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5 Deadly Lead Generation Mistakes… and How to Avoid Them

by | Apr 8, 2009 | B2B Copywriting, Direct Marketing, Lead Generation, White Papers | 0 comments

In February, I participated in a seminar on writing and marketing with white papers hosted by white paper specialist Michael Stelzner. In one presentation he gave us, Michael discussed 5 mistakes that many businesses make when they use white papers, special reports and other free information products (or “bait pieces”, as they’re often called) to generate leads.

I see those same mistakes time and time again as I browse the websites of companies in the aerospace and technology industries. So today I thought I’d discuss them with you, and share some of my thoughts on how to avoid them.

But first, let me answer a question you might be asking yourself right now, namely, “Why should I care?”

Why should you give away free information to generate leads? The answer is simple: Response. Here’s what marketing guru Bob Bly has to say in his book, The White Paper Marketing Handbook:

“In today’s marketplace, a bait piece is highly recommended, if not an absolute necessity, for lead generation campaigns. Without a bait piece, most lead generation campaigns are lucky to generate a 1 percent response rate. With a bait piece offer, your lead generation campaign can realistically generate response rates of 2 percent or 3 percent or even higher. Therefore, adding a bait piece offer can double or triple response to the same letter or e-mail versus not offering a bait piece.”

A 200% to 300%+ boost in response is nothing to sneeze at.

But you’ll only get those higher response rates if you avoid the mistakes we’re about to discuss. So let’s get to ‘em.

Lead Generation Mistake #1: Providing the Wrong Content

What Stelzner means by “the wrong content” is content that focuses on a company or product…instead of on the prospect’s problem.

I see this mistake all the time. I visit a company’s website and see a banner that reads “Download out FREE White Paper: How to use the Acme FX-3189 MegaWidget to isolate and diagnose ARINC 429 controller faults”.

The problem? Mention a product name…and readers know they’re in for a sales pitch.

When you give away free content to generate leads, you need to give away something that’s really valuable. Not a sales pitch. You’re trying to gain your prospects’ trust. Trust is what will make them more likely to buy from you in the future.

Last month, I described a basic formula writing a “product-agnostic” white paper. You want to lay out a problem that your prospect has and show him how to solve it. Without mentioning your product. Using this formula, you avoid all perception of a sales pitch. And most importantly, you offer your prospects something they will willingly trade their contact information for.

Lead Generation Mistake #2: Post and Hope Syndrome

Another common mistake is simply posting a valuable white paper or report on the corporate website and hoping that prospects will find it there. There may be a banner ad on the home page inviting visitors to download it. But little else is done to attract prospects, drive them to the website, or tempt them to trade their contact details for the content.

Stelzner call this “Post and Hope Syndrome”. This approach assumes that

  • Prospects will know what they’re looking for and search for it,
  • Google will give their white paper a high ranking for their prospects’ search terms,
  • Prospects will otherwise manage to find the company website and the white paper,
  • They’ll want to download the content based on just a title or short description.

Pretty big assumptions.

Needless to say, marketers who “post and hope” rarely get the results they hope for.

To generate leads with free content, you need to market that free content. You can do that in the same ways you market your products and services. Print ads, pay-per-click ads, direct mail and email can all be used to advertise your white paper and drive traffic to your registration page, or landing page. Then on the landing page, you “sell” the prospect on all the great information he’s going to get from your report, and get him to sign up. (I’ll talk more about landing pages under Mistake #5).

Another option is white paper syndication. Vendors like Tech Target (, Find White Papers and Netline ( will advertise and distribute your white paper and collect your leads for you. Most charge on a per-lead basis with a guaranteed minimum number of leads.

Lead Generation Mistake #3: The “Invisible Man” Mistake

Closely related to “post and hope syndrome” is what Stelzner calls the “Invisible Man” mistake: failure to integrate your free content offer with the rest of your marketing.

As mentioned earlier, a free information offer can double or even triple response to any campaign. There are several reasons for this.

First, the free information offer grabs attention. It makes the reader slow down and read to find out what he can get for free. Second, in spite of being overloaded with reading material, business people and engineers are always seeking new information to do their jobs better. A well-targeted report or white paper is very attractive to these prospects Third, a free report makes an attractive “soft” offer for prospects who have no immediate need, or who have an immediate need but want to gather information before speaking with a sales rep. And finally, business people and engineers, like everyone else, simply like to get things for free.

So don’t just advertise your free content offer on its own. Include it in all your other marketing efforts for your related products or services. Mention it in your pay-per-click ads. Add a small side bar or starburst to your print ads. Run a sidebar ad for it, and mention it whenever possible in your newsletter or blog. Include a banner for it on you home page and related product pages. And always include the url of your landing page. Chances are, you’ll see better results.

Lead Generation Mistake #4: Leaving the Safe Open

There is a lot of debate over whether one should require registration for access to free content. But if you want to generate leads, you can’t just “leave the safe open”. You need to get those contact details and other qualifying information.

It’s obvious. If you don’t know who’s downloading your white paper, you can’t market to them. You can’t send them direct mail. You can’t send them email marketing messages. And there’s no way for your sales force to follow up.

But there’s also another factor working against you.

If prospects can simply click on a link and download your special report or white paper without giving you anything in return, they are likely to discount the value of what you’ve given them. There’s no anticipation. Each step of the registration and download process provides you an opportunity to get your brand in front of the prospect and build up the value of your offer. Eliminate the registration process and those opportunities are lost.

You need to provide an effective registration page, or landing page, to capture those leads before they get away. Which leads us to Mistake #5…

Lead Generation Mistake #5: Landing Pages that are Too Brief.

The landing page isn’t just a registration form. It’s where you explain to your prospect all the valuable information he will receive in your special report. It’s where you prove to him that it will be well worth his time to register, download your report, and read it. Here, you capture your prospect’s interest…as well as his contact data.

Unfortunately, many companies don’t look at it that way. They seem to figure that if you’ve clicked on their link, you’re convinced you need their white paper. There’s little or no sample of the content. No testimonials. Just a big registration form with too many questions.

Obviously, these companies want to know a lot about you. But they offer little incentive – in terms of content or credibility – for you to surrender your personal information in exchange for the white paper. That can be a big turn-off to people who are in a hurry…who don’t yet know what the solution to their problem looks like…and who aren’t sure that what’s being offered will be helpful to them.

To generate leads with educational content, you need a good landing page – a landing page that peaks your prospects’ interest. One that makes them eager to trade their precious contact details for your valuable information.

And if you need someone to write a white paper or special report – or with the landing page and advertising to promote it – just give me a call at (+39) 011-569-4951 to discuss your project and get a free quote. You can also request a quote by email at, or by using my contact form.

Take-Away Points

To avoid the 5 deadly lead generation mistakes and successfully capture sales leads using white papers, special reports and other free content offers, you need to do the following:

  • Provide valuable educational content – not a sales pitch,
  • Don’t just “post and hope” – drive traffic to your offer,
  • Integrate your free content offer into the rest of your related product marketing,
  • Require registration to download your valuable content, but
  • Construct an effective landing page that makes prospects eager to sign up.
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