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Jul 17, 2007
How To

How National Instruments Doubled Completion Rate for Web Forms

SUMMARY: The more questions you ask on an online registration form, the fewer downloads you'll get. So, it’s really time to hit the panic button if you require prospects to fill out two forms before they get access to a white paper or other report.

National Instruments Corp. was in this position until they created a back-end system that let them request different levels of data depending on the user's interest. They're now doubling the number of completions they get.
Increasing your profit margins by a penny may sound like small potatoes, but not for a behemoth like National Instruments Corp. The company’s revenue grew by 11% last year, while their profit margins climbed from 16 cents for every dollar sold to 17 cents. That’s their goal again this year: to push it up to 18 cents.

To help achieve this, Kristi Hobbs, eCRM Group Manager, has been overhauling their lead generation system over the past 18 months. “We couldn’t tell what was happening at the points between site traffic and leads. We were getting 80% to 90% abandon rates on our Web forms. We knew we needed improvement there.”

Indeed, the tech tool retailer’s system wasn’t getting the job done for their Web-savvy-if-not-impatient target audience of IT professionals in medical, aerospace, automotive and other businesses, as well as university professors. Hobbs knew she and her team had to redesign the online registration forms if they were to lower the abandon rate.

Since implementing the system, their overall completion rate has improved to 37%. More important, the number of new prospect names has improved from less than 5% to about 10%.

Here are seven key steps Hobbs and her team followed:

-> Step #1. Shorten online form requests

The site registration process was too cumbersome for prospects who were at such an early point in the sales cycle. Tire-kickers were turned off by the amount of information they had to provide just to receive a little more product information.

At the time, the process involved a registration form with several required fields, as well as a set of optional questions. And yet another form contained three lead-qualifying questions:
o Describe your type of work
o Types of measurement
o Annual budget for testing and measuring

“We had this huge form that was asking for every little bit of information possible,” Hobbs says. “It wasn’t tailoring it to what the person needed. If the person is at the top of the funnel, we did not want to bombard them with a whole lot of information.”

So, she had her team crunch these two forms into one easy-to-use registration page with the ability to choose what questions to ask based on the user’s activity and how they answered previous questions.

-> Step #2. Regional campaign management

Next, they tweaked the onsite campaign management system. Subsequently, when regional marketing coordinators created a specific piece of content that would be added to the Web site (for example, a Webcast on how their software works with Windows Vista), they could use an internal tool to choose a specific amount of information to ask a prospect who clicks on that activity.

- In the case of a Webcast, they required name, email address and password so they could follow up via email with additional information after the event.
- For a different activity, such as registering for an “Introduction to LabVIEW Seminar,” they requested name, email and password -- plus more information, such as physical address or phone number.

-> Step #3. Zero in on prospects

After this, Hobbs and her team programmed the tool to create a custom Web form specific to that activity. This way, when prospects went to view a Webcast, if they were not already logged in, they were asked to log in or provide their name, email and password. This allowed the system to know who they were and serve up the most appropriate form after the Webcast.

For instance, if the prospect had looked at certain products in prior visits and then watched a Webcast featuring those products, they were served a form that might have requested more information while asking if they wanted to have a sales rep call.

-> Step #4. Multicultural forms

To globalize the site, they not only had to translate copy into nine languages, but also various cultural situations when it came to having users fill out the online forms. So, they programmed the forms to adapt to whatever language was chosen in the drill-down menu.

National customs were also taken into consideration. For instance in the US, people fill out forms first-name first and then last name. In Japan, it’s the opposite. The system also generated different formats for Spaniards and Spanish-speaking Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. “It was usually a formatting issue as it pertains to the way phone numbers are constructed differently in different languages and in different countries,” Hobbs says.

With nine languages to manage, email follow-ups were orchestrated by branch offices, who handled translating the copy, proofreading and other issues, such as getting localized imagery. “The branch direct marketing folks serve as the local gatekeepers to make sure we have a high level of quality.”

-> Step #5. Instant password retrieval

Subsequently, they improved the speed of email-based password retrieval for return visitors who forgot their passwords by cutting out the logging queue in the backup server system. What once took five minutes was minimized to nearly instantaneous.

“We thought that if the server’s down, it’s down. People want their password right then and there and aren’t going to wait for your server to come back up,” Hobbs says. “It’s funny, we were sitting around and somebody said, ‘You know, there’s no low-hanging fruit anymore.’ And then literally that idea was brought to our attention, and we were asking each other, ‘Wow, how’d we miss that one?’ ”

-> Step #6. Target best prospects with telemarketing

Since they were collecting user-specific data, the system also allowed Hobbs to send her sales reps only the leads who showed interest in making a purchase. (The site also allows prospects to request an immediate phone call.) This allowed them to concentrate on calling the best targets, while they followed up the tire-kickers with email within the first 24 hours to keep prospects in the loop.

-> Step #7. Academic/special contracts pricing

One of the main segments for their target audience is science and engineering professors at academic universities. Since they offer special pricing for this group, once a user clicks on several academia-connected products or content, the site remembers them upon their next return and automatically shows them the correct pricing.

“Prior to this installation in January, they would have to look at the regular list price and then go talk to a salesperson to get the details on their discount,” Hobbs says. “Now, it can be done in a quick-and-easy fashion online. The chance of them bailing on the process, of course, goes down.”

Kristi Hobbs will speak at the eTail 2007 conference Aug. 6-9 in Washington, DC. For more information, go to:

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from National Instruments’ registration form redesign:

National Instruments Corp.:

See Also:

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