Search Will Get You the Lead, But the Rest Is Up to You

Let me tell you a story. In my company, we recently decided that we would invest in bringing a new service in-house. The cost to do so, with required hardware and software, will be about $34,000 U.S. Having more than a passing interest in this particular expenditure, I did some preliminary consumer research. In the textbook case of how we all say search works, I turned to a search engine. I did my search and ended up clicking on a sponsored link because it seemed to be the most relevant one.

So far, a text-book example of search marketing at work, right? Here's where it starts to go off the rails.

Is Anybody Home? I clicked the site and while it was a little skimpy on product information, it got me sufficiently interested to want more. One thing I needed was pricing, because the site didn't offer any details on cost.

So, we filled out the form on the site requesting more information. In fact, we clicked the little box saying we wanted to be contacted by a sales rep. Two days later, we still hadn't heard anything. So we e-mailed the sales contact and 24 hours later, still nothing. This was a European company, with a North American sales office. I called the North American 800-number and left a slightly brusque message. Two days later, nada. I finally called the European head office, on my dime, at 7 in the morning because of the 9-hour time difference, and got someone who spent a few minutes on the phone with me. Unfortunately, they didn't have much of the information I was looking for. I was told I had to call the North American contact. I explained that I tried this and got no response from my voicemail message. Without the faintest hint of an apology, the person told me, in a tone that indicated that I should know better, the North American sales rep, Ken, was currently in Thailand. Of course he wouldn't be returning my call. I asked when I might expect a return call. "Oh, in about a week or so. I'll get Ken to give you a call."

That was three weeks ago. Guess what? No Ken, no return call, no contact. No sale. I guess they don't really need the money, not if Ken can keep jetting off to Thailand for weeks at a time.

Ken's Not Alone... I wish I could tell you that this is an isolated incident, a ripple in the smooth seas of online commerce. But according to a recent study by BenchmarkPortal, 51 percent of North American small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) studied ignore e-mails from potential customers. The study evaluated 147 SMBs in a number of sectors. It was a follow up to a similar study done with enterprise-level organizations. In that study, 41 percent of the e-mails were ignored.

So, about half of the e-mails from hot prospects were outright ignored. But it doesn't end there. Of the responses that were received from SMBs, 70 percent took longer than 24 hours (61 percent for enterprise-level organizations). And 79 percent responded with inaccurate or incomplete information (83 percent for enterprise companies).

So let me get this straight. If I'm really interested in a product, there's only a 50/50 chance I'll get any answer at all. If I do, there's a two in three chance I'll be waiting several days. And when I do get it, it will only give me the information I'm looking for one out of five times. Add it up and my odds of getting a prompt, accurate response are about one in 10.

Why don't you just hit your prospects over the head with a baseball bat? It will be less painful and over a lot quicker.

Consumers Anonymous In our first research on potential customers using search, we identified something called the Anonymity Threshold. It means potential customers who are researching online won't volunteer information that would allow contact until they're serious about buying. They browse anonymously until that time, gathering information and weighing their options. This is why it's important to give them the information they need to make their buying decision.

Remember the lack of pricing information on the site I used as my first example? The only reason I bothered to initiate contact was that this company has unique technology. They don't really have a competitor in their niche, and we like their product. I was an extremely motivated consumer. If there were more comparable competition that offered more information on their site, I might never have contacted them.

So, if someone is reaching out to you, they're motivated. Their money is sitting on the table. They want to buy. You don't want to give them any more time than necessary to find someone else to buy from. A response should be received in an hour. At the absolute maximum, don't let these leads go longer than 24 hours. You've gone to a lot of trouble to get the lead. Don't throw them away.

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