Advanced CRO Tactics: Qualifying Leads With ‘Negative Optimization‘
Audience Testing

Advanced CRO Tactics: Qualifying Leads With ‘Negative Optimization‘

Andrew IshimaruAndrew Ishimaru

July 15, 2021

It’s Friday morning.

You wake up feeling good, grab a coffee on the way to work, and roll into the office just in time for the weekly KPI meeting.

This week you’re excited because you just tested some new conversion rate optimization (CRO) tactics that doubled your lead gen!

Feeling like a hero, you pull up your spreadsheet but… then all you hear are complaints from the sales team.

“These leads are low quality, all we get is an email address! What happened to the phone numbers we used to get two weeks ago?”

And boom, just like that, your Big Win of the Quarter turns into an argument about lead quality.

Yes, sometimes it seems to us marketers like sales teams demand way too much information on leads. You probably don’t need home addresses or social security numbers from all your leads.

The Problem With CRO That Doesn’t Qualify Leads

Purely metric-driven goals miss out on qualitative aspects that matter, a lot.

Qualifying leads with only an email address is a great example of this.

Sure, we all know the stats that each extra form field reduces conversions by 33%. Or something crazy like that.

But, that extra bit of information might be the difference between sales closing that lead… and never hearing from them again.

And that’s not even mentioning the political consequences from angry sales teams.

So, what are we getting at here?

Well, let’s first take a look at “traditional” Conversion Rate Optimization.

Typical CRO focuses on incremental gains via increasing throughput between stages in the sales funnel.

That is to say, increase clickthrough rates by 10% to generate more traffic.

Increase form submissions by 25% to generate more leads.

Increase email responses by 8% to generate more SQLs.

Etc. Etc.

Over time, the sum of your CRO experiments results in more revenue flowing through the funnel.

A few examples:

  • Split testing ads to increase CTR and drive more traffic
  • Reducing the number of form fields to generate more leads
  • Split testing email automation to create more conversations with sales

These are valuable tools to have in your marketing toolkit, don’t get me wrong.

The thing is, this framework incentivizes increasing gross volume of traffic/leads/conversations/sales… at the cost of quality.

Ads with the highest CTR are generic and clickbait-y.

A single email form field results in buckets of low-grade leads like and

Automatic emails sent every hour burns your brand image. And then all your prospects get pissed off and start to unsubscribe.

So how do we fix this?

Introducing: Negative Optimization

Negative Optimization focuses on decreasing gross numbers of marketing/sales metrics. Like leads, revenue, sales, and website traffic.

The goal we’re optimizing for is quality over quantity.

This could be a strict marketing metric like leads generated. But this could also be something like support time spent per customer. Or sales close ratios.

For example:

Generating higher quality leads by restricting lead flow with added qualifying form fields:

marketo lead form

Marketo asks for job title, another example of how we can qualify leads.

Focusing on only closing customers that take up no support time based on qualifying sales questions:

hubspot chat qualifier

Hubspot uses a chatbot to qualify visitors by intent, rather than an open-ended chat window.

Reducing wasted ad spend by pre-qualifying clicks with copy mentioning price:

vimeo price qualification ad copy
active campaign price qualification ad copy

ActiveCampaign and Vimeo both include price per month in their Google Ads. This dissuades anyone looking for a free tool.

These examples excelat reducing traditional marketing/sales metrics.

But, counter-intuitively, this may result in more revenue.

In the example above of adding form fields to lead generation forms, now sales teams only deal with qualified leads. Their productivity increases because a higher percentage of leads respond.

More deals close.

We all win.

Or, consider a SaaS product that charges per user and offers unlimited support for free.

Sales has a logo & revenue quota so they close everyone under the sun who wants to shell out $100/mo for an account.

But… then support gets overwhelmed and accounts churn like crazy.

Negative optimization here might take the form of:

  • Only driving annual contracts
  • Restricting support to a higher price tier
  • Removing smaller company targeting from LinkedIn Ads campaigns.

Now lead gen focuses on bigger companies, sales locks in bigger deals, and support doesn’t get overwhelmed by tiny accounts.

We all win, again.

Negative CRO Tactics You Can Implement Today

To get started with this in your own marketing efforts, here’s a list of tactic ideas for Negative CRO:

  • Add form fields to qualify leads and give sales teams more contact options
  • Send leads to bots first instead of salespeople to qualify them with automation
  • Use lead scoring tools to prioritize sales outreach based on engagement with your marketing emails & website
  • Add qualifiers or lead restrictions into ad copy like price, or user job seniority
  • Segment retargeting audiences to just checkout pages or high-intent pages like “contact us” or “talk to sales” (instead of hitting everyone who visits your site)
  • Remove phone numbers from your website (improves support & sales load)
  • Restrict access to support contact info to only use a ticketing system

So, when do you go positive and when do you go negative?

It depends. To be honest, I think for most marketing teams it will be a push/pull with sales that lasts forever. Especially as pressure increases to hit ever-bigger sales goals over time.

Like any marketing tactic, it’s not a given. You’ll need to run tests to see if this kind of optimization works for you.

This is a crucial lesson for any digital marketer to realize though. The qualitative side of marketing is as important as quantitative.

Lastly, you may notice that in this article I give examples of sales and support. Not just marketing.

This is because I consider CRO to fall under Growth. And at the end of the day, Growth is cross-functional and doesn’t just mean marketing or lead gen.

As marketers our job is to drive revenue for the business.

So go make it happen!

*P.S. I’d love to hear from you on Instagram @AndrewIshimaru

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