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Making the Most of Internet Inquiries By Tina LoSasso

When someone calls to ask about your product or services, you know exactly what to ask, what to say, and how to follow up. Are you as confident, and effective, responding to an Internet inquiry? Without the benefit of talking with the prospect directly, the contact can feel colder than a cold call.

As more consumers and businesses research and purchase via the Internet, you can’t afford to mishandle these inquiries. To respond in a professional manner, and convert more Internet inquiries into customers, keep these guidelines in mind:

• To call, or not to call? Some salespeople don’t respond to Internet inquiries because they think they’re a waste of time. Others reason, “They emailed me, so they must be expecting me to email them back.” When someone asks for information via email, you should respond via email. But what’s stopping you from calling them as well?

Imagine the impression you’ll make: responsive, helpful, and efficient. A word of caution: you must have a valid reason to call. Restating the information provided in the email, or interrogating the prospect about his company, budget or time frame, are not valid reasons: they’re harassment.

Telling the prospect all about your company won’t cut it either. Instead, consider carefully what you need to know in order to propose the best solution, then ask about that information.

• Respond in Internet time. Internet time is roughly equivalent to the speed of light. Thanks to email and instant messaging, people expect everything right now.

Accordingly, prospects expect a quick response to their email inquiries. If you don’t have enough information to propose a solution, let the prospect know that you’re working on it, and when he can expect to hear from you. No one wants to be left hanging.

Customers also expect “24/7” response—day or night, every day of the week—and automated replies don’t count. You probably check emails while on the road, over the weekend, and late at night. If you’re receiving inquiries after-hours, chances are your buyers are working, too. They will appreciate a response from you, even if you’re only acknowledging their inquiry. Let them know when you’ll get back to them with the requested information.

• Don’t be too quick on the draw. Wanting to respond quickly is no excuse for poor grammar, misspellings, and bad form. Proofread your response carefully before sending it. It’s easy to miss errors on a computer screen. Try this: print out your draft and read it aloud to catch any mistakes, missed words, or poor syntax. Your email response will create your prospect’s first impression of you, so make it a good one!

• Be detached. An Internet inquiry is a dream come true: an interested prospect contacting you! You probably can’t wait to email a proposal, product specifications, company brochure, comparison chart, product brochure and lists of happy customers. But if you send all those attachments, your email may not get through the prospect’s spam filter; it could take forever to be received, and even longer to download.

To avoid coming across like an inconsiderate klutz, send a brief reply. If you have a short proposal, include it in the body of the email, not as an attachment. Let the prospect know that you’ll send the collateral material he requested in a separate email. If he didn’t request it, don’t send it!

• Make an impression. Buyers who email inquiries are probably searching numerous websites besides yours. After awhile, they blur together. Make it easy for the buyer to recall your site, and why he requested information from you in particular. Remind him who you are by including your company tagline, and a link to your site.

If the inquiry came from an industry bidding site, take additional steps to distinguish yourself, keeping in mind that the prospect knows nothing about you, not even your company name. To stand out from the potential dozens of replies the prospect will receive, bypass your normal form-letter response, and personalize your reply. Focus on your special ability to meet the prospect’s particular request, and give him a reason to remember you.

As a salesperson, you probably feel more comfortable speaking with prospects directly, because you can easily establish rapport and rely on instant feedback to guide the conversation.

Email communication robs you of those advantages, but it does not have to rob you of opportunity. Follow these guidelines, and you will convert more Internet inquiries into customers.
Tina LoSasso is Managing Editor of SalesDog.com, an online resource for sales professionals. SalesDog.com’s new book Top Dog Sales Secrets features sales advice from dozens of nationally renowned sales experts. One reader said, “It’s like reading the best ideas from 50 sales books all in one book.” To learn more, go to SalesDog.com.

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