Using forms with care

Paul Boag

Marketers, know your limits! Why is it that so many marketing departments seem determined to make it difficult for people to contact them?

The majority of clients I work for come from a marketing background and it is surprising how often I find myself having the same discussion with them time and again.

Unhealthy obsession

Marketing departments often become obsessed with gathering contact and demographic information on potential visitors at the cost of all else. The problem is, we the public know this and that the more personal information we provide the more junk correspondence we will receive. As a result, we hate giving out any information at all and only recognise the need to do so if we can directly relate the information being provided with getting what we want.

This conflict between what marketers want and what the public is willing to give manifests itself in two key ways:

Access all areas

Don’t you just hate it when you have to complete a form before you are given access to certain content on a site? You are often required to do it before you are allowed access to an online demo of a product. Why? The marketer might try to convince you they are doing it to make sure you are not the competition trying to steal their ideas. However, we know the truth; we know they are going to plague us with endless calls and emails if we hand over our contact details. The majority of users understand that their contact information is of value and do not see why they should hand it over in return for you being allowed to sell to them through your online demo. It is the equivalent to paying a used car sales man to sell you a car! It is a one sided deal where the user gets nothing.

From a marketers perspective it is beyond me why any marketer would want to put barriers between potential customers and the opportunity of them seeing what you have to sell!

Putting barriers like this up also sucks from a "quality of lead" perspective. Forcing a user to provide contact information at such an early stage of the sales process (while the user just wants to browse your site) means they are not ready for the final sale. When a user chooses to contact you, it means they are ready to make more of a commitment.

Tell us the name of your dog

The second mistake is the contact us form. When a user arrives at a contact us form they see it as a way to say, "I’m ready to talk now, get in touch with me". With that in mind, they anticipate providing the minimum amount of information to make that possible; name, telephone number, email address and possibly a comments field. Marketers on the other hand see this as an opportunity to find out everything there is to know about the customer from their shoe size to the name of their dog. The user will resent giving information that does not directly relate to their enquiry.

Recently I had a client who wanted seventeen fields on their contact us form! Seventeen! Setting aside the users’ annoyance at having to complete all those fields, I very much doubt they could be bothered to fill them all in. The marketers answer to this problem, make all the fields compulsory! The result is that you cannot contact this company unless you have a mobile, an email address, and a landline. If you do not own a mobile, you are not worthy of their attention.

And the morale of this story

So if you are a marketer, learn these four simple lessons:

  • Users hate forms and providing personal information
  • Do not ask for more than is absolutely necessary to answer the users query
  • Use required fields for good, not evil.
  • Never ask user to complete a form to access your sales information

If you follow these simple steps, you may see a decline in sales leads but you will see a dramatic jump in the quality of those leads and therefore an increase in sales.