The Definitive Guide to Progressive Profiling

Progressive profiling

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about progressive profiling, what it means and how you can get started.

And let me be clear about something:

This is NOT a lame post about old school lead nurturing or lead generation.

Instead, you’re going to see tested strategies that are working right now in 2018…and will work even better in 2019, 2020 and beyond.

So if you’re looking to up your lead generation game this year, you’ll love this guide.

Let’s dive right in.

Chapter 1: What is Progressive Profiling?

Progressive profiling is a data-driven lead generation and nurturing strategy that uses website behavior, activity, and interest as the main indicator of whether a prospect is hot or cold. As a result, your visitors don’t need to leave as much personal information, because progressive profiling often uses methods like email enrichment and IP-tracking to figure out e.g. company details.

For example, if you have more than one lead magnet, you only ask the visitor to leave their email address to download the first one.

When they want to download the second one, you only ask for their role or perhaps phone number because you already know what company they’re from. 

This means you can keep your forms short and only ask for the information you lack as you build up a relationship.

Not only is it less intimidating for your prospects, but you’ll also avoid asking for the same information over and over again.

Here’s an example of how a sales funnel based on progressive profiling might look:

Collecting information with progressive profiling

Many of the large marketing automation suites like Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot, and Eloqua use manual lead scoring to decide whether the prospect is hot or cold.

This means the user has to manually give points for each event. This usually means that the lead scoring is based on personal opinion rather than actual behavior.

Marketing software with progressive profiling can recognize a visitor when they revisit a website, knowing what information you already have and what additional information you need.

In one way, progressive profiling takes you closer to how relationships in real-life are built.

I mean…

Imagine you own a small local store.

local shop

Image: Eco Camp UK

Your success as a local business owner relies almost entirely on making every customer happy because it’s often hard to compete with the big guys on price and variety.

This makes it even more important to become creative when it comes to winning loyal customers…

You have to build up a relationship with regular customers so they have a reason to come back.

You get to know each customer better each time they visit. 

Eventually, you’ll greet them by name, know the name of their kids, get to know their wife/husband, and most importantly…

You learn about their preferences and habits.

But as with any relationship, it’s not something that happens the first time you meet. Relationships are built up gradually, over time.

As you get to know your customers better, maybe you’ll even go so far as to save or prepare certain items just for them, because you know what they like and what time they usually stop by.

You start personalizing the experience based on their behavior – and this is exactly what progressive profiling enables you to do.

Now imagine another scenario:

You see a new customer walking in. It’s the first time you see her face.

She’s walking towards the cold section – it seems like she’s looking for milk, or perhaps some cheese…

You think to yourself:

“This is a perfect time for a cross-interrogation! She’s in MY store after all…”

You start walking towards her. She looks at you, she’s smiling, she thinks you just want to help her find what she’s looking for.

You smile back, and before she even has the chance to say “Hello”, you ask for her name, her e-mail address, where she works, company role, phone number and monthly food budget…

Store clerk asking a lot of questions

Would that be a pleasant experience? Probably not.

It would wipe the smile off her face faster than a toupé in a hurricane.

Toupé in a hurricane

Yet this is how most businesses treat visitors and prospects. It’s basically the exact opposite of how real-world relationships are built.

Here’s the truth:

Most successful marketing strategies are digitized versions of their physical equivalent.

Even though we use digital tools to nurture relationships with friends and family, we have still built up the relationship in the real world, and we can’t forget that our brains are still left in the analog world.

Chapter 2: Why traditional lead generation is broken – and how to fix it

Trying to run a business without generating leads is like trying to fly a kite just by blowing at it – ain’t gonna happen.

For years marketers and salespeople have treated incoming leads like just another number with the sole purpose of moving them from point A (first interaction/visit) to point B (customer), and in a best-case scenario – point C (repeat customer).

This is usually executed using a 3-step cookie-cutter formula:

The cookie-cutter formula for lead generation and lead nurturing

  1. Capture an email address
  2. “Give value” and send some automated emails
  3. Convert lead into a customer

Sounds familiar?

While it might be the easiest way to kickstart your lead generation programme and bring in some business, the problem is that most businesses never go beyond that point and think about how to build a relationship with their prospects before trying to sell them something.

If you’re stuck in this cookie-cutter phase, you’ll most likely focus your efforts on getting as many leads as possible into the top of your funnel – without paying attention to the middle and bottom of your funnel.

That’s the first part of the problem.

But guess what?

Just generating leads is not enough

You need a qualification process as well.

Unfortunately, the standard qualification process usually means having prospects fill out a long form with dropdowns and checkboxes (or worse, only text-fields) to access an E-book or report you have available.

And if you have more than one resource available, prospects usually have to fill out their information again, in the same or a similar form to get access to it.

If your prospect has taken all the steps you want them to take, you let your sales team screen the list of prospects and contact ones that meet the right profile.

Not only is it ineffective, but having users fill out their information over and over again can result in a lot of duplicate contact records as well.

