The State of Lead Capture in 2016


What is a lead?

Ask ten different marketers to explain the term "lead," and you'll likely get ten different answers. Leads (and lead generation) mean different things to different industries, but at its core, it represents the same thing:

An identifiable person who has expressed interest in your products or services.

What qualifies as a lead?

The Evolution of a Lead

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An individual visits your website or store.

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He or she fills out a form and makes a purchase or otherwise completes an action that puts a name with a visit.

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Your database is populated with the new or updated information.

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The door to personalized marketing is opened or widened.

How are leads captured?

It varies from industry to industry. Check out this chart to see how different sectors might define lead capture as it aligns with their own goals.

New Trial Signups Demo Requests Software or Subscription Upgrades Email Opt-ins Registrations New Sales Point-of-Sale Email Collection
SaaS Companies
B2B Marketing
Media & Publishing
Retail & eCommerce

*Based on Formstack's 2016 State of Lead Capture Survey


Anyone who works in marketing knows this: Growing a business online starts with lead generation.

Once you start to capture quality leads, the rest falls into place.

Leads sign up to receive your emails. Leads watch for you in their social media feeds. Leads read your blog posts, download your ebooks, click on your ads and make purchases. They get to know you, begin to trust you and gradually transition from casual website visitors or one-time buyers to lasting, loyal customers.

It sounds so simple on the surface. But things are changing every day. Search and social algorithms change, keywords become more competitive and inboxes get facelifts that send carefully-crafted emails to hidden (or disregarded) “promotions” tabs. Which begs the question:

How are all of those changes impacting marketers’ abilities to capture leads?

Enter Formstack’s State of Lead Capture Report.

We surveyed hundreds of teams to learn how marketers like you are generating leads, to identify the biggest challenges you face and to understand what problems need to be solved in 2016.

On the following pages, you’ll find answers to questions such as:

  • What mediums and methods are marketers relying on for their lead capture?
  • What are the biggest challenges affecting marketers today?
  • What are the top lead generation problems to solve in 2016?

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How to use this report:

Whether you’ve been working in marketing for one year or a full decade, there’s something in here for you. Beginners can learn which lead capture strategies are currently working best for seasoned pros. Experienced marketers should pay special attention to the biggest challenges that surfaced in the survey—some of them might take you by surprise. And marketers at all levels will gain new knowledge from the report’s key takeaways.

Executive Summary and Major Findings


We surveyed marketers—most of them managers, directors, vice presidents and C-level executives in the U.S.—at over 219 small and midsize U.S. businesses to gain new insights on the current state of lead capture. Here’s a snapshot of the participants:

  • 82% work in marketing departments of 10 or fewer people, and 65% work with marketing teams of five or fewer members.
  • 55% work in business-to-business (B2B) industries, and 45% are in the business-to-consumer (B2C) and nonprofit spaces.
  • 47% work in the B2B sectors of marketing and information technology and services; 18% work in education and healthcare; and 35% work in software, media, retail and other industries.
  • 52% spend fewer than six hours a week optimizing paid digital advertising campaigns.
  • 56% have less than $5,000 per month on average for paid digital advertising, and 18% have $5,000–$25,000 to work with.

Key Findings

  • 78% percent of marketers surveyed said they rely on Google AdWords and social media advertising to get their messages out...
    • ...But when it comes time to prove their return on investment (ROI) on those paid campaigns, 34% said they don't know where to start. Another 30% said they struggle to align various marketing channels in reports.
  • Turning more website visitors into sales was a top three priority for 42% of marketers...
    • ...Yet new sales ranked fifth as a key metric they track regularly.
  • Although sales isn’t high on the list of metrics being tracked, marketers do appear to be seeking more insights on which paid campaigns are driving sales:
    • 28% use the number of sales resulting from paid ads to prove ROI.
    • Only 9% are relying on site traffic alone to prove ROI on paid ads.

This is just a taste of what's to come in the full report. The following sections contain dozens of charts, graphs and stats conveying some fascinating findings. You’ll learn what your fellow marketers are currently doing to leverage resources and discover the three biggest roadblocks to quality lead generation.

The Standards

How are marketers currently driving leads?

We wanted to understand what mediums marketers are currently relying on to attract potential customers, so we asked them which ones are generating the highest volumes of leads for their teams.

The biggest generator of high-volume leads is on-page website conversions (24%), followed by email marketing (18%) and pay-per-click ads (17%).

