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Email WIN: how to sell to the inbox

When companies struggle with sales, now they can call in the experts. Josh Mehlman speaks to Strike Force Sales about the art of selling with email: how most companies don’t use it as an effective sales tool and how they can fix that.

Chances are you sell things every day, even if your only knowledge of salespeople comes from the swear word-laden dialogue of the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Signing up a new customer is, obviously, a sale. Negotiating a better deal on supplies requires sales skills, as does convince your partner you should get a leave pass for a night out or a game of golf.

Yet very few business owners – even the ones who swear a lot – consider themselves good salespeople. That’s how Strike Force Sales got started in 2006.

Email done the right way

One area of the business doing well despite the financial crisis is email response – handling and responding to queries received through ‘contact us’ forms on company websites. Like the company itself, this service started with a single customer but rapidly found a broader market.

“An American company came to us and said, ‘We’ve got this website. People are visiting it and filling out a web form, which is turned into an email. We would like to redirect all the emails to you. We want you to pick up the phone and talk to everybody who comes to our website within 15 minutes and qualify them in or out,” says Chris Moriarty, founder of Strike Force Sales.

“We said, ‘What a great idea!’

‘… the tools most people use to manage email are poorly suited to a sales situation.’

“We started doing it and we got a great response. Who gets a phone call off the back of anything they do on the web? People have learned that the web is like a bottomless pit that you send inquiries off to and they never get responded to, right?”

A major reason for this dire situation is that the tools most people use to manage email are poorly suited to a sales situation.

“Emails come in, and they land in the inbox of some girl called Melissa who sits on the front desk,” says Moriarty. “She may look at it once a day or once a week, and she might forward them to six different sales guys.

“Whether or not those sales guys follow up is completely unknown, and no one has any visibility.”

Don’t ignore email leads

Ignoring email, or handling it badly, means passing up live leads from customers who are actively interested in your products and services, says Moriarty.

“You go to seminars with marketing people beating themselves, lamenting the fact that they can’t figure out how to engage with Generation Y,” he says. “Meanwhile, they’ve got Generation Y bashing at their front door, and they’re completely ignoring them.”

Strike Force Sales conducted its own research into email response and found that only 41% of the companies surveyed responded to email queries within seven days of receiving them

“For the 41% that do respond, the average response time was two days, 17 hours, and 59 minutes. That’s 3959 minutes. It took Apollo 11 4526 minutes to fly to the moon!

“Businesses spend billions of dollars a year driving people to their websites, and 59% of all that money is instantly wasted.

“To add insult to injury, when you put a web form up, you’re setting an expectation with a customer that you’re going to respond to it. There is sort of an inherent promise in having an email address or a web form available that you’re going to reply to [it].”

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Email response rates: woeful

To gauge the typical customer experience of submitting queries by email or using web forms, Strike Force Sales surveyed 460 Australian organisations with 100 or more employees in February 2008. They found:

  • 59% of businesses do not respond to email or web form enquiries within seven days.
  • Only 15% of respondents phoned up customers who had expressed an interest in their products.
  • Companies on average took two days, 17 hours and 59 minutes to respond by phone and just over 22 hours to reply by email.
  • Of the companies that sent automated ‘we have received your query’ email responses, 49% never followed up in person.
  • The most responsive industry was wholesale trade; 48% of wholesalers replied to email queries within seven days. Only 38% of retailers responded, while construction was at the bottom of the field at 24%.

Read the full article here.

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