Treat Your Prospects like People: 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Using Forms

“Hi, I know we’ve only just met, but let’s get married!” Seriously? Most rational people wouldn’t do this in real life, but many B2B companies are culprits of trying to move things along way too quickly with new leads and contacts. Case in point: Have you noticed that marketers sometimes do some pretty silly things with forms?

Would you fill out a 12-field form that asks for everything under the sun in exchange for an eBook? I wouldn’t. Chances are I’d tap out right there and head back to Google to find another source for the information I’m looking for. If I really wanted the piece of content, I’d start “asdfghjkl-ing” my way through the fields just to get it over with: Name: Jane Doe, Title: Mistress of the Universe, Phone: 555-0100, or even better, what’s the number for the White House again?

At LookBookHQ, we’re big fans of treating prospects like real people. To help B2B marketers de-friction their form process and bring a more human (and humane) touch to their demand gen activities, our Client Relations team has put together a short list of 8 do’s and don’ts for using forms effectively.

1. Don’t come off as too needy
The rationale marketers typically use for those loooong forms goes something like this: We need the most accurate data to maintain the quality of our database, or how is Sales going to accept this contact as a qualified lead, or know what to do with it, if they don’t have all the info right down to his/her shoe size? While you may think you need all of John Smith’s info RIGHT NOW to speed things along (the sooner we get his info, the sooner John is going to become our newest customer!), your prospect doesn’t feel the same sense of urgency and will likely be put off by you coming on too strong, too fast. Keep in mind that this is a journey and, done right, you’ll have other opportunities to further profile and collect important information about your prospects.

2. Know your audience
Remember the old adage, “It’s better to give than to receive”? There are many circumstances when having no form is the way to go. For example, if you’re marketing to your existing database and aren’t dealing in brand-spanking new contacts, you should definitely lose the form, or at least consider pre-populating or using a progressive profiling form so that you’re only collecting new information that’s important to your lead management strategy.

If you already know who your prospects are, and are only using the form to signal their interest or intent, you’re probably just going to irritate your audience by making them fill in their details over and over. There are frictionless ways to collect buyer behavior such as blind form submits and simple activity tracking. And remember: You can afford to be generous with your content because you have a point of view and it’s often better to educate your audience than to turn them off completely with an aggressive form strategy.

3. All you need is an email address
You know the type: The “TMI guy” who shares way too much information too early, and who expects you to share back like you’re old friends. A smart marketer once told me that all she really needs to do her job is an email address. This is something that many marketers forget. An email address allows you to start the conversation and to begin nurturing. The rest of the information that you need will come in good time once you’ve demonstrated value and earned your prospect’s trust. There are tons of data appending services that can help you round out your contact data if you know your prospect’s domain.

4. Do strategic follow-ups
When people engage with specific key messages, follow up on point with tailored, personalized, behavior-driven messages rather than blanket, one-size-fits-all emails. Trust me: your prospects know the difference!

5. Set your content free!
Do you really want to stick a form in front of your product spec sheet? I don’t know about you, but I only give my info (and my consent to be marketed to) for content I perceive as having intrinsic value, currency and “substance” (usually it’s stuff I think I can use to help me do my job, understand my business better or solve a problem I or my company is facing). You should only gate the types of content that you know people want – white papers, analyst reports, topical eBooks, survey results, how-to guides, etc. New rules: Gate your best and free the rest.

6. Show a little leg
Take a lesson from movie trailers and give your prospects a sneak peak at your content before you demand that they pony up and register. If they’re interested in what you have to say, they’ll more readily exchange their information to get the rest. When executed properly, time-based forms that allow people to preview content can significantly increase conversation rates.

7. Make better use of the tools you have
Marketers today have a great stack of tools at their disposal: progressive profiling, marketing automation platforms like Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, Salesforce and Pardot, content hubs, social media – you name it. The trick is to have these awesome tools work together to tell clear stories that create a consistent content experience for your audience. One way to think about this is that you are leaving a trail of breadcrumbs across your various channels that will eventually lead your prospects to the primo, gated content that they can’t do without.

8. Try a light touch
Let’s face it: That frustrating 12-field form is more like a wall than a gate. It’s a long way from the inviting open door you want. Rather than slamming the door in your prospect’s face or, worse, hitting him or her over the head with more and louder calls to action (Click here! Get this now! Learn more!), consider “light touch” interruptions. Use short, personalized strategic follow-up emails (I’d be happy to send you more information on Topic X) and more subtle and graceful CTAs to nudge your prospect along his/her buying journey such as “Would you like to sign up for our mailing list?” or “How about subscribing to our blog?”

Don’t be “in bad form”
If you think bad form behavior isn’t hurting marketers, think again. In the B2B realm, form conversion benchmarks are painfully low. We’re talking fractions of a percent, which is basically non-existent. And despite marketer’s high standards for lead capture, data quality isn’t much better. As for speed to MQL, the misuse and overuse of forms isn’t helping marketing identify qualified leads any faster.

When considering when to use a form, keep in mind that your prospects are real people and they like to be treated as such. This will help you build a form strategy that opens the door to further conversation rather than slamming it in your prospect’s face. And lastly, remember that you aren’t trying to qualify everyone, just those who are most likely to buy now (or soonish!). When you stop trying to capture and convert everyone, you’ll have more time and opportunity to nurture and accelerate the people who are really engaged.

Sarah Facini is Head of Client Relations (Team Awesomeness) at LookBookHQ. In her role, she works with clients to design and deliver best-in-class demand generation and “always-on” lead nurture programs. She is a keen (yet casual) cyclist, Race Director of Toronto’s Railpath Run and a stubborn stair climber: If you come visit the LookBookHQ offices (please do!), you might find her in the stairwell carrying her bike up six flights of stairs. A “go-to” for marketing best practices, Sarah’s always got enough know-how and bad jokes to go around.