The End of Forms as We Know It

We’ve all been there – we see a catchy headline on LinkedIn or Google, we click through only to be greeted with a form asking for the equivalent of your life story. Sure, if that article will answer a BIG question for you, you’ll clench your jaw and fill it out. However, more often than not, it’s isn’t worth it. There’s a better way to collect the information you need to qualify your buyers, and it doesn’t necessarily need to involve forms – or rather, forms as you know it.

Progressive Profiling Should Be The Foundation for Your Form Strategy

You probably have heard the term Progressive Profiling before (especially if you’re a Marketo user) and you’ve likely heard about it in the context of form functionality. But Progressive Profiling is not a technology function, it is a structured element of Strategic Demand Marketing. A Progressive Profiling Model should guide data intake sequencing in your lead management by asking for small bits of information from a buyer in digestible increments. This way, the buyer provides you more information as the conversation and relationship progresses.

A Progressive Profiling Model guides both the information you collect and when you’re choosing to collect it it’s a conversation. It works by creating a continuous feedback loop between your Demand Marketing program and the buyer. Each time you offer a new piece of content, the buyer offers back a new piece of information. Eventually, as enough interactions occur, you’re able to build a complete profile of your buyer before ever sending qualified leads to sales, all without sacrificing the customer experience.

As a result, the concept of Progressive Profiling is less about the mechanism you use to collect information (although you do need an effective tech stack in order to track interactions and score users throughout their journey). It just so happens that the commonplace mechanism to collect information from a buyer nowadays is via a web form. However, the typical use of forms may soon be outdated.

Before we jump into the new ways to collect buyer information, let’s quickly cover what information should be collected.

What Information to Collect

Collecting the right information is critical to an effective Strategic Demand Marketing program. The information you collect should be the information that marketing and sales need to be able to qualify a lead. While there is an obvious need to ask traditional BANT questions, as my colleague Stephanie Costa points out in another blog post it’s important to think: “how can we shift our language to make the conversation more meaningful? More importantly, how can we frame a conversation that convinces our buyer that we understand who they are and how we can help?” This is a critical mind-frame to keep as we move through information collection phases.

To correctly qualify a lead, sales and marketing need to know:

  • Is the company the right fit?
  • Is the contact at the company the right person with the authority to move a deal forward?
  • How big is the deal potential and when will it likely close?
  • Are the stakeholders engaged?

While the specific data that answers these questions differ based on company, industry, and products being sold, there are three phases of information that need to be considered.

  1. Contact information & Basic Segmentation:
    Basic contact information allows you to identify the person who’s interacting with your company/content and gives you permission to start a conversation. This data usually includes first name, last name, email, phone number, and opt-in agreement. With this data in hand, you’re able to create a basis for segmentation. You can begin to sort every lead into the right Conversation Track so that he or she will receive the most relevant content available. If you’re not sure what a Conversation Track Methodology  looks like, read our How We Do It page.
  2. Firmographic and Demographic information:
    Firmographic and demographic information helps you achieve two goals. Firmographic data allows you to identify the potential fit of this organization for your product/service. Knowing the company, company size, industry, location, etc. tells you if they fit your Ideal Customer Profile. Demographic data tells you if this is the right person at the company to talk to. This is critical information for a salesperson to know and usually includes asking the person’s role.
  3. Buying intent:
    Buying intent gauges a person’s ability and willingness to buy. When you understand a person’s pain points, challenges, budget, and timeframe to purchase you not only understand motivations, but you can prioritize leads based on fit and readiness to buy. This third layer of information is often skipped by those running tactical marketing campaigns, but it’s critical to achieve a Strategic Demand Marketing state.

New Ways to Implement Progressive Profiling

When we think about a Progressive Profiling Model as essentially collecting information from buyers in a two-way conversation, we start to see all the different ways that we can have that conversation across an increasing number of mediums and platforms. As with any conversation, it’s a give and a take – a question and answer. You wouldn’t expect a person to be interested in you if you kept asking them questions but never gave them answers or told them about yourself. This is where content plays a critical role in the conversation. Using the information you have in hand, share the content that’s most relevant to the buyer. Don’t suggest dinner and a movie if your buyer really wants to go on a hiking date. (If you already know the conversation will be a problem for your organization, read Four Steps to Take Before Launching New Content.) Keeping this dynamic in mind, you can see how using some of these new mechanisms offer different ways of meeting buyers where they are, both in form (pun intended) and in the environment they meet your company.

Chat

Apps like Drift are not only making chat easy to implement, they’re also a non-intrusive way to ask buyers for information because it’s so contextual. It can be powered by humans, and you can also build out automated “playbooks” to answer the most common questions users ask at scale. It’ll collect qualifying information from buyers at the same time it answers their specific questions.

chat bot example

Image Source from Drift’s website.

Email Questions/Surveys

Many people don’t like leaving their inbox. They use it as their to-do list, their daily industry education, and even a calendar. It only makes sense that we should have a way to both share and also collect information directly from the inbox. Inside has recently started taking surveys inside their emails. When a user clicks on their selection, it gets recorded by Inside (via pre-set parameters on the link that’s clicked).

survey example

They go one step further and after you click, it takes you to a page that shows how everyone else has responded to that question. They’re smart in that they play off our curiosity and trains us to want to answer more questions from our inbox in the future.

survey example 2

In-Line Questions

Who says you need to ask a bunch of questions all at once on a form to give access to an article. You can ask a question in-context with what a person is reading/watching. Tell them you’ll use their feedback to give them more of what they want (and actually do that), and you’ll be blown away at what people will voluntarily offer up.

inline question example

Social Media Forms/Quizzes

While this last example is more of a traditional form, what’s unique is that it shows up in a user’s social feed, and they never have to leave. LinkedIn and other social media platforms have various built-in information capture options that meet the user where they’re at and make it more likely they’ll provide you with information. Note that you don’t have to (and often shouldn’t) solely use these forms for hand-raiser “contact us” asks. You can ask information for the sake of qualification, send them a piece of content, then retarget them later to get them to convert.

LinkedIn Form

Pro-Tip

With any of these mechanisms for collecting information, it’s a good idea to provide a “because” when asking for the information. Is it because you’ll recommend more personalized content? Is it because you’ll send them a guide in exchange? Is it because you’ll have a salesperson reach out to them right away? If you want more proof as to why this works, check out this post which summarizes research conducted by Ellen Langer at Harvard in 1978 for a study of the power of the word “because.”

Conclusion

All-in-all, the tools in the marketplace to help you improve the customer experience are ever-evolving. There is a great opportunity to leverage these tools, but as always, a tool is only as good as the strategy behind it. A successful Strategic Demand Marketing program start with a Progressive Profiling strategy, then allows that strategy to inform which tools best foster a conversation with buyers where they want to have it. Do this well, and not only will you be able to capitalize on any new technological advance, but you can improve your customer experience, create better qualified leads, and ultimately drive more sales (all without limiting yourself to the basic Contact Us form).

For further reading I recommend:

Does Your Poor Customer Experience Explain Your Lack of Growth

Four Steps to Take Before Launching New Content

8 Deeper Questions to Ask to Understand Your Buyer

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Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash
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