Email and your revenue
Salespeople (or, I should say, order takers) who are used to taking calls all day are still having a hard time adjusting to the email-driven business world we live in now. The same is true of many small business owners.
The phone is no longer the "instrument of choice" for today's busy buyers. Their preferred way of contacting companies when they are interested in a product or service is via email. And yet, too many salespeople and entrepreneurs are still treating email as an intrusion into their busy day. Because they get so much email and spam, and because they don't want to spend all day typing notes to people, they just aren't giving incoming email buyers the attention that they deserve.
If your salespeople are struggling with this issue - or ignoring it - it helps for them to see the email scenario from the buyer's point of view. It will help them understand how just a few minutes spent responding can make the difference between closing a sale or losing a customer for life. Let's look at this from the perspective of a customer we'll call Jane.
Email and your revenue: from the buyer's perspective
Jane, who works out of her home, is in the market for a landscaper. She goes online, types "landscaping companies San Diego" into Google, and starts clicking on the various listings that come up. She's discouraged because it looks like they're all too expensive - and that they would prefer to get large, commercial projects rather than a modest project like hers. But, finally, she has three vendors she thinks might work. She sends each of them the same email, explaining her situation and what she is hoping they will be able to do. Here's what happens:
Landscaper A: The gal in the office, Pattie, responds within 15 minutes. She thanks Jane for the email and makes it clear they are interested in her business. She says that the landscaper, Dan, is out on a job (which makes sense to Jane - it's the middle of a weekday). Pattie asks some questions so she understands better what Jane is looking for. They exchange a few emails, then Pattie says, "OK, I have enough info now for Dan. I will call him now, and he will call you this afternoon. It might be possible for him to swing by, walk through, and give you an estimate."
Jane is encouraged. She got an answer almost immediately, Pattie did a great job of getting the information Dan needed, and she might even be able to get an estimate today. She hasn't heard from the other landscapers, so she goes back to work. That first landscaper has already given her peace of mind.
Later that afternoon, the phone rings. It's Dan. They talk a bit, and agree on a time to meet. When he comes over, he is professional, informative, and friendly. They walk through her property and he works up a quote for her. She likes his ideas, his price isn't outrageous, and she feels he can get the job done. She hires him to do the job.
Landscaper B: Jane goes back into her home office and goes to work again. About an hour later, she gets an email from Landscaper B. This landscaper doesn't ask any questions, but simply sends a boilerplate sales pitch, and invites her to call the office if she has any questions. "Too late," Jane thinks, and sends an email saying she has already found her vendor.
Landscaper C: Jane never hears from this vendor.
Timely, appropriate response = more revenue
Scenarios like the one we just described occur constantly. Someone sets out on a buying mission, and sends notes out to the vendors of choice. The vendor who responds immediately and appropriately gets the sale, often without having to fight for that sale, simply because he responded immediately and appropriately. He has passed the first test, and, if he doesn't blow the rest of the interaction, he will pass the subsequent tests, too. Assuming the customer is already familiar with the key issues - particularly price - the salesperson can proceed right through the sales process with the buyer, all the way to the finished sale.
Once the potential customer has started interacting with a vendor, that vendor has a massive edge over the other slow-responding vendors. The momentum is in favor of the first responder. A rewarding dialog begins, and is already in progress by the time the slow-responders come onto the scene.
Vendors who come into the picture after the first dialog has already started are viewed almost as if they were intruders on a private conversation. A bond has already been established, and the buying process is already proceeding as the buyer hoped it would. The subsequent vendors will not stand a chance.
If you aren't responding to emailed leads within 15 - 30 minutes, you're not succeeding in today's email-centric environment. It doesn't really matter how small or large your business is, or what you sell. If you want to cash in on your email leads, you have to find a way to make absolutely sure that those emails will be responded to appropriately and immediately. Here are some tips.
1) Use templates. Create an appropriate set of templates for immediate response. Make sure that there are sections that can be personalized, and always use that first email to interact with the customer. Don't just provide information; ask questions, too. They should be specific - so the buyer knows that it was typed by a real human being responding to their concerns, not a nerdy response robot.
2) Use a first responder. If the "knowledgeable" people are too busy to create the first email response, have someone do it who can get the conversation started, then turn the lead over to a "knowledgeable" person once the customer has responded.
If you want to make more sales during a recession, this is one of the key places where a relatively small investment will pay off in a big way. It's criminal to ignore incoming email leads when the economy is roaring along; it's suicidal to do it when the economy slows down.
3) Keep track. Know exactly how many emails are coming in each day. Know the sources. Know who was assigned to those emails and what happened afterwards. Publish the results every day, in an email that all the sales agents and managers receive.
4) Set a standard, and help your salespeople to meet it. All first emails should be responded to within 15 - 30 minutes. If this just isn't possible now, because all your salespeople are on the phone, figure out how to make it happen. Use the first responder, or send all new calls into voicemail for the last 15 minutes of every hour, so salespeople have a time that is dedicated to emails. Or, train them to take a call, then do an email.
5) Have a tickler system. First response is critical, but so is follow-up. Each salesperson should have a system that ensures they will follow up with the customer at the appropriate time. Send the first email, wait five hours, then send the second, for example. Your timing will depend on the length of your sales cycle and the complexity of your product.
Email has become the main method for buyers to contact vendors and start the buying process. Too many companies are not giving email the attention - and infrastructure - it deserves. Plus, I can't tell you how many times I have used a "webform" to send an email to a company, and have never received a response.
Hellllllllllooo!!! Customers who send you an email are ready to spend money with you. If you refuse to engage - on their terms - you are walking away from revenue.