We build businesses. Even little ones.

We build businesses.
Even little ones.

Ask fewer questions. Get better answers.

As we finish up the last two weeks of our Let’s Fix Your List class, we’ve received enough questions on the “What do I ask for on my opt-in / contact form?” front that now would be a good time to talk about that in a bit more detail.

When someone signs up for your list, or fills out a contact form, quote form, or a “schedule a phone call” form, it’s natural to want as much information about them as you can get your hands on.

However, it is not natural for them to want to give it to you.

This is why you tend to hear marketing types tell you to ask for as little information as possible, because that ups the conversion rate of your form.

This is true. The less information you ask for, the easier it is for them to give it to you.

But since intelligent conversation about the subject tends to stop there (“Don’t ask me why – just do it! I have stats!”), it might be a nice idea to actually take ten seconds to look at why this is true. You know, just because understanding human behavior might come in handy at some point in your life.

Why lots of people don’t want to fill out your forms

Yes, everyone will tell you shorter forms are better.  Often you’ll hear that people are lazy and don’t want to fill out more information than they have to. Sometimes you’ll hear that the jaded, hardened consumer thinks to themselves, “You scammy marketer! You’ll pull my first name out of my cold, dead hand.”

Really?  Is that’s what happening?  Or might it be that people don’t like to provide information that doesn’t seem relevant to what they’re trying to accomplish.

Let’s look at opt-in forms.

If someone is signing up for your email list, why do they need to give you their last name? They’re just getting emails from you. It’s not relevant to them.

For that matter, why do you need their first name, either? Again, they are signing up to receive emails from you. As far as they’re concerned, there’s no personal interaction going on, so the first name field isn’t relevant as far as they’re concerned.

“But wait! having their first name will let me send emails that say ‘Naomi, I have a special message for you.’, and that’s good for conversion, right?”

Yes, it’s good for conversion if your subscriber doesn’t understand that you can automate putting their name in your emails. It takes a very fine hand and a lot of experience to use the first name in an email in a way that doesn’t look obviously inserted. And if you’re on this site, chances are you don’t have that very fine hand.

But back to your subscriber – when they fill out their first name, chances are they know that you’re going to use it to auto-insert their name into emails. So you’ve kind of given away the magic trick, right?

That doesn’t mean don’t use the first name field – do what you want. Just be aware that it might not be worth the drop in conversion. If the subscriber is signing up for an email list, as far as they’re concerned, all they need you to have is their email address.

The same goes for list sign up forms where you ask for different options:

  • Phone number: If there’s not a really, really compelling reason for them to feel great about handing out their phone number, do you think they’ll want to fill out your form?
  • Position: Are you a CEO or Manager or Employee, or are you in this industry or that? What if what they are isn’t on your list? What if they wonder why on earth you want to know? And do you even know what you’d do with that information that’s worth dropping the conversion of your form?
  • How did you hear about us? What if I don’t really know – I just kind of heard about you over time? What if I don’t want to tell you?

This is why these extra requests for information reduce conversion. They don’t match up with the information your subscriber expects in the transaction.

Little example? I went to buy some yarn the other day, and I was in a bit of a rush. The cashier rung up my purchase and then asked me for my postal code. And my phone number. She seemed quite bothered when I didn’t want to give it to her.

Yes, I know why she wanted the information. But she didn’t get why I might not be interested in providing it with no explanation why it was necessary. I wanted yarn. I give her money, she gives me yarn. Are we done now?

(By the way, if she had said “Can I get your email address to send you a coupon for your next purchase,” or “Can I get your postal code? It helps corporate know where our customers are coming from,” it would have been another story. But that’s because now she’s defining a different transaction, and not hiding it in the you-give-me-money-I-give-you-yarn transaction.)

The same goes for forms where you ask specific questions:

Many coaches and consultants have forms where you can fill out your information and request a free consultation with them. Great, that’s a good thing.

However, when we get the question “Why isn’t it working?” and we see the forms, we know exactly why it’s not working. Again, it comes down to how the questions match up with the person’s expectation of what information should be exchanged at this point.

Perhaps what might be expected is something like this:

  • Name and email address
  • Tell me a just little bit about your situation.

At that point, presumably, you’ll set up a call and talk.

What we usually see is this:

  • Name and email address
  • What’s your biggest challenge right now?
  • What steps have you taken in the past to work on this situation?
  • Have you coached with anyone before?
  • What’s your budget?
  • How much time a week do you spend on X?
  • What are you doing right now to address X?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How do you feel about X?
  • What does success in X look like to you?
  • What are the best times to get in contact?

… and on, and on. Sometimes it’s just one or two questions. Sometimes it’s ten. Either way, it’s not immediately relevant to this transaction – setting up a call.

That’s a lot of information they either might not want to give, or can’t give because the questions are open ended and seem too big for them. And even if they fill them out, that’s a lot to do before they can even click “send.”

“But wait!” You say. “These very successful coaches told me that’s the way to do it!” Well, if it’s not working, maybe they don’t understand how their marketing machine is different than your marketing machine, and why they can get away with it.  And it doesn’t occur to them to think that the rest of the world isn’t just like them.

Maybe they have so much traffic, or such a big list, that even with really poor conversion they’re ok. But you’re not ok.

Maybe they’re telling you that psychologically, the more information people fill out, the more invested they are in the process and the more likely they are to buy from you. They’ll feel like they’ve already put a lot of time into this, and they can’t stop now whether they really want to continue or not. You’ll have to ask yourself if you’d be proud of taking that approach.

What you can do instead:

Just ask for the bare minimum to get them in contact with you. Then you can schedule a call.

And if you really want those questions answered, you can send them an email with those questions and say “Hey, any info here you can give me before the call would be helpful. If you can’t answer some of the questions, don’t worry about it, they don’t necessarily apply but they’re here just in case.”

And you’ll probably get better answers, because now there’s a good reason in their mind to answer them. The answers will help them on the call that they’ve already scheduled.

Ask fewer questions, and you’ll probably get better answers.

Reduce your objectives to what’s relevant for this transaction. Try for the one thing you actually need right now. Reduce commitment. Reduce investment.

Worry about investment later, when your potential customer is actually interested in investing. Just get the sign up now.