Let’s face it, we all have our favourite communications channels.
Many prefer the immediacy of getting on the phone. Others prefer the time-shifting attributes of email. Others still swear that face-to-face meeting is the only way to go.
The truth is they all have their advantages and disadvantages – often depending on exactly the type of business you’re in.
Personally I prefer email as my communications channel of choice as it not only allows clients to respond in their own time but of course there is a record of the communication – something that may become useful if an aspect of a project is queried later.
Of course if the matter is more pressing, telephone becomes the most vital tool to get a fast decision or action.
And little business is generated without first meeting with your prospect face-to-face.
Unfortunately though, there are many in business who aren’t flexible when it comes to using multiple communication tools.
For example, I have one client whose business and results I value highly, but he refuses to communicate by email.
This means that my other client work is often being interrupted by his phone calls and that we often get into an unnecessary and ultimately costly game of phone tag.
The result is that I spend far more unchargeable time with that client than I do with my non-phone clients – and that costs me time and money.
Not that I devalue phone calls. Not at all. Its just when there is the choice of phone or email, I find email far more convenient, trackable and at the end of the day, productive than its voice counterpart.
On the other hand you get others who either take forever to answer an email or don’t bother at all – even if its for a piece of new business.
That’s right, they ignore the very email that may be an order for a significant piece of business.
And you’d be surprised just how prevalent this shocking example of negligence is.
An associate, Laurence Wade of gourmet experience provider Bon Vivant, recently decided to record exactly how many sales enquiries sent from a website by email were responded to.
“Incredibly, of the 95 contacts I made, just 10 have been replied to”, he reports. “That’s barely a 12% response rate. And oddly, of those who did bother to reply, about half seemed to be indifferent to the possible value of the contact, as if contact via the web was a lower-grade value of commercial contact than, say, a phone call.”
I think this highlights that many businesses are inept – or worse – when it comes to using their website as a sales or business development tool.”
In fact one could argue that enquiries from computer-literate and potentially higher-net-worth email prospects may well be worth more than their phone-based counterparts.
This assumption is supported by Sensis’ eBusiness Report for 2008. It tells us that 99% of businesses with more than 100 employees in Australia use the internet to look for information on suppliers compared to 81% of those with 1-2 employees.
Which means that an enquiry email is more likely to come from a bigger spending large customer than a smaller spending one.
Others may also use the email as a test of the professionalism of their supplier candidate. In which case, the non-respondents score a resounding ‘F’.
The prevalence of the problem is consistent with the overall slowness of SMEs to adopt new technologies.
For example, the same report tells us that roughly half of Australian businesses with up to 20 staff have a website. When you consider that the vast bulk of both consumers and businesses use the web to find a supplier, that’s an awful lot of businesses who are immediately putting themselves out of the running for the online prospect by not bothering to set up a website.
But getting back to our key issue – why don’t SME’s value email as much as phone calls?
The reasons are likely to be many and varied. Probably the main reason comes down to a very fundamental issue – fingerspeed and basic computer literacy.
Despite attracting the jibes of many of my high school mates, I was lucky enough to do two units of Typing at High School – mainly because I harboured ambitions to be a journalist and not, as many surmised, because I was in a class full of girls.
But what this training gave me was a distinct advantage when it came to adopting the computer. My modest but effective 50 WPM allowed me to get a lot more work done than those poking around with two fingers frantically looking for the ‘z’ key.
Unfortunately not many in small business have this advantage. In fact, to many the PC is a grudge tool – reluctantly used to keep the books and answer the odd email, and not the dominant business tool like it is with many of our businesses.
But without sounding like a spruiker in a certain TV ad for lamb, it’s imperative that Australian businesses work hard to see their computer as more than something to pass dead time playing Solitaire on.
A connected computer is now a lethal lead generation tool which is being scoured by high spending prospects as you read this.
Its time to face your fears, find out what it’s going to take to get your business online and embrace it – before your competitors do.
The good news is that not only is getting a professional online presence is now more affordable than ever, but more prospects are using it as a supplier research tool, which means that now is the time to act.
And for heaven’s sake check your emails! There may well be a chunk of sales gold hiding in your inbox.
Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au