Social Media Fail: Response Forms that are User Nasty


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The Good Idea

Using the company website to offer free white papers or other content a prospective customer would like. This is a really smart thing to do, especially if the company makes the effort to do so on an ongoing basis. This builds credibility and trust. The reader thinks, “The people at this company really know what they are talking about.”

The Bad Execution

Making the visitor fill out a long form to get the “free” content. There’s a term that online retailers used to call this: “shopping cart abandonment,” where the process of checking out and paying for something is found to be too tedious by the customer and he abandons the purchase.

A lot of PCB manufacturers suffer from this. I have seen forms asking for everything: company info, departments, how long in this job, do you have purchasing authority, you name it. In a couple of cases, I have seen forms with 11 fields to fill out, and in one case 14! Which brings up another term that online people use: frictionless. A company wants a transaction to be as easy as possible for their followers – a smooth, frictionless interaction. An 11-field form isn’t frictionless; it’s Velcro.

When a company has a long form, it smacks of, "We are qualifying you because we want to sell you something." Manufacturers need to stop seeing these website visitors as someone they can sell something to later today and start seeing them as someone who has an interest in the company’s product or service, and wants to know more.

The Solution

How many fields are really needed in a response form? I maintain that it's two: name and an e-mail address. Three if the name needs to be entered as first name in one field and last name in a second field. That’s it. Their company should be obvious from their e-mail address. And with a name, a company, and LinkedIn, finding out just about everything about this person (title, division, responsibilities) is possible.

Slight digression and a plea: If there is only one field I can convince manufacturers to drop, it’s phone number. There is only one thing someone thinks when they are asked for a phone number, and that’s “Someone is going to call me." That’s the fastest way to stop someone from completing a form. Okay, back to my two-field form...

One thing a response form should have is a checkbox for the visitor, and some wording along the lines of “We issue similar reports to the one you have downloaded on a regular basis. Would you like to receive them via e-mail? You may opt out at any time.” Now the visitor has a non-confrontational way to opt in and receive regular correspondence from the company at no risk. The visitor is on the road to becoming a prospect.

To do this sort of thing really well, there is a lot more to it, of course. But these are the big three ideas behind getting really good response rates to content offered on a website: good content, a simple form, and an option to opt-in for future content.

Now the company has gone from “Fill out this form and a sales rep will be calling you shortly after you hit the enter button” to being a resource for technical information on the visitor’s field of interest. No more abandoned shopping carts.


Bruce Johnston is a sales consultant specializing in Social Media and especially LinkedIn. He has 30 years experience in high tech sales and management. He can be reached at brucej@practicalsmm.com or through his profile on LinkedIn.

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