Sometimes, the best plan is to just ask

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A fairly common web site registration form checkbox is something along the lines of: “Please have a sales representative from this company contact me.” It’s an easy question, very clearly understood…and almost no one checks it.

One way to identify more of these people is to be more subversive. Ask a bunch of questions to try to assess the person’s general fit for the product/service the company is selling. The problem with this approach is that, all too often, the company winds up asking these questions entirely in the company’s terms. Something like: “Check which of the following products you’re interested in.” Or: “Which of the following four items describes your situation” (followed by a list that does not capture the entire universe of possibilities — just the universe that the company has a product or service that is relevant. And, because this information is important, these questions become required fields. The problem is, they require the visitor to think too hard — to map their reality to the company’s terminology.

We tried an experiment recently. We left the “sales representative” checkbox. We removed the confusing, dancing-around-the-issue questions. We replaced it with: “Do you need help with ?” We debated how many people we expected to answer “Yes.” The debate was over where in the spectrum of “not very many” we thought the final count would fall. I was the most optimistic, but I still didn’t expect very many. After all, isn’t it totally obvious why we’re asking?

So far, we’re at ~50% of the people choosing “Yes.” It’s a required field, but the default is “Unselected.”

My theory: it’s a simple question with only two options for the answer. The visitor doesn’t have to think much at all to determine what their honest answer is. And, it’s a question that is sufficiently unambiguous that Yes/No covers the universe of possible answers. Sure, there are some people who think, “My answer is ‘Yes’ but I don’t want to be called yet, so I’ll enter ‘No.'” But that’s a damn sight better than, “What? I’ve read the question three times and still don’t know exactly what my answer should be. I’ll pick something at random.”

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