See all Insights

How Smart CTAs And Progressive Profiling Work

Chris Butler: Hello, and welcome to the Newfangled Agency Marketing Matters podcast. I’m Chris Butler.

Chris Creech: And I’m Chris Creech.

Mark O’Brien: And I’m Mark O’Brien.

Chris Butler: And we’re here for the fifth episode of Season 2. We’re in my office, and we’re going to talk about marketing automation stuff today, which is why we have Chris at the table. It’s your first time with the podcast.

Chris Creech: Yeah, first-time podcaster here.

Chris Butler: Awesome. As normal, we like to begin by just giving you guys a little heads up and what’s new in our world, something we’re excited about. Mark, let’s start with you.

Mark O’Brien: Well, I’m excited about the new MercuryCSC site launching. They’ve been a client for a number of years now. As they were working with us, they had various things that they had to work through through the business. But to have the new site launch and the automation strategy and the content strategy, and they’re really hitting the ground running at full speed. The site’s gorgeous. They did a great job taking our advice on the strategy side and they did an extraordinary job on designing it on their side. The combination of those two things is really fun to see live, and we’re excited to see how it’s going to impact the business. They were great to work with, lots of really wonderful people over there, and we’re just really happy for them to have this new system launched.

Chris Butler: Awesome. How about you, Chris?

Chris Creech: Yeah. Likewise, another similar project is Azul Seven. They actually built their own site, but worked with us through the strategy of it, working through it with our team on the marketing animation front, the website visual design consulting, as well as content strategy. That is now up and live, so a really strong site, and we’re looking forward to see how all that works together for them.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Something about their site that I really just liked is that it looks so much different from what we’re used to seeing. I think they really found a way to take their sensibility and apply it to our recommendations, which is always fun to see. While we’re talking about new sites, I wanted to mention one that is not a client, but a good friend of mine, Michael Babwahsingh. He is an information designer. He and his wife have their own studio in New York called Sense Info Design. They relaunched their website just in the last couple of weeks at But what’s cool about it is that they’re not a client of ours but they’ve read all of our material on the site in terms of what we recommend a agency’s website do and how it should be designed. I just think that they did some really interesting things, they applied a lot of our recommendations, and it’s just always good to have a site to point at that we didn’t help with directly but we definitely influenced with our content. So check them out.

Chris Creech: Excellent, excellent.

Chris Butler: Today, we’re going to talk about smart CTAs and progressive profiling, two complicated issues. What are they, Chris?

Chris Creech: Well, it is more than just a lot of jargon. Smart CTAs and progressive profiling kind of work hand in hand. The idea behind both of them is that we don’t want to ask people on the site to do something they’ve already done or provide information they’ve already provided. By doing that, it enables us to build really rich profiles on them through presenting CTAs that are always the next step. So if they’ve already signed up for the newsletter, that smart CTA would no longer ask them to sign up for our newsletter. It would present them with the upcoming webinar. If they’ve already signed up for the upcoming webinar, maybe it’s download this last whitepaper. It’s always the next thing. There’s always another action we want them to take without asking them to do something they’ve already done.

That ties into the progressive profiling, where if they’ve already provided us their first name, last name and email, the next time they fill out a form we don’t want to ask for that again. We’ll pre-fill that information and maybe just ask title and company name. Then the next one they fill out we take away title and company and maybe ask industry and location. That is enabling us to build a really rich profile and really get to know who these people are and determine if they’re a good prospect or not, while for the user it keeps their experience very easy. They’re never providing more than two or three fields of information on any conversion point on the site.

Chris Butler: Are there particular kinds of things that, when you work with your clients that you find that they think that they need to know in order to properly vet a client, like a particular field, but as it turns out as they use this over time that they realize that something else is actually more valuable to them?

