Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Open Up Already

Are web forms which capture a person’s name, company name, and email address (and often, additional fields) as a mandatory pre-requisite to downloading white papers, analyst reports, data sheets, etc. a conduit for lead capture, or a hindrance to proliferation of your content? Should organizations open access to reports, papers, and other content by removing these forms?

As this continues to be debated in online marketing circles, here’s an overview of both sides:

Open Up: People are more inclined to access, and in turn share, your content when the barrier of the mandatory web form is removed. You will be able to track the leads most relevant to your selling objectives (i.e. meeting requests, inquiries, trial, etc., depending on your product/service and level of touch required) when the content, standing on its own merit, inspires action.

Keep the Web Forms: This level of sharing, sans any tracking, eliminates a common practice in lead capture, and a crucial step in the sales cycle. Foregoing web forms as a means of tracking all leads could cost an organization the opportunity to reach out to cold leads through the inside sales process.

OK, I can see both sides, and the answer really depends on what you are trying to achieve from your online content with respect to lead generation. In general, I am inclined toward opening up, in conjunction with the ongoing pursuit of community involvement and feedback on the content itself, incorporation of which will serve only to increase its value to customers and prospects.

Regardless of the asset type, incorporate strong, consistent messaging throughout your writing, and always include a strong call-to-action. David Meerman Scott in his upcoming book, World Wide Rave, challenges us to relinquish the fear and lose control of the content in order to make it meaningful.

Go ahead. Remove the web forms. Defy the fear. Open up.


Joel Heffner said...

If they want an email address to confirm that you are a real person, that's fine. Anything more is a invasion of privacy. I usually ignore information that I have to give away more information than necessary. The ones that really get me are the ones that are going to let you download something and also ask for your phone number. Yuck!

Sarah Hamilton said...

Great point, Joel. When companies decide in favor or presence vs absence of forms, it is important to also consider which fields will be required.
Phone numbers are often viewed as extremely intrusive and as pre-requisites to telemarketing in follow-up. I'd be interested in getting my hands on metrics that compare abandon rates when a phone number is required vs forms that require email only.

KFFBOS said...

We try both on our site at the same time (the old A/B method) and have found that we have better success getting people to include their information when we do NOT require the information.

I also agree with Joel, I'm never giving my #, but you can certainly have my email.


Gorton Pantograph said...

I believe in sticking with email forms but collect a minimum amount of information. First name and email address or just email address and nothing more. If people want to judge the quality of my content without an opt-in, they can read my blog. I prefer to have them as a subscriber so I'll offer a 'bribe' that has real value in exchange for their email.

If they visit my website and get interrupted, having that email gives me a chance to reconnect with them. Bottom line, it increases my sales.

Having said that, there's no hard and fast rule. What works with my audience may not work for others. The best way to find out is to do as KFF suggested and do a split test on your site.

Bill Hibbler

Sarah Hamilton said...

A split-test is a good idea because it gives you data that is specific to your site and offering(s), rather than relying on more general stats and findings from other companies.