Companies often spend tens or hundreds of hours designing their websites, tweaking navigation, and creating content. But they often ignore the importance of their online forms until the last minute. Online forms are the differentiator between gaining information from your site's visitors or not knowing anything about the people who check out your business. Forms are often the first step in creating the ever-elusive long-term relationship with potential customers.
For many companies, generating new leads is a critical online objective, and contact forms are one of the best ways to begin gathering information from site visitors. However, forms are not simply a means for someone to send contact information to your inbox. In order to get the most out of online forms, it's imperative to consider them as a lead generation source and a dialog starter. Creating a form that not only works but works well can go a long way in engaging customers and collecting valuable information to help ignite marketing efforts.
When creating a contact or lead generation form, it's important to consider what questions are the proper ones to ask, how best to ask them, and how to do it while making the process inviting and easy for visitors. The first set of information gathered is the lead-in to every engagement with customers or potential customers moving forward.
It's not rocket science nor does it need to be. Below are five tips on building a better, more effective online form.
Don't make forms intimidating.
Many people try to gather too much information right off the bat. Only collect the real valuable stuff (i.e. name, email, phone number, etc.). When a form appears to be lengthy or time consuming, site visitors tend to feel frustrated and are more likely to ignore optional fields. Another option is functionality such as conditional logic, which shows or hides information based on how someone answers a specific question. That way, visitors can only see the information intended just for them and no longer have to search for answers.
Make sure the form works.
This sounds easy enough, but it is amazing how many times a form will break when trying to submit information. Make sure the form validates any information in a timely fashion (i.e. via emails, CAPTCHA, etc.) and works like it should. Just like websites and other online tools, sometimes things don't work like they should. Test forms on a regular basis to make sure they are working properly. Don't depend on site visitors to notify the webmaster that a form is broken. If it isn't working, they will move on!
As soon as someone clicks "submit," don't leave them hanging. This is a major opportunity to continue the conversation. Redirect to another page on the site for them to gain better insights into what you do. Send them to a special promo page or even a thank you note from the president or CEO -- whatever it is, keep them engaged on the site. They just submitted information via the form. They have shown they want to interact, so use the means necessary to keep them interested.
Do something with the information you collect.
Don't sit on the gathered information. Respond to it right away. Sending a confirmation message to site visitors as soon as they fill out a form can go a long way in keeping communication going. Use the information collected to personalize a response; don't just send a form letter. This will help start building the relationship. After responding, arm the sales representative with additional useful information, such as how many times the prospective customer visited the site before filling out the form, what pages he or she viewed most often, whether they are a current client, and how the prospect found the site.
Use data intelligently.
Some form-building applications allow users to route data to different people based upon the site visitors' responses to the questions. For example: A sales lead form provides the user with the option to select their region: East Coast, West Coast, or Midwest. Depending on what region the user chooses, the form can automatically route the submission to the proper sales manager. Having that information routed to the right person allows them to act quickly based upon the data and provides the desired information to the site visitor on the first communication.
The most important thing to remember about online contact or lead generation forms is that they are just the first step in building lasting relationships with customers. By opting to fill out information and provide it to a company of interest, a potential client has expressed the desire to learn more about what the company does and what it can do for them. The engagement process starts as soon as they press "submit," and then it's up to the company to choose how to use the collected data. Ultimately, a good form will help transfer inquiries into the desired result -- a newly engaged customer that will lead to returning sales and customer loyalty.