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 US. 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? Hereís 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 didnít 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 had heard nothing. So we emailed the sales contact. 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 didnít 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 wouldnít be returning my call. I asked when I might expect a return call. ďOh, in about a week or so. Iíll get Ken to give you a call.Ē

That was 3 weeks ago. Guess what? No Ken, no return call, no contact. No sale. I guess they donít really need the money, not if Ken can keep jetting off to Thailand for weeks at a time.

Kenís Not AloneÖ

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 studied ignore emails 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 emails were ignored.

So, about half of the emails from hot prospects were outright ignored. But it doesnít end there. Of the responses that were received from SMBs, 70% took longer than 24 hours (61% for enterprise level organizations). And 79% percent responded with inaccurate or incomplete information (83% for enterprise companies).

So let me get this straight. If Iím really interested in a product, thereís only a 50/50 chance Iíll get any answer at all. If I do, thereís a 2 in 3 chance Iíll be waiting several days. And when I do get it, it will only give me the information Iím looking for 1 out of 5 times. Add it up and my odds of getting a prompt, accurate response are about 1 in 10.

Why donít 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 wonít volunteer information that would allow contact until theyíre serious about buying. They browse anonymously until that time, gathering information and weighing their options. This is why itís 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 donít 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, theyíre motivated. Their money is sitting on the table. They want to buy. You donít 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, donít let these leads go longer than 24 hours. Youíve gone to a lot of trouble to get the lead. Donít throw them away.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
July 11, 2005

Gord Hotchkiss is President and CEO of Enquiro, Canada's leading search engine marketing firm and one of the top firms in North America. His articles are regularly published in both on and off line newsletters, including Marketing Monitor, SEOToday, Marketing and many other trade journals. Enquiro's own information portal is www.searchengineposition.com.

With an extensive 20 year background in the marketing and advertising business, Gord has been working to increase client's search engine visibility since 1996 and has specialized in search engine marketing since 1999.

Search Engine Guide > Gord Hotchkiss > Search Will Get You the Lead, But the Rest is Up to You