by Randall P. Whatley
Once you have done everything necessary to gain a sales lead from your Web site, you need to close the sale. If you don’t close the sale, your Internet shopper will find your competitor. It is important for Internet marketers to do what is necessary to improve their closing rates with a prompt, customized response to Internet sales leads.
Your first sales challenge with Web leads is to adapt your selling systems to Internet time. It is important that you follow up with Web prospects quickly, within minutes, if possible, but within hours after receiving a lead. If you don’t, your competitors will.
In our consulting business, we find two sets of composite characteristics with our Web prospects. One group is shopping to see how much products or services would cost if they bought them. Often, these individuals are collecting information for a meeting in their organization on this topic. They remember which sellers responded quickly and those that did not. The second group is people who are trying to solve an immediate problem. If you can provide these prospects with an immediate solution, you will enjoy a high closing rate. If you don’t provide a prompt response, one of your competitors will and close the sale before you make your first follow up contact.
A good rule of thumb on follow up is to use the same medium to contact the prospect that they used to contact you. If they contact you by e-mail, you should follow up with them by e-mail. If they called after visiting your Web site, they have shown a preference for using the telephone, so you should do likewise.
If you receive an e-mail from a Web prospect, read it three times before you respond. This allows you to improve your chances of correctly interpreting their request. If you speak with the prospect by telephone, ask probing questions about what brought about the need for them to contact you. Ask what criteria they will use to make their buying decision. Customize your response to address what you learned or surmised. If your prospects ask questions, answer each one individually, and reconfirm that they understand your answer. Allow them to ask follow up questions to make sure they understand your responses.
Remember the results of Internet searches are similar to yellow page or directory searches. When your prospects find you, they also find your competitors. Assume they are also contacting others that they found in the same place. This is why it is important to remind them what they saw on your site. By doing so, you distinguish your information from your competitors’ and focus their attention on your sales information.
Practice consultative selling techniques with Internet prospects. Focus your communication with the prospects on how you can solve problems with your product or service instead of just “thumping your chest” about how good you are. People value and appreciate gaining more topic expertise during their seller evaluation and remember those sellers who show a willingness to help solve a problem. Conversely, sellers who give prospects the impression that they are just trying to make a sale, create a bad impression.
This approach is especially important with Internet leads because buyers and selling are not face-to-face, and the bonding opportunity that occurs with personal selling is nonexistent. However, you can create a good impression with prospects by showing with e-mail or voicemail that you would like to help them solve their problem.
Keep in mind the analogy comparing the Internet and yellow pages. People who e-mail you probably discovered several other companies when they found you. What incentives will you offer them to make a deal with you now so they stop searching the Internet for more proposals? Consider offering an “Internet Special” for your products and services.
Many people search the Internet because they believe that it is a tool to find bargain prices. In some respects, they are correct. If your prospects are bargain shoppers, prepare a bargain price offer to meet their needs.
Over time, you will learn the various buying time frames of your Internet leads for your products and services. The people who contact you may be gathering information for budget planning. Their buy may be months in the future. On the other hand, some buying cycles will be immediate. Try to learn prospects’ buying time frames in your first communication with them. Once you have qualified their legitimacy as prospects, develop a sales follow up plan for them. For some prospects, you might need to follow up once or twice. For others you might need to follow up many times. Remember that each follow up is an opportunity for you to continue selling to them, not just on their first inquiry, but also on other products or services that you offer.
If you produce numerous Internet leads from your Web site, it is imperative that you use your e-mail tools efficiently. You must create proposal templates for the products or services you sell that can be customized quickly and sent by e-mail to the prospect. Otherwise, you will not be able to manage your Internet leads to provide a timely response.
Your e-mail proposal templates should reflect the highest standards of your business communication documents. They should be visually appealing and well written. They should contain all the relevant information about your product or service the prospect needs to make a buying decision. The templates should also address your company’s history, professional standing, and other information to reassure the prospect about doing business with you.
Your e-mail proposal should also contain all the contact information the buyer will need to follow up with you on the proposal. If you also spoke to the prospect previously by telephone, the e-mail proposal should recap the phone conversation and review the verbal offers or promises you made.
