Create Prospect-Friendly Online
Marketing Forms - Stop Losing Leads!
How many times have you clicked on a link to download content that interests you only to be faced with a form approaching the length of your IRS tax return? What most folks do next, according to my informal personal survey, is to hit the browser's back button. Your prospects are eager to read your content and they're even open to learning more about your products. They may or may not be interested in purchasing anything today but you'll never know because your ominous form asking for everything except your mother's social security number scared them away. That's one less lead and one less sale. Technology companies, especially software vendors, are frequently the biggest culprits of "form over-kill."
An example of online forms gone bad
Let's look at a hypothetical company with a standard approach to online forms in their marketing. Software Company, Inc. has a reasonably professional web site where they host whitepapers, demos, webinars and free trials of their software. Software Company Inc.'s web guy (we'll call him Bob to protect the innocent) insists that forms are tricky to build and insists that the marketing manager (we'll call her Laura to protect anyone called Mary) must create just one form for each call to action. The marketing manager is feeling pressure from the sales team to provide highly qualified leads. The marketing manager is no dummy and knows that the more prospect information she can gather, the happier they will be, right? (Stay tuned for the nuanced correct answer to that question).
So, what does Laura's form look like?: First Name, Last Name, Title, Company, Address Line 1, Address Line 2, State, Zip, Email, Phone. But that's not all. The more information on the lead, the happier sales will be, right? So, she adds a survey, which she figures will also impress the Executive team when she sorts the data to create a snapshot of prospects and existing customers me who raise their hands. These are the survey questions that Sue believes would provide valuable company data for sales: What industry? How many employees? Annual Revenues? etc. etc. ad nauseam. The cherry on the cake is that Bob makes all the fields forced - meaning the prospect or customer MUST answer all the questions before hitting submit to get to that piece of content, demo or trial software.
In the age of 140 character attention span, what percentage of prospects who reach Software Company Inc.'s form are likely to complete it versus hit the back browser? The scientific answer = not many.
Of course, that was a slightly exaggerated and worst-case scenario for how- not- to manage your online forms. You are undoubtedly more cognizant than Sue that the use of forms and how to construct them for different calls-to-action plays a vital role in your interaction with prospects as well as effective lead generation.
The reality is that there are different approaches to online forms depending on the call-to-action or content and how each of them is marketed. The golden rule is to consider who you are trying to reach, how you are reaching them and then customize your forms to meet your goals.
If I were consulting for Software Company Inc., I'd sit down with Laura and Bob and ask them to diligently assess the goals of their online calls-to-action. Who specifically are you trying to attract and what are your expectations for lead volume? Based on their feedback I would offer specific recommendations on how to customize their approach to online forms for a better user experience and more qualified leads.
The key elements you need to consider when you're creating online forms
Value of the content/call-to-action
High value: High value content is typically proprietary and involves a monetary investment, such as development or conducting research. It provides significant benefits, or higher perceived value to your target audience. An example is a whitepaper that is extremely timely in providing critical information to help your prospect or customer improve their business or do their job. For instance, a whitepaper on new Federal, state or local government legislation that is directly allied with your software solution. In my personal corporate experience in a variety of software and services categories, there is always an opportunity to create such high-value whitepapers, whether it is a horizontal or vertical industry message.
Low value: Product specific whitepapers, product demos, webinars and podcasts are typically lower value content most of the time. Although you may have invested money and resources to create them and they are invaluable tools to help you create interest and generate leads, they are not of intrinsic high value to your prospects.
High or low value: Trialware and promotional offers or discount can be either high or low value depending on what you are offering.
Expected Lead Volume
Develop forecasts on what you expect in lead volume from each call-to-action, even if it's a generic whitepaper. Forecast by month and don't be afraid to share your expectations with your sales team. If you're offering a webinar on a regular monthly basis you will be able to predict responses over time and adjust lead goals if you make changes in how you market the webinar, e.g. if you do an email campaign drop in addition to just promoting the webinar on your web site. Here's the nuanced answer to the question about sales wanting as much information as possible on a lead: they do but not if you can show them how many prospects are frightened away by a litany of questions on a marketing form.