It’s also important to understand what’s driving leads to those mediums, so we asked survey participants which advertising platforms they’re using in marketing efforts.

Seventy-eight percent of marketers surveyed said they rely on Google AdWords and social media advertising to get their messages out. Within these two overarching categories, 29% use AdWords, 22% use Facebook Ad Exchange, 15% use LinkedIn Ads, and 12% use Twitter Ads.

How does social media advertising differ across sectors? Take a look:

LinkedIn Ads 20% 9%
Twitter Ads 13% 12%
Facebook Ad Exchange 18% 25%

We also wanted to know how marketers are choosing the mediums themselves, so we asked what information they're using to inform paid optimization strategies:

Analytics was the most-used method at 27%, followed by conversion rates at 20% and A/B testing at 17%. Ranking lowest were feedback from sales teams (12%) and lead attribution data that ties conversions to specific touchpoints (9%).

The Opportunities

Top 3 lead capture problems to solve in 2016

The marketers represented in our study have several challenges to address to make it easier to capture more high quality leads:

  • Misaligned and cluttered reporting are clouding ROI.
  • Proving ROI on paid campaigns seems to be a big challenge for marketers. Many are wrestling with an overwhelming number of apps that make it hard to know where to get their data.

  • Key performance indicators aren’t aligning with goals.
  • Many marketers appear to be tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) that are not in line with actual goals. For example: While sales conversions is a key metric for some marketers, most still rely on “vanity” metrics such as overall website traffic and new visits—numbers that may indicate interest but don’t track actual purchases.

  • A lack of information is making it difficult to prove lead quality.
  • Many marketers want to capture more high quality leads that end in sales, but they lack the data to show if, when, and how that happens. This makes it difficult to know which marketing channels are truly worth the investments.

Where are marketers struggling?

Since there's a definitive cost involved with lead generation tactics and mediums, it's important to understand which ones are providing a positive return on investment. But do marketers have access to reporting metrics and methods that will help them reveal where their budgets are best spent? To find out, we asked respondents to tell us what's preventing them from proving ROI on their marketing campaigns.

Sixty-four percent either don’t know where to start or are experiencing issues with misaligned marketing channels. Twenty-one percent don’t have access to good lead source data. Overwhelm appears to be a problem, too: 8% of marketers surveyed said they’re using too many apps and can’t tell which ones are really helping them.

Key Takeaways:

  • The abundance of reporting systems available today appears to be making it overwhelming for many marketers to know where to start.
  • As a result, misaligned channels and cluttered reporting systems are making it difficult to see actual returns on investment.

What are marketers measuring?

We wanted to get a snapshot of marketers’ primary goals and the lead generation tactics they’re currently using to meet their KPIs.

First, respondents were asked to choose the primary goals they're trying to reach with paid campaigns. Here’s the percentage of respondents who selected each one as a top three option:

Goal B2C B2B All Respondents
Better quality leads 45% 67% 54%
Greater volume of leads 41% 52% 46%
More sales 35% 50% 42%
Higher conversion rate 40% 40% 40%
Prove ROI 21% 29% 25%
Higher CTRs 27% 13% 21%

The top-reported goal for marketers is quality: 45% of B2C respondents and 67% of B2B respondents want to generate better quality leads, while 41% in B2C (and 52% in B2B) are hoping to increase the volume of leads. Fifty percent of B2B marketers said they’d like to see more sales, while only 35% of B2C marketers did.

Next, we asked marketers which mediums currently give them the best quality leads (or leads that end in sales).

Twenty-three percent attributed their best leads to organic website traffic, while 17.5% credited referrals and 16% selected email marketing.

Lastly, we asked which paid campaign metrics marketers report on regularly. Respondents were again asked to select their top three.

Metric B2C B2B All Respondents
Conversion Rate 44% 53% 48%
Lead Volume 36% 59% 47%
Click-through Rates 43% 39% 41%
Email Open Rates 31% 29% 31%
New Sales 22% 34% 27%
Acquisition 18% 13% 15%
New Trial Signups 7% 15% 11%
New Demo Signups 5% 9% 7%
Monthly Recurring Revenue 7% 5% 6%

Despite wanting to generate better quality leads and more sales, the three most-often selected metrics among marketers in both the B2C and B2B industries were conversion rates (selected by 48%), lead volume (chosen by 47%) and click-through rates (picked by 41%). New sales ranked fifth, coming in behind email open rates as well.

