I spend a lot of time thinking about forms. (Lest anyone be mistaken that I’m cool). I ponder forms when looking at websites, in discussions with clients, and when sitting in waiting rooms.

Most people don’t enjoy filling out forms. And most businesses take precisely 2.3 minutes deciding what to include or leave off (there’s even a word for this – proforma). Don’t go all proforma on your forms.

These are invaluable assets to better understand your prospects and clients, and to use as a marketing tool.

Starting with the question

The first question should always be “how did you hear about us?” or words to that effect. Our enthusiasm for filling out forms is strongest at the beginning – and this is one of the most important questions to ask people. Why? Because it tells you how your marketing is working.

List your key marketing activities so that people can simply tick one or two, and include an ‘other’ field for random responses.

Understanding essentials

Most forms ask far too many useless questions. Unless you plan to act on the information you’re seeking, do not ask for it. When in a face-to-face environment, such as a medical or health practitioner’s waiting room, most people are too polite to protest (I’m not too polite). But if your online form is too onerous, clumsy or insensitive, people will protest by bouncing away. And you can bet they’re not getting in touch to tell you why.

Strip back your forms to absolute essential information and think about whether you are repeating requests for information and whether you can follow up and seek further information after the initial form has been completed.

Setting expectations

Frequently, your form is one of the first interacts a new client or prospect has with your business. As an expert, authority or leader in your field, this is a key opportunity to create a positive impression, set expectations on the relationship and begin the process of working together.

Use this opportunity – if one of your questions appears a bit intrusive, give a brief explanation about why you need to ask it. Remember that the process isn’t one-sided – your questions can help inform and educate people on the process of working with you.

Asking better questions

Oh, the genius of asking better questions!

Please, for the love of all things holy, stop grabbing the nearest, easiest question to ask. You’re missing out.

To ask better questions requires: deep empathy, to listen closely for clues that the other person’s responses are giving you; courage to be bold and trust that the person won’t hate you; creativity to see connections between seemingly disparate things; patience to not jump to easy conclusions and faith to trust that you’ll get there in the end.

Your ability to ask smart, and smarter questions is crucial to your excellence. Don’t abuse the privilege of people’s time and attention by asking too many. Ask just enough. Make them better questions than people expect.