Studies show that the average marketing database contains 33% duplicate records.

Duplicate database records

Far from all businesses are using marketing software sophisticated enough to merge contact records as they move between lists and tags.

If you’re trying to nurture a database full of duplicate records… you’re in for a real treat.

Another problem with this type of lead generation is that every lead you capture has to go through the same steps – steps that you have plotted out for them.

Take a look at this image below:

stockholm subway

This is an image of the subway network in Stockholm.

It has 101 stations.

Depending on where you live and where you want to go, you need to ride along between 2 – 30 stations.

Not everyone needs to go exactly 3 stations, or 5 stations.

It has 101 stations because people have different needs.

It’s the same thing with lead nurturing, often it’s not enough just having 3 or 5 steps for your leads to take – especially not when you have decided what those steps are.

This is exactly why lead nurturing is one of the biggest challenges companies have.

So, how can we fix this?

The first thing you should consider is…

Taking a multi-step approach to lead generation

If you wanted to download a resource and had the choice between filling out 7 fields or only 2 fields – given that both forms gave you access to the same resource – which one would you choose?

large form vs small form

Probably the form with fewer fields, right?

There are countless studies showing that reducing the number of fields in a form will generally increase the conversion rate, but this is not always the case.

Longer forms are generally more accepted when signing up for an account, but when it comes to downloading a resource (e.g. E-books or reports), shorter forms are generally more preferred.

Marcus Taylor, CEO of Venture Harbor says the following in one of his recent blog posts:

“Over the past five years, I’ve tested multi-step forms across a lot of industries and site types. For lead generation specifically, I’ve yet to see a traditional one-step form that converts better than a multi-step version with the same questions.”

Venture Harbor ran a test for where they replaced a regular form with 7 inputs, against a multi-step form.

The result?

Conversion rate went up over 4x – from 11% to 46%!

brokernotes multistep form

Image: Venture Harbour

Most people in your target audience have a lot of things to do, and filling out your form is probably not even in their top 10 or top 100 tasks for the day.

Multi-steps forms lower the threshold and make it feel less like a chore to complete a form.

Besides, progressive profiling helps you collect data about your prospect in the backround, eliminating the need for using a lot of form fields.

Chapter 3: How to win friends and customers

Here’s how a typical nurturing funnel looks:

Traditional lead nurturing process

Many businesses have a few downloadable resources which they offer to visitors at different stages of the customer journey.

But, as you can see in the image, they are all locked behind forms asking you to fill in the same information over and over again.

Like we discussed before, this is not optimal. This is not how relationships are built.

This is how it would look if you used progressive profiling:

Progressive profiling

Instead of asking your lead for the same information several times, you only ask them to basically fill in the blanks.

You really need to ask yourself:

Which information do I need to close a deal?

In most cases, you would only need one or two pieces of information to actually be able to introduce yourself, make contact and start building a relationship:

  • Email
  • Phone

For some companies, this information along with some “soft data” can be more than enough for a sales rep to send a compelling introduction.

What is soft data and how do you use it?

There are two types of data you need to take into account when nurturing leads – Hard data and soft data.

Hard data is the type of data that is static, like:

  • E-mail
  • Phone number
  • Company
  • Role
  • Budget
  • etc…
Explanation of hard data

Soft data is data that is constantly changing and evolving, like:

  • Interest
  • Website activity
  • Behavior
  • Habits
  • Referring sites
  • Etc, etc
Explanation of soft data

Hard data is data that sits in your database that you use to segment or send out marketing material, it’s crucial that this information is correct.

Soft data is behavioral data used to get to know your prospect better without having to ask them to leave any information. You just track them when they visit your website or open your emails and generate a profile based on their behavior.

You can use soft data to segment lists, trigger emails, offer coupons, and personalize your communication.

Many (if not most) of the large all-in-one marketing automation systems use lead scoring as a signal for when a prospect is ready to buy.

But the problem is that it’s mostly done manually – you give points to specific actions you want your leads to perform, and when they have reached a certain score they get flagged as “hot”.

Guy Marion, CMO at Autopilot says the following in one of his blog posts about lead scoring:

Traditional lead scoring typically only uses data the marketer can capture. It misses out on many other predictive signals of buying behavior, like current technology usage, VC funding, or management team maturity.

He also states that most B2B decisions are made on a group basis.

So even if person A form Company A has been scored as a hot lead, most systems won’t take into consideration if Person B or C from Company A also visited your website and looked at your pricing.

This is where progressive profiling can help you.

Going all-in with progressive profiling

Let’s circle back to the local store owner in the beginning.

When building relationships with prospects, you have to take things slow. Progressively.

Sure, you still need to plot out a plan for how you’re going to get your prospect from A to B, but progressive profiling helps you do it a bit smoother.

Here’s how you get started:


Find a service that tracks soft data from individual website visitors and prospects.

I’m guessing you already have a service that helps you capture all the hard data like email addresses (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this would you).

