I sat on the sidelines of an internet argument about whether long forms - forms that ask lots of questions - are better than short forms. It’s a pretty geeky subject, but, if you’re in the business of finding sales leads, it’s crucial.
Short form guy said they get more leads. Long form guy said it didn't matter if there were fewer leads because long forms got more qualified leads.
I stepped back from the argument. Yelling at a stranger on the internet is as useful as yelling at your teenage daughter (I've had 2) about the length of her skirt.
Long form guy won the argument.
He was wrong.
If your enquiry form asks for much more than contact details you're losing qualified sales leads. Let's start by defining a qualified lead...
Basic lead-scoring might use BANT or something similar. BANT stands for:
You’ve probably got extra criteria for what makes a qualified lead. For me, they are:
With your definition of a qualified sales lead in mind, let's consider a stranger who's clicked an ad to get to your site.
Obviously not. Asking them about their budget can't give them the money they need. Asking about their timezone won't change where they live. Asking them for their job title doesn't give them the authority to buy from you.
Adding extra questions to an enquiry form does nothing to increase the number of qualified visitors to your site. That job belongs to your ad targeting.
A filter that strains out unqualified leads, while letting good leads through sounds like a smart idea.
But, a long enquiry form doesn't separate people with authority to buy from from tyre-kickers. Instead it filters out:
It's easy to think that someone who won't put the effort into filling a long form isn't serious about buying, but, that'd be wrong.
You see, people have learned that most enquiry forms are a waste of time. Your chances of getting fast a useful response from a clued-up human are low. 99% of the time you're going to get nothing, or an email 4 days after your urgent enquiry. Or, you're going to the victim of "lead nurturing" email automation that swamps your inbox.
And, at this stage, the lead doesn't know of any downside to not filling in your long enquiry form. There are a plenty of other suppliers with short easy enquiry forms two clicks away.
Sometimes people might not have answers to the questions on the enquiry form.
I had a client who supplies dust-extraction systems for factories. The biggest trigger for his services was when smallish factory failed their health and safety inspection. The factory maintenance guy would be told to get the dust extraction sorted pronto.
The maintenance guy was inevitably some crusty old bloke who’d been fixing the machines since he was an apprentice. He'd yell at his lackey to get on "the internets" and find a dust-extraction supplier because nobody in his tattered copy of the yellow pages was still in business.
The lackey would find my client's site and grind to a halt on the first question. "How many cubic feet per minute does your system need to extract?"
My client was in love with this question. In his mind it separated hobbyists in their their garages from factories who would spend $xxxx .
But, the lackey never knows the answer, and the crusty old maintenance guy forgot - if he ever knew.
I know this because when we changed the question from compulsory to optional we'd get answers like "I don't know", "?" and, "Need help calculating this".
Or how about another client who sold reconditioned car engines. They needed the year, make and model to quote a price. But, when it came time to supply the engine, the also needed the first three letters from the engine number.
For "efficiency" they demanded the engine number on the enquiry form, even though they didn't need it before the deal was done. The number of enquiries - and sales - dropped through the floor.
You see, the trigger for buying a reconditioned engine is usually a phone call from the mechanic. He gives you the bad news that it'd be cheaper to get another engine than fix the flux capacitor.
Nobody memorises their engine number. It's on the engine - at the workshop - and on your car registration papers at home. You can’t find it while you're Googling on your lunch break.
Asking people for information they don't have at their fingertips breaks one of the key rules of converting clicks into clients: Don't interrupt people while they're doing what you want them to do.
And, finally people might be reluctant to answer some questions.
For example, I have several immigration consultants as clients. One needs to know if the prospective immigrant has a criminal record or expensive medical condition. Either is a red flag for most countries.
These are sensitive questions. Nobody wants to tell a stranger about a stupid teenage drunk-driving conviction or an embarrassing bladder problem. Especially if you don’t know what’s going to happen with that information.
If I’ve convinced you that long enquiry forms aren’t a good idea, the obvious next question is "How do I filter out unqualified leads?" I’ll share some ideas in part 2 of this article.
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