Chris Creech: Yeah. Actually, that does happen. I think when people we first start talking with clients about what is the information they want to collect, they tend to just think about some of those defaults, take location, for example. But then once we actually get working with them and talking to them about why they want that information, we often find there are additional pieces of information that are going to be more helpful. Oftentimes, that’s things like project timeline or, “Have you worked with an agency before?” or, “What industry are you in?” or, “What is your focus?” These types of things often aren’t the first thing that clients think of, but often can be more valuable when determining if they are a good prospect and a right fit for your services.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, and this gets right to the heart of what we talk about all the time, which is the idea of attracting right fit prospects, which is back to positioning. Who do you actually want to be working with? What types of people are going to be your best customers a year from now? And, again, using marketing as a tool to change the future of your firm in an intentional way. The clearer an agency is on who it is they’re trying to attract, the better job we can do to help them really make the site to the right kind of filter. Where do these people work? What’s their title? What are their responsibilities? What’s their budget? What’s their bi-cycle? Have they worked with a firm like that before? There are lots of things you can get into with progressive profiling and smart CTAs that are really to the agency’s benefit if they understand who they’re going after. The better notion they have of who the target actually is and what solution they have for that target, the better they can use these smart CTAs.

Chris Butler: Right. Really, what you’re getting at there ties us right back into marketing automation as it plays into lead scoring, because to effectively score the prospects that are coming to your site, and we could have a whole conversation on lead scoring and the strategy there.

Mark O’Brien: We should. Yeah.

Chris Butler: We’ll do that next. But all that is fueled by this progressive profiling. That’s why it’s really important that we get that foundation right and we’re asking the right information that’s helping us know if they’re a good prospect because then we can put these other tools in place that just layer on top of it to make that information more visible.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. A thing we’ve been talking about for a long, long time, long before we had access to progressive profiling or smart CTAs is this idea that the first conversion, and by conversion in this case we’re talking about somebody filling out a form on the site for any reason at all, the first conversion is the most important thing that happens in the entire marketing relationship with that individual, online or offline, because at that moment of conversion that’s when the power in the marketing relationship shifts from the prospect to the agency because prior to them converting we don’t know who they are, we can’t track them, we can’t specifically market to them in any way at all. We’re pretty much helpless. But once they do convert, we can do all those things in a responsible manner. Smart CTAs and progressive profiling just allow us to make the absolute most of that moment every single time.

It’s really exciting, and it’s something that’s largely invisible. No one talks about it much. You don’t really see it on a site. You don’t recognize it when it is happening to you, oftentimes, unless you’re really looking for it. It’s something that is so incredibly critical to the success of a marketing site and this job of attracting, informing, engaging, and nurturing these prospects. But it’s sort of an unsung hero, I think of the whole lead development process.

Chris Butler: Right, right. You hit on something there that I think was interesting talking about that first conversion point, because especially in the sense of working with an agency, people that are thinking about hiring an agency, it’s a big decision and oftentimes a lot of that research is done prior to them taking any action on your website or a competitor’s website. But when they do, they’re often a pretty good ways through that process. Some of them often are gathering research in the early stages, but if we give them a lot of opportunities to access more valuable information like whitepapers and webinars, then we can really get out in front of that process and influence that decision making process. That’s why the progressive profiling and smart CTAs really just fit right into that to give us the upper hand in that conversation.

Mark O’Brien: Right. That ties right into the content strategy consulting that Lauren Siler and Julia Vanderput work on and the idea, particularly the idea of having multi-type content, meaning about the blog digest, there’s only one conversion point: sign up for the blog once. No matter if you write one blog or 10,000 blog posts, there’s only one conversion. But things like whitepapers and webinars and any downloadable or registrable assets, that provides the most opportunity there. Any sound content strategy has to be a mix of, usually a blog just gets people comfortable with that. It doesn’t have to be a blog, but it usually is, and then some kind of multi-type conversion point like these other tools we’re talking about.