Remember one of the reasons people like e-mail communication is it can be a time-saver. Keep your proposals streamlined in their content. Don’t send too much information, and don’t send large files in e-mail file attachments that are time-consuming to download. If you do, your proposal might not even be downloaded, let alone considered.
Finally, use the e-mail follow up to ask about the next step in the prospect’s decision making.
More advice: If you travel, you must figure out procedures that allow you to keep up with your e-mail on the road. The prospect does not know you are traveling when they contact you. You are likely to receive e-mail requests from buyers at all hours. To make the most of these sales opportunities, you must figure out how to answer e-mail requests no matter when they come in or what you’re doing when they hit your inbox.
If a prospect finds you on the Internet and calls instead of e-mails for more information, you need to be just as prepared to take the call and begin your selling process. Your verbal sales pitch needs to be as streamlined as your e-mail follow up.
You also need an even more refined and brief sales pitch prepared in case you get the prospect’s voicemail. Speak slowly when leaving your name, company name, and phone number in voicemail. Don’t be a pest by leaving multiple voice mails in the same day. Don’t forget to consider the prospect’s time zone when calling.
It is critical that you determine how to become accessible by telephone daily, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Your follow up must be prompt. Travel cannot be an excuse for a delayed response. I have lost track of the number of Internet prospects that I have communicated with and closed sales with in airports, parking lots, or travel rest areas by cell phone.
I will relate the following personal story as an illustration of selling in “Internet time.” One Friday night at 7 p.m., our company received a request for quote from NASA, the US space agency. Instead of waiting until Monday to respond to it, I answered the request on Saturday afternoon. I complained every second of the way because it meant I was missing the first half of one of my favorite football rivalry games. By 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, the prospect had my proposal in her e-mail inbox. On Sunday morning, while our family was at church, the prospect e-mailed once and called twice saying that she wanted to accept our proposal and issue a contract to our company. She said that it must be done before 1 p.m. because she was leaving at 2 p. m. on a two-week trip. If we lost the opportunity to close the deal, it was unlikely the budget would still be available when she returned. Because I checked both voicemail and e-mail at noon on Sunday, I received her urgent messages, responded by telephone immediately, and did what was necessary by e-mail and fax to complete the contract - all by 1:30 p.m. on a Sunday.
This anecdote is not an exception. Something similar has happened more times than I can remember from Internet leads. One reason buyers use the Internet to buy goods and services is that it is always open and convenient to the buyer’s schedule. To succeed with your Internet selling, you must learn how to adapt to this selling arena that never closes.
Track your Internet sales leads diligently, not only for follow up purposes to improve your closing rates, but also to discover your metrics. You need to know what percentage of your Web prospects are “tire-kickers” who are just curious about the price of your product or service. You need to know what percentages are buyers with a long buying cycle and what percentage are buyers on a short buying cycle. This information will allow you to improve your follow up and selling systems. It will also put your closing rates in perspective and allow you to compare them to industry averages.
Never stop trying to work more efficiently and improve your closing rate. Regularly evaluate your follow up techniques with the stated objective of trying to improve your processes.
Survey the customers you get from Internet leads and ask them what they thought you did well and ask for suggestions on how you could have done a better job of following up with them when they were a prospect.
Make note of the processes and techniques other sellers use on you when you shop for goods and services on the Internet. Think about the best practice techniques that get your attention, and try to adapt them to your systems.
I was in business for over two decades before I began Internet marketing for my company. I have found it to be one of the most challenging yet rewarding ways to gain new business prospects. The opportunities for Internet marketing are endless. The potential for profits exceeds every marketing medium I have ever seen besides word-of-mouth. The first challenge marketers face is to figure out how to produce the leads. Once you are successful in producing Internet leads, make your profits by closing the sales with the tips and advice provided in this article.
If you need to improve your Internet marketing, but lack the in-house resources to do so, call 770-640-9918 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help you.
Randall P. Whatley is president of Cypress Media Group, an advertising, public relations, and training firm. Cypress Media Group provides training primarily related to business and technical writing, presentation skills, and media relations. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.