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For a lot of small businesses, seeing that contact form submission come in is a little like having a birthday. It’s a gift wrapped in an email. It says someone noticed your website and liked it enough to ask for more. It’s a tiny bit of validation that means not only did someone find your site in the first place (hooray for marketing!) but they chose to take action that puts them a step closer to becoming your customer.
So once the jolt of excitement wears off, what do you do? Call your prospect? Send an email? Stick the message in a follow-up folder and forget about it for a month, then repent of lost opportunities? It may sound like a silly question, but once that form comes in, what do you do? It matters! Before you get that next contact form delivered to your inbox, think about it for a moment and plan your next steps. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.
Answer Within A Reasonable Timeframe
A bit of a trick answer there, because in internet terms, “reasonable” can often mean “in five minutes”. Email is so immediate that people tend to get impatient when there’s even a few hours’ lag between hitting send and receiving a reply.
Your best bet? Answer as soon as humanly possible, and if that’s within five minutes, all the better. I once closed a deal nearly instantly when I answered a website request only minutes after receiving it.
It’s probably not practical to answer all requests within five minutes or even a few hours, but I propose that it’s absolutely crucial to answer within 24.
Longer than that and your prospect has either forgotten about you or is already pissed off at you. Keep in mind there’s no rule that says you need to have an hour-long consultation every time you answer a request. Calling or emailing someone within five minutes of receiving their request simply to schedule time to talk in a week is far better than waiting a week to respond because that’s the earliest block of time you could schedule.
What’s worse than forgetting to answer a request or waiting two weeks? Answering hastily without adequate professionalism. There’s a difference between answering quickly and answering hastily. Plan ahead of time how you will address requests, whether that’s with a particular set of questions, a pitch, an introduction, an interview, a request to schedule time to talk, a questionnaire… whatever fits your business needs.
Compose a basic email that you can repurpose whenever you receive a request. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated. A short introduction, a couple of frequently asked questions, a simple “thank you”.
It’s the response and the “touch” that’s important. If you do this ahead of time you’ll save yourself the effort of doing it every time. And you can proofread and make sure that the email is free of typos, grammatical errors and punctuation snafus. You’ll even have time to let someone else proofread it to make sure it sounds professional and inviting. If you one-off your responses with a hasty “thanks for submitting ur question i will get back to you” there is probably no chance of recovering from that.
If you respond via phone you can just as easily compose a basic script for handling introductions. It’ll kick-start the conversation and help you get into the flow. Plus, you can ensure that you don’t leave out any important information you might want to share up front.
You know that email you composed? Instead of sending it out every time you receive a request, why not set it up to trigger automatically when someone submits your contact form?
It doesn’t take the place of a personal communication but it’s reassuring to the sender to get confirmation that their request has been received. As a consumer, I find few things as frustrating as ordering something online or contacting someone via their website and not knowing whether the request was received, especially if two weeks goes by without a reply. Sometimes forms don’t work. And emails get lost. And spam filters kick in. An auto-responder says hey, I got your email and I’m on it! Plus it’s instant and you save yourself the time and effort of sending it out manually.
Make It A Marketing Opportunity
If someone submits your contact form and that’s the end of it, then consider it a loss. If someone has contacted you, it shows an interest in your company, products or services. That sounds like a good opportunity to capitalize! Sometime after your auto-responder and before they sign on the dotted line, find a way to touch that prospect again.
After your first official conversation or meeting, have a second email ready to go. Thank the person for their time and share your enthusiasm for doing business together. A mostly-canned email is a good idea here. You can pre-compose most of it, but I’d also suggest adding something personal that shows you were paying attention.
Somewhere in there you must ask your prospect to Like your Facebook page, follow you on Twitter or join your email list. You can do this via email or simply make the request verbally. Why not end every conversation by asking for permission to add the person to your email list? Or with a request to visit your Facebook page? Take their mailing address and add them to your direct-mail list. Ask for their birthday and promise to send a gift or a deal on that day.
If you follow the previous two bits of advice – compose and automate – you can plan and schedule an entire set of follow-ups, via email, phone or both. It will take a bit of strategizing ahead of time but it’ll save you oodles – and yield far more benefit – later.
Hopefully you’re rethinking the humble contact form by now. It’s more than just a few fields and a submit button. If you can entice someone to take that small action, you’ve opened up a world of opportunity, so take advantage of it by considering it part of your marketing strategy instead of one of those things you “have” on your site because that’s just what you’re supposed to do. Think, plan, automate and respond. It’s too easy and too important not to do.