Desired quality of lead
Not all leads are created equal. It is OK to balance your marketing between calls-to-action that will create a few very high quality leads and others that will provide a lot of responses but a lower proportion of highly qualified leads. You certainly want to weed out as many tire-kickers as possible but you also have to factor in your sales cycle and the lifetime value of a converted lead.
When to use a long form, short form or no form at all
Long forms have more fields for contact and profile gathering, more forced fields and may include a survey.
Short forms require the minimal fields necessary to meet your objectives for a specific call-to-action.
No form requires no definition.
I have spent several years accumulating wisdom on the usage of online forms and seen new trends emerge. In my real-world experience managing corporate web sites and being deeply involved in all response mechanisms including tailored online forms, here are some general rules of thumb when it comes to the use of long forms, short forms or no forms at all.
Long form: Use a long form for high value content. If you're offering this content to both new prospects and customers through separate marketing activities or mediums use a pared down long form for your customers. Customers will be offended if you're asking for contact information that you should already have. In either case, be judicious on forced fields. Consider requiring only name, company name and email from prospects. Some people will fill out some or even all of the optional fields. The plus side is that you get an indicator of a high level of interest when more voluntary fields are filled out. You can then flag these as "A" leads for your sales team.
Short form: This is ideal for the bulk of your low value content downloads, demos and webinars. It is also the best form to use for most online calls-to-action in email or direct marketing campaigns. First Name, Last Name, Title, Company Name and Email is a reasonable threshold for most prospects. Be careful about asking for a Phone Number and never force that field on a short form. Leave it optional. People will back out of even a short form if they believe that you're going to harass them with calls. When promoting content on your Facebook business page I recommend the skinniest of forms (email only - for subsequent marketing but don't forget opt-out regulations) or no form at all.
Note: If you're promoting a download in an email campaign you can pre-populate a hidden field in the form with a unique marketing tracking code (sometimes referred to as media code or promo code).
No form: I am a big believer in allowing a content download for low value content without asking any questions at all. You may not get a tangible lead for sales to follow up on immediately but you will be able to track effectiveness by monitoring download volume. Try using no form at all for a content download from your web site where you previously used a form. Check the before and after download counts. A landing page tied to a specific email marketing campaign is an ideal opportunity to do an A/B test on using no form versus a short form, especially since you can track activity if you are using a unique URL. At first it takes some faith to not use any form for a call-to-action. Remember that, in addition to download stats, you will have sales feedback on the origin of a lead that will be part of your measurements.
Tracking the effectiveness of your online forms
Whether you use a long form or a short form, check your open rates and compare with form completes. This will give you an indication if you need to shorten your long form or reduce the number and type of forced fields. Conversely, test adding more fields to your short form if you have a very high completion rate and have an interest in gathering some additional data - but only if it is truly meaningful data that expands your marketing opportunities.
Testing, tracking and analyzing the results you are getting from your online forms is critical to ensuring you are keeping the right balance of interest in your content along with leads for actionable follow up. Match the results against your objectives and adjust the forms when you can clearly see trends in response rates and quality of the leads.
If prospects are backing away from your online forms, you're needlessly losing leads. Engaging with your customers and prospects extends to every communication and interaction. That includes your marketing forms. Taking the time to create the most appropriate and least invasive forms demonstrates that you value your prospects' interest in your products and services more than just grabbing their contact information. A pleasant online experience builds credibility, trust and ultimately generates more leads and more customers.
Caroline Birch is Principal at Just Think Consultants, a marketing consulting firm dedicated to working with software companies from start-up to $100mm in revenues to meet their marketing and business goals. With over 20 years of Executive and Senior level software marketing experience that spans b2b and b2c in direct, channel and two-tier distribution models, Caroline is passionate about software marketing.
Just Think Consultants provides expert consulting on marketing strategy and marketing communications plans for software companies. Visit http://www.justthinkconsultants.com to learn more about how Just Think Consultants can create new customer opportunities and revenue for your software business.
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