Making Order Forms Work Harder

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The venerable Bob Stone once said an order form is the moment of truth. I couldn't agree more, because no matter how persuasive you have been elsewhere, your order form is where your prospect says "yes" or "no" to your offer.


Here are a few ideas to make your order form work harder:


* Make sure it gets noticed. First, make it a separate piece whenever possible. Second, use visual cues that indicate it's the order piece, such as a different color, eye-catching graphic, certificate border or headline. You can coordinate your order form with other pieces, but if it looks too similar it could get lost. Everything should lead to the order form.


<B>* Make it easy to fill out and mail.<B> By the time your prospect gets to the order form, a decision has been made. And if the decision is yes, you don't want any barriers preventing response. So keep your order form as simple as possible -- on one side -- with as few fill-ins as you can get away with, while still being complete. A well-designed order form is visually intuitive, making it obvious at a glance how it should be filled out. But if you need to give directions, do so.


* Include a statement of acceptance. You can simply summarize the offer, but a statement of acceptance is better. It may include an affirmation, benefit statement, request for the item, summary of the offer, sweeteners and guarantee. For example: "Yes! I want to cut my taxes in half. Please send my copy of How to Instantly Cut Your Income Tax for just $29.95. And if I respond by Jan. 12, I'll also get the TaxSlash computer program FREE (a $39.00 value). I understand that if I'm not completely satisfied, I can return the book for a full refund -- but I'll keep the computer program as my gift."


* Highlight your toll-free number. That way, people who prefer calling can do so immediately. This may also increase your credit card orders. Include the times you take calls and what time zone you're referring to. If phone orders are faster -- faster ordering or faster shipment -- say so.


* Highlight your guarantee. Even if it's already in your statement of acceptance, you want to put to rest any doubts. So feature it prominently. Use a seal or certificate border to make it stand out.


* Include complete information. In addition to the offer and toll-free number, give the company name and logo, mailing address, total price, applicable sales tax, shipping and handling charges, premiums, offer expiration date, minimum orders, delivery time, the payment methods you accept, Canadian and international charges and exactly how the order should be placed. Your order form should be simple but must leave no detail to chance.


* Offer fax response for businesses. Make sure your order form gives your fax number, easily goes through a fax machine and prints legibly on your end. Some statistics show that half or more of all business orders arrive via fax, so this could be a big response booster.


* Rename your order form. Sometimes "Order Form" is fine, but consider words that are significant to your prospect, add value to the offer or reduce the feeling of commitment: Trial Subscription Certificate, Free Trial Copy, Savings Coupon, Sample Offer, Request for Free Information, Free Examination Offer, Enrollment Application, Order Coupons, Privilege Invitations and Bonus Vouchers.


* Leave room to write. Those fill-in lines are where designers look to steal a few extra points of real estate. However, if your prospect can't fill out the form, you get no order.


* Add the words "Please Print." This helps you avoid scrambled addresses, misspelled names, and wrong orders. Place these words by the fill-in lines in plain view. Better still: "Please Print in Ink."


* Make it look valuable. You can do this with certificate borders, gold seals, serial numbers, safety paper, special background or watermarks, rubber stamps, eagles and receipt stubs. People don't like to throw away valuable items. Caveat: Sometimes increasing perceived value also increases the feeling of commitment. To reduce this feeling, use a simpler look.


* Create a sense of urgency. Use directive language: "Call now," "Order today," or "Complete and mail this trial certificate today." Remind your prospect of your deadline: a specific such as "Offer ends March 15" or generics such as "Offer good while supplies last" or "Hurry! This is a limited-time offer."


Dean Rieck is president of Direct Creative, Columbus, OH. His e-mail address is DeanRieck@ compuserve.com.
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