Formstack: making forms sexy

Formstack was one off those little companies that started doing one thing, but ended up doing another.

When it opened its virtual doors for business nine years ago, Formstack was providing web-based forms and small businesses that could not afford to hire web developers. But digital marketers took a greater interest in Formstack’s work, since online forms captured data that could later be analyzed to sharpen sales campaigns. Now Formstack spends its time trying to figure out the “capture piece” in the digital sales process—the point where the data can identify an interested prospect and be used to build a relationship that could yield a sale.

Forms are “an unsexy component, but an important component,” said Chris Lucas, VP of marketing at Formstack. Yet that is where sales leads are found. Once you understand what drives a prospect to a web site, you have the opportunity to capture and understand the information that the user generates, he explained

How to Get Information: Soft Sell vs. Hard Sell

Developing that information takes time. It can begin with something simple, like filling out a simple form with a name and e-mail address to enter a contest. “You don’t want to scare people off by asking 44 questions to get a relationship started,” Lucas said. 

Even if the entrant does not win a prize, he has expressed interest. The next step might then be to offer the prospect a chance to watch a webinar about the product or service they are interested in, or maybe received more detailed e-mails with that information. That may require the prospect to enter more data about themselves to 
further develop the relationship. 

In the end, the goal is to find the relationship between the prospect and the seller and understand what the value of it is. “Understanding is [knowing] when is the time to hit them with a sales member.” Lucas said.  That does not mean a hard-charging sales person making six calls to the prospect, each time pitching the hard sell. But it does mean taking the time to build a relationship with that customer, maybe pitching more information to maintain that relationship before the prospect turns into a buyer.

Small Stuff Matters

There are tried-and-true methods to designing a web page to entice feedback. They may seem trivial, but they are effective.

Take the “submit” button that comes at the end of a web form. “Submit is a passive word. Nobody wants to submit to anything.” Lucas said. That button has to “let them understand what will happen.” he said. So use an action word in place of “Submit”, like “Enter Now”, or “Sign Up Now”. Lucas even recalls seeing one button marked “Let’s Boogie.”

But what is the result of this? “There is a 250 percent increase in conversion because it is so often overlooked.” he continued. That means someone completing the form and sending the data to you instead of dropping out.

The number of fields a user must fill out can also have an impact. Here, less is more, Lucas noted. But the right number of fields depends on what you are trying to do. To figure out what is optimal, A/B testing will offer two different forms for different groups of users to fill out. One can analyze results to see which type of form worked.

The headline can also have an effect. It has to make a promise, Lucas explained, and that promise must be consistent with the next page once you clicked on that headline. If there is a mismatch, a prospect may drop the form and do something else. “If you are telling people it is a short survey, it should be a short survey,” Lucas said.

Small Spaces Matter, Too

The web site you see on a desktop or laptop screen may not be ideal for mobile, causing conversion rates to drop. Pictures may not load correctly or take too long to load. Multi-page forms “are not a great experience,” Lucas said.

For mobile, logging on via Facebook to tap “social autofills” is one short cut for filling out a form, Lucas noted. Relying on check boxes or radio buttons takes away the drudge work of answering questions with text. “Reducing friction on mobile is the way to go,” Lucas said.

Then there is “conditional logic”, Lucas continued. “You show or hide fields based on answers.” he said. That cuts the number of pages that have to be loaded for display, cutting wait time

And Don’t Be Creepy

Never ask for too much information too soon. The first interaction with a prospect is much like a first date, Lucas observed. It’s OK to ask a name and occupation, but not OK to ask for a social profile or social security number. This leads to the art of “re-marketing”—sending the interested prospect more information to further a sale. But you have to “segment” lists in order to avoid “creepiness”. For example, if someone checked out a pair of shoes on Zappos, and sees the same pair popping up in a Facebook ad, “It’s jarring, noted Lucas. “People notice.”

Recent History

In the last 18 to 24 months, Formstack has been sharpening its approach to business, moving away from collecting data and more towards trying to understand what it takes to get a lead to convert to a sale.

It has been looking for ways to optimize forms through A/B testing. It has been tracking user experiences to see where people drop off while filling out a form. It has been looking to see how Google Ad Words tie into sales campaigns that drive users to web sites. “Research is the biggest market for us to capture,” Lucas said.

Privately-held, Indianapolis, Indiana-based Formstack now numbers about 60 employees, with annual revenues somewhere around $10 million. 

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