makes you wonder if anyone with any ‘websense’ works at some of these companies.

  21. Simple and to the point!

  22. [...] Burdon lays into a site that asks for personal information too early. Remember, it’s not about you or your sales [...]

  23. I wonder if Rent.com have tested this form against one that doesn’t include your email address as a compulsory field.

    If including the email address makes them more money in the long run, do you think that they should use this form in favour of business results over optimal user experience?

  24. I do agree that it strikes people funny when they are asked to sign up right away, but in this particular case it’s a little different. Rent.com has a little different approach than other apartment websites. The competition charge a thousand dollars or more for a community to list an apartment. Rent.com only charges the community if the person signs a lease. In addition, they ask the renter to sign up because they also pay the renter $100 bucks when they rent an apartment. I think their angle is that they want to have a fail safe way to make sure that the person rented the apartment, so if the person comes asking for their $100 and the apartment community is saying they never rented an apartment, they know the landlord is trying to duck out of the commission. I agree it comes on strong, but they should spell it out better on the landing page.

  25. First of all you should try and expand relationship with the visitor and then invite personal info.

  26. The visitors have expectations online; anonymity and control. Asking for contact information too early is a form of payment and can turn them off. Imagine a store and when asking for information you answer; “please complete this contact information sheet then I will answer”. The internet is no different, it should be treated as a live retail space and leveraged to connect live with visitors.

  27. Interesting post and comments… To me, the one thing that doesn’t quite jive is that the renter gave her information to the other site. As the author writes it, if her anxiety was truly that the renter “doesn’t want to signup for another junk mail source, as she’s already frustrated with the amount of junk mail she gets on a daily basis”, then wouldn’t that same logic apply no matter where in the process the email is asked for? I mean, if the issue is truly about getting spammed, then why not enter a bogus email after finding the property as well? What incentive does the user have to provide personal information if he or she can get value without doing so?

    To me it seems that the issue is more one of understanding why the personal information is needed in the first place, and that in this particular example, the website could do a better job of that. I checked the website, and it states right under the email box that “Rent.com will occasionally email you property listings.
    We never rent or sell your email address without your consent.” So they are upfront about that. For me it’s more about, “I need for you to justify to me why you need my email, and I want to make sure that I will get reciprocal value for it.”

    I’m not defending the way they do it, but rather I am questioning the analysis of why it’s the wrong way to do it. For example, if Phoenix Apartment’s comments are correct, and they have a justifiable reason for asking for the email immediately, then imagine in an ideal world where they were able to perfectly justify to the user on the first page why they needed the email. Would it be ok then? Is that even possible? I’d love to hear peoples’ thoughts…

  28. Great thoughts and questions Wayne! Based on my experiences with my lead generation clients who continuously test and make changes to the way they ask for leads, I’ve noticed a few things.

    You’re definitely right that if you effectively “justify” why you’re asking for the lead, then the visitor is less hesitant, but that’s still not enough. The visitor needs to see a BENEFIT to becoming a lead. “What’s in it for me?” In my friend’s case, she hadn’t even seen a single listing yet, when she was asked to give her email address on the homepage of rent.com. She had no idea what the quality of the listings would be or if anything would even interest her. She didn’t want to signup to get new listings and junk mail. She was too early in her buying process to feel ready to give her personal information.

    She only became a lead on another site AFTER she saw the listing that appealed to her. It’s important to remember that not everyone comes into your site in the late stage of their buying process. If they are early stage, you can’t ask them to sleep with you on the first date! They are likely to turn around and leave. You need to engage the visitor first, help her find what she’s looking for and help her get answers to her questions before requiring her to “signup”.

    Testing is the key, my friends. If this post sparked some interest, and you might be suffering from asking for your leads too early, go back and test a new approach that demonstrates that you actually understand the “people” who are coming to your web site in different stages of their buying process, with different motivations and needs.

  29. rent.com? My sister and I want to rent this amazing apartment we found through craigslist, and the woman who owns the apartment lives in England…she told us to pay her though rent.com which is insured by Ebay. It sounds legit, but its almost always a scam.

  30. She only became a lead on another site AFTER she saw the listing that appealed to her. It’s important to remember that not everyone comes into your site in the late stage of their buying process. If they are early stage, you can’t ask them to sleep with you on the first date! They are likely to turn around and leave. You need to engage the visitor first, help her find what she’s looking for and help her get answers to her questions before requiring her to “signup”.

    Testing is the key, my friends. If this post sparked some interest, and you might be suffering from asking for your leads too early, go back and test a new approach that demonstrates that you actually understand the “people” who are coming to your web site in different stages of their buying process, with different motivations and needs.

  31. I have experienced this firsthand with rent.com and I went to another site immediately. There are too many other quality sites out there where I don’t have to register just to see the results.

  32. never heard of it before. is it a serious service?

  33. Good point by Stewart Turton above. It would be a great exercise for Rent.com to run an A/B test to see what the effects of requiring this info are.

    I hope they are at least looking at the difference in bounce rate before and after making a change like this (not statistically perfect but useful nonetheless).

    The rental market has been a tough marketplace for a long time, with services that require registration and payment prior to seeing the listings. I’m of the belief that you need to provide a great service with as few barriers as possible. There are many functional aspects to a renter’s search that you can utilize to capture their info – such as email alerts based on your search criteria. There’s really no need to require this up front.

    Thanks for a great post Melissa.