Of course, we’re biased, but Triggerbee will help you track soft data like company name, behavior, activity, referral data, page visits and interest with minimal setup.

Step 1: Map out your customer journey

Instead of creating three different e-books or reports in beforehand, think about what your customer needs to know before they are a customer – and to become a customer.

What information do other companies offer, and what do they miss?

How much does your prospect need to know about your product or service before they become a customer? Are they mostly novices or experts?

What can you give them that others can’t, and more importantly… how can you give it to them?

Ask yourself what information you need to both qualify and deliver content that takes them to the next step.

Like we said before, customer journeys are almost never linear. Prospects almost never go through a fixed amount of logical steps before they are hot or ready to be sold to.

Traditional marketing funnel

Image: Kissmetrics

More often than not, they look like this:

A realistic customer journey

The larger the deal, the more human touches are required.

You can still automate this to some extent – sometimes it’s enough just to send out a stripped email that looks like someone from your team have sent it out.

As long as you’re there to reply, it’s nothing wrong with automating your outreach.

Step 2: Figure out what information you need at each step

By now you know who your prospect is, and they have probably visited your website more than once.

But do you really need to know your prospects monthly budget to send out a report or have them download your next e-book?

Probably not, unless you have an extremely sophisticated and personalized nurturing process.

Especially with GDPR now in force, it’s important you figure out what type of information you need to get the ball rolling, and that you are clear on how you are using any contact info you collect.

For the first step – Awareness:

What do you actually need to send out the first email? An email address, and perhaps a name.

If you really do need some company info, think about if you can use an enrichment service like Clearbit or Triggerbee (just make sure you collect consent for that as well).

Enrichment services help you extract company info from your prospect’s IP-address without them having to type anything, minimize the fields in your forms, and automatically send it to your CRM or email system.

Collected information:

  • Email

Potentially company data extracted from email enrichment

For the second step – Consideration:

I think I read the following quote in one of advertising legend David Ogilvy’s books, I can’t really remember, but it goes something like this:

“Your product or service doesn’t necessarily need to be the best, as long as your customer perceives it as better than the competition”.

What questions does your prospect ask themselves at this stage? What makes them nervous?

…and what information do you need from them to give them a credible answer?

Maybe, you don’t need one even one more piece of information.

I know what you’re thinking…


Just like the subway analogy, not everyone needs to go through the exact same steps.

Imagine this:

You have a SaaS app you’re trying to get more users for.

[email protected] downloads one of your e-books. She opens your welcome email and clicks one of the links you have in your footer.

She reads two of your blog posts, and a few days go by… Radio silence.

You send out your second email offering her a webinar training.

She clicks it, signs up for it, and watches 5 minutes.

Sara leaves your webinar and visits your pricing page instead. 10 minutes later, someone else from her company also visits your pricing page.

A few days later, you can see that [email protected] and someone else from her company visit your website AGAIN…

Now that’s some serious buying intent, and it’s probably time to ask for her phone number, be a little more aggressive on offering her a free trial, or simply have one of your reps reach out to her.

Thanks to progressive profiling you can see all of her activity from her first visit to now,  and any sales rep can prepare an outreach email with a few testimonials and some mind-blowing customer results.

Collected information:

  • Email
  • Company info (from enrichment)
  • Soft data – website activity

For the third step: Decision

This is the step where you give your prospects an offer or more information that emotionally puts them at ease – and makes them perceive your brand/product/service as superior against your competitors.

If they haven’t responded to your outreach or registering a free trial, now is the time to knock their socks off.

Send out customer testimonials, different types of social proof and perhaps even offers – do anything you can to get them to take action (but don’t be too pushy).

Selling is fine, and there’s nothing wrong with being a little pushy. Just don’t try too much to the point where it becomes annoying.

Send out 2 – 3 emails in a week, and then wait 4 – 6 weeks before you follow up the next time.

Make sure your follow-up is based on your prospects soft data like previous interest and behavior.

This is the step where you want to try as hard as possible to get any last piece of information you really need to qualify them as a prospect.

Collected information:

  • Email
  • Company information (from enrichment)
  • Website activity (soft data)
  • Telephone number


Progressive profiling is a new way of qualifying prospects before trying to sell to them.

Instead of deciding what path to choose, you look at the behavior of your prospects and take into account the behavior of their colleagues.

Instead of making your prospects fill out all their information in one go, you focus on only collecting information you need, when you need it.

It helps you mimic how real-world relationships are built.

Progressive profiling is not a be-all and end-all to the discussion on how to nurture or generate leads but it’s a new way to do it without changing too much in your strategy.

All businesses need to evolve and adapt to new strategies and that usually means closing the gap between the physical world and the digital world.

Thanks to Mirko from Vectorarte/Freepik for providing resources for the header image.

Felix Langlet
Felix Langlet

Felix is a self-taught marketer and the head of marketing at Triggerbee. He is specialized in SEO, content marketing, and copywriting. Outside of work, you can find him spending time with his family, listening to podcasts, or watching documentaries.

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