Key Takeaways:

  • Marketers are aiming to reach one goal (driving higher quality leads) but tracking another (overall conversion rates and volume).
  • New sales is an important KPI at many companies, but it ranks fifth in the overall list of most-used metrics among all respondents.

The Roadblocks

How are marketers proving ROI?

We wanted to know what metrics marketers are using to prove positive returns on lead generation investments. So we asked them:

How do you prove ROI on your paid lead generation strategies?

Less than half (39%) of marketers are proving ROI on paid campaigns by measuring customer relationships—either through the number of new customers brought in or the number of sales resulting from paid ads and sponsored links. The rest rely on other metrics, including landing page traffic, lead volume and first-time website visitors.

In both the B2B and B2C sectors, 100% of the marketers who did track sales and new customers as primary KPIs reported feeling confident in their returns on investment. When we asked participants which apps they use most often to track their best quality leads, only 19% selected sales customer relationship software.

Subsequently, 45% of marketers still said they can’t confidently tie marketing ROI to specific touchpoints with their brand.

Question: Do you feel like you can currently tie ROI directly to your marketing efforts?

Key Takeaways:

  • More than half of marketers surveyed rely on high-level metrics (like web traffic) to prove ROI, as opposed to more results-oriented ones like new sales and leads.
  • As a result, 45% still can’t tell precisely which investments are truly driving high-quality leads.

The Takeaways

5 Ways to Capture More Leads

Despite the wealth of data available today, marketing teams at small and midsize businesses are still experiencing a shortage of actionable insights. It’s difficult for them to prove when a lead generation campaign is resulting in high quality leads. When marketers don’t know which leads are ending in sales, it can be hard to scale campaigns that are truly bringing in quality leads and providing solid returns on investment.

Based on the results of our survey, here are five methods for maximizing lead generation budgets:

1. Consider cutting back on social media advertising.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounted for 48% of the most commonly used paid platforms. Yet when asked where their best-quality leads are coming from, marketers ranked social media fifth behind organic web traffic, referrals, email marketing and Google AdWords. Reallocating some social media advertising funds to other mediums appears to be one way marketers can experience greater ROI in 2016.

2. Maintain an open stream of communication with sales.

Only 12% of marketers reported using feedback from sales to inform their paid campaigns. Most are relying heavily on analytics, while others rely on conversion rates, A/B testing and advertising data. Since sales teams are in direct communication with customers, they can tell the real-life stories behind this data and help put it in context. If your business has a defined sales team, tracking sales KPIs will allow you to identify and invest in the campaigns that are driving your quality leads.

3. Leverage email marketing.

Email marketing ranked as the number two medium for gaining a high volume of leads and number three for high quality leads. It appears that email marketing remains a consistent driver of quality leads. It also gives marketers a way to stretch marketing dollars since it provides a platform for both capturing and nurturing promising leads.

4. When in doubt, optimize your website.

What’s the number one medium for capturing a company’s best leads according to our survey results? Websites. Amid all the changes in social media and email marketing, this is still the best place to attract targeted audiences. Yet 40% of marketers reported low conversion rates and poorly optimized pages. Evaluate your landing pages for opportunities to optimize for conversions: Add calls to action, embed lead generation forms where appropriate, incorporate some third-party testimonials and look for other ways to make content more compelling.

5. Invest in conversion rate optimization.

When asked what’s preventing them from reaching ROI goals, marketers listed landing pages as a primary obstacle. But among those who said they use landing page conversion rates to prove ROI on paid campaigns, 100% said they can confidently attribute returns to specific touch points with their brands. This indicates the time and money devoted to conversion rate optimization is well spent.


Lead capture is the lifeblood of any successful digital marketing campaign. Whether you're working with an advertising budget of $2,500 or $25,000, even your best landing pages won't do much good until they’re sending a steady stream of high quality leads to your database. As we head further into 2016, it’s time to focus on aligning goals with the metrics and mediums that together can empower marketers to capture more leads and land more sales.

The Marketers Behind This Report

219 Marketers

Team Demographics

Departments of 5 or fewer:
Departments of 6-10 or fewer:
Departments of 11 or more:
Individual Contributors:








IT & Services:
Media & Publishing:



The Team Behind This Report

This guide was prepared by Formstack, a robust form building tool for converting more website traffic. With an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, you can create professional, mobile-ready web forms without writing code. Convert more leads on any platform with social media plugins, form A/B testing, and advanced analytics. For more efficient lead nurturing, pass your lead data to one of Formstack's many partner applications.

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