  34. There has to be value attached to the need to register. Personal details are of significant value to a user and there needs to be a clear reason why you’re asking for them.

  35. [...] full post on Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc Enjoyed this article?WebsiteWordpress [...]

  36. This company is best described as dot com, I am sure you remember that term.

  37. They can afford to turn people away, honestly with the traffic they get they need to qualify those leads!

  38. I’m based in the UK, so I have to admit I’m not familiar with Rent.com. But It would be good to see a comparison of similar rental services, and how they address the same challenge.

    …is rent.com one of the top rental sites in the US?

  39. @ Matthew

    Yes they are, they have that niche dominated. That is why they can afford to get away with these practices. Personally I would like to see an analysis done on a smaller company that actually gets hurt by asking for the lead too early. Rent.com and others get millions of leads a month.

  40. The rental market has been a tough marketplace for a long time, with services that require registration and payment prior to seeing the listings. I’m of the belief that you need to provide a great service with as few barriers as possible.

  41. You need to engage the visitor first, help her find what she’s looking for and help her get answers to her questions before requiring her to “signup”

  42. This is great advice. I can’t remember how many times I was turned off by sites trying to close too early.

  43. Customers should not be “forced” to fill up the information rather they should decide themselves, and this will only happen when they get confidence in service provider’s website.

  44. I think everybody agrees that this concept of asking for information too early is not a good idea. On the other end it would be interesting to see the data. One of the limitation that most websites have is that they don’t engage. They are passive environment and that does not seem to work well either. We see a proactive engagement to be a good solution. “The right message at the right time”.
    It is a little like dating… You have to watch both your message and your timing to generate optimum results.

  45. Hi Melissa thanks for the reminders this was a very nice point that every business man who want to create a site will remember.

  46. Great idea rent.com – make the user feel anxious and uncomfortable right off the bat. A lead will do what a lead does in their own time and context. Simply provide the ability for them to convert and let them decided how and when they wish too…..give them space and lead them, but “asking” them too early is a quick-fire way to lose them.

    good article

  47. So true, every time I am on a website and I feel like they are trying to force me into something, I never go back

  48. What a terribly thought out website! I hate sites that require you to input personal info for you to continue, always makes me thing twice.

  49. What I’m curious about is how the site approaches the lead when visitors enter from places other than the main URL. I have to think that people doing more informational (“apartments in x city”) searches might not have to go through that.

    If people type in the URL directly or head to the main page, then maybe the line of thinking is that they’re a bit more committed to that specific service and ready to get updates?

  50. It’s shocking that big firms don’t realise how much of a negative effect things like this have on their users. I would have thought that Rent.com would have scrapped this registration rubbish a long time ago.

  51. It is irritating if websites are asking you to enter your personal information, I think it’s not safe and my security is at risk. I never go to that kind of websites again.

  52. This is great advice. I can’t remember how many times I was turned off by sites trying to close too early.

  53. This example really highlights the flaws in the system employed by rent.com They would be well advised to have a good look at their process, as they are definitely losing conversions via their current approach! It would be a great angle to approach them with, especially if you have a ready tailored solution to their ills.

  54. I would assume they lose more customers than they gain with their early login process. It’s good to see examples of what not to do our sites.

  55. That is annoying. I hate it when a company wants you to sign up for a affiliate program but they wont tell you what the pay out is until you sign up. Or when you buying advertising you cant know how much it cost unless you sign up with them. They are losing lots of customers this way.

  56. It is interesting that we (I) assume the outcome and conversion rate of the visitors into leads. As far as most apartment management companies I would think that the lead conversion into leases is also a key and such a strategy may help increase that result. This would in fact make the leads generated (while fewer) more valuable…

  57. I do believe it makes more sense to lower the threshold of resistance to engage more web shoppers into conversation. The question is simple though. If a lead source has a 10% and another has 25% conversion the second source will perceived as more valuable by the client. They may get less leads but having a higher pull through creates a value that should not be overlooked in my opinion.

  58. The stigma of asking for too much personal information up front is true. Many potential customers are scared off by submitting information before they are able to see the listing. I have experience with offering service related leads. I have tested many different strategies and have had the most success with not asking the user for any information and tracking the leads another way. Not always a possibility but definitely has proven to hold a higher conversion rate when compared to forcing a user to submit personal information.

  59. Well said and exactly…people will always be weary and cautious of providing personal details to a website where a sense of trust hasn’t been established; or the perception of trust. Imparting value to the user and the passage of time is the best strategy for building a relationship with the customer.

    Anyway, pretty good post.

  60. It just goes to show that just because a site is very legit and gets a lot of traffic doesn’t mean that the people managing it know what they’re doing. I mean, allowing your users to browse the options without signing up is just so basic that you scratch your head wondering why they wouldn’t understand this.

  61. Well said.
    For me websites whih try to immediately take my email address are irritating.
    I need some value before
    Almost always reject this type of website.

    However, I really like the web pages which already get a desired value before
    and if I want more of it, I must to provide an e-mail
    It’s true what you wrote.
    Number of emails does’t matter
    Most important is the quality of ours e-mail base

  62. It almost does not make sense to require information from a customer of a real estate site. It’s not very likely that he or she will need such service every week in order to receive regular offers.

  63. I love the first line, “my best girlfriend” lol…

  64. Try to increase the visitors to the site and not force them to buy. Automatically the visitors will start to buy.

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Melissa is a Senior Persuasion Analyst at FutureNow.

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