Chris Butler: Right. I was going to mention that because I think a lot of people assume, when they think about forms on their site they assume that they’ve got like, “Well, we’ll do the sign up for the newsletter, and then let’s get in touch about the project.” But in order to really get progressive profiling to do its work you need somebody to fill out many more forms than that. There might be potentially 15 to 18 fields in your progressive profile, your full profile. If we’re asking for maybe three additional fields per form submission, we need them to engage more rigorously. So whitepapers, that’s a great opportunity to do that because someone might read three of those and they have to fill out a form each time. What other types of forms are conducive to really gaining information into that profile?

Chris Creech: Yeah. Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. Really the biggest area we see for our clients to gain the power of the progressive profiling is through content forms, so anything that’s gated content. You mentioned white papers. The other big one is webinars. Any downloadable assets that are on the site, whether it’s ebooks, white papers, webinars, anything that is providing a higher level of value that you think people are going to be willing to fill out a form and give you a little bit of information to access that. There always has to be that value proposition there, but any content that you can justify that value proposition that you can gate and they are trading their information for access to it, it could work no matter what format it is, whether it’s video, audio, written, etc.

Chris Butler: At the risk of getting a little bit too far under the hood, I’m kind of curious. Somebody that you’re working with has taken their first step with the progressive profile. Maybe they’ve got 18 fields there. They work with it for six months, nine months, something like that, and they say, “Hey, you know what? Now that we’re getting this data in, we realize we really need to be asking different questions.” How does that work from that point forward and change?

Chris Creech: Yeah, and that’s a great question because that happens. If you’re really using the system and you’re paying attention to the data you’re collecting, that will happen. We’re going to help guide our clients upfront and hopefully start them on the right foot. But as they’re collecting this data, as they’re seeing how people are engaging these forms, inevitably they’re going to want to add to it or change the order.

So we’ve looked at building systems that allow our clients to do that. One of the things that we’ve built in our suite of WordPress plugins for sites that we build or when we work with clients who are building their own site, is it’s a progressive profiling plugin on the site so they can go in and change the order, they can add new fields, and obviously we can provide the strategic advice around that and help them think through that. But it is, at this point in time, something that’s very easy to change as your business changes and as you’re learning more about your prospects and what information is going to be the most helpful.

Chris Butler: Let’s say that somebody was using some off the shelf system now for marketing automation, maybe some that somebody might know about that isn’t ours. Something like smart CTAs, for example, I’ve had the impression that that’s not really a standard feature within most marketing automation systems. Progressive profiling or lead scoring, I think there’s versions of that in many of the other systems. But the idea that it would be so integrated with the site as to be able to swap in and out calls to action based upon that user’s activity and personalization, that’s not something that’s usually part of these third-party systems. That’s correct, right?

Chris Creech: Yes. Well, yes and no. I think all of the different marketing automation systems out there, if you talk to anyone there they will tell you, “Yes, we do all these things.” And they all do, to some extent. It’s just the level at which it’s integrated with everything on the site, which is why we after doing the research and looking at what different systems could offer, for example, some would just do progressive profiling on those gated content forms. We couldn’t do progressive profiling on our email signup or contact form, etc. Or, with smart CTAs the only way you can do smart CTAs was if you actually iframed in or embedded their form instead of integrating it with the site form.

We found that none of them were exactly how we wanted them to be, which is why we built something that it on the site level, because that is the level that the user is actually interfacing with that then runs the progressive profiling and integrates back into any of the different marketing automation platforms. So, yes, they all do it, but I think they all have their own weaknesses which is why we decided that building our own system would be the right way for us to go.

Mark O’Brien: Cool. Yeah. I really like where we are in regard to our R&D these days. We’re not going to build a CRM. We’re not going to build a marketing automation system. But being in a position to observe some of the holes that exist, we’re looking at the communication between the website, the CRM, and the automation tool and be able to fill those gaps through integrated solutions, mostly built as WordPress plugins to basically take advantage of the things that are not quite running in these other off the shelf systems. This is a great example of our own R&D and just something we’ve been able to create that’s a real solution in the marketplace to serve a gap. It just wasn’t there, and even a lot of the automation tools we respect quite a bit, they don’t have this. It’s been fun to be able to supply that need.

Chris Creech: Yeah. It really is one of the things we talk about a lot, is being the glue that holds all that together. It’s taking these systems and figuring out how could we enhance them, how can we insert our expertise through our development expertise and our strategic expertise and tie these systems together more tightly to bring even more value out of them.

Chris Butler: Yeah. It’s also the only the only piece of the puzzle that makes it a guarantee you’re going to have data to measure at some point later. So if you actually want to say, “Hey, was this initiative successful? Did we actually do something with this new site?” Without any of this stuff happening, there’s really nothing to measure. You can look at analytics to see who clicked what, but ultimately that doesn’t really move the needle. Cool. Well, we can wrap it up with that. There are probably a ton of content items on the site that would be relevant to this conversation. If you wanted to point somebody in a direction, what would you recommend?

Chris Creech: Well, I’d say actually we have a webinar that I think by the time this post, either the webinar will have just happened or registration is still ongoing. I think registration will still be open, so depending on when you’re listening to this, we either just did or are about to do a webinar actually on a very similar topic to this talking about progressive profiling and smart CTAs, looking at some examples and really diving into that in a more visual way that we can’t do here. I would say if you’re looking for more information on this, that’d be a great place to start.

Chris Butler: Okay. I was going to mention two things, actually. Number one was an article, Chris, that you wrote back in 2014. It’s called Measuring Marketing ROI with Marketing Automation. The reason why is because you connect all these things that we were talking about to a particular revenue attribution report that you can have within marketing automation systems, and that’s huge. I actually got in somewhat of a Twitter squabble with somebody a few months ago who said that there’s no such thing as revenue attribution and basically saying that content marketing can’t be proven. I was just like, “What are you talking about? This exists, and our clients use it.”

That leads me to the second thing I wanted to recommend, which is one of the case studies we feature currently on our site right now. It’s called How a Cause Branding Agency Used Marketing Automation to Land a Longtime Dream Client. This is a client of ours, Big Duck, and they specifically talk about attributing revenue to marketing automation efforts in this case study. I’d say that is a great double header. Read Chris’s article, and then read the case study and if you’re not sold on marketing automation after that then something’s wrong. How about you, Mark?

Mark O’Brien: Just a second. Chris Creech’s original point with the webinar, this is a very visual topic. It really does help to see these forms and to see them expand and see the lead scoring profiles, that kind of thing. Talking about it is one thing, like we’re doing here, but if this topic is of interest I do encourage you to either sign up for or download that webinar after it’s done. But I want to talk about the Newfangled Seminar, which will definitely be happening after you year this podcast, as long as you listen to it live or when it launches. That is May 3rd through 5th in Chapel Hill. That’s a two-day immersion.

The three of us will be part of it, as well as Lauren Siler. Basically, we take two days to dig into the nitty gritty of content strategy, contact strategy, website design strategy, CRM, and automation. We get into topics like this that we normally wouldn’t be able to get into in a very, very deep level just in an hour-long conversation or something. We have two days to get into all the fine detail around these systems and how they all come together. So if you’re interested in that, definitely check that out on our site at

Chris Butler: Incidentally, the agency that you mentioned at the very beginning of the show, Mercury, they attended our first seminar. This upcoming one is our third. They attended that seminar right after signing up with us because they wanted to start off with a deep dive, and it definitely paid off in huge dividends for them. The site speaks for itself. This is a nice tie-back to that milestone they just reached.

Mark O’Brien: Good point.

Chris Creech: And the seminar’s a lot fun.

Mark O’Brien: That’s true.

Chris Butler: There’s a lot of good food and drink, a lot of fun to be had at this huge deep dive with a lot of cool people. All right, well that’s a wrap. We’ll look forward to talking to y’all next time. In the meantime, if you would find us on iTunes and rate us that would help us out quite a bit and expose the show to new people who don’t know about it. As always, you can find us at Take care.