How Responsive Are You?

I remember a time when business etiquette dictated a response to an e-mail inquiry within 24 hours if at all possible – especially if it involved a customer or client.

It seems this practice has gone by the wayside.

In just the past month, as a customer, I have experienced more than week-long delays to e-mail inquiries. In fact, I had to follow-up with a second request for response. One company got back to me promptly with an apology; the other has yet to respond. And one consultant – which had an online request form – never replied to my request for an actual paid engagement, which I submitted well over a month ago. I am still debating whether to even bother calling this consultant – after all, it is possible their online form does not work.

It is true that advances in technology have led to ridiculous volumes of e-mail for many business executives. Add to that the additional inundation of social media tweets and posts, and one can understand why some have simply given up. “Don’t e-mail me – I never respond to e-mail. I receive hundreds of e-mails a day and just can’t keep up,” begged one exasperated senior manager at a recent networking event.

But is ignoring a client, potential client or business associate good business practice? What are you communicating to your customer about yourself and your company?

In a nutshell: that they really don’t matter.

And what does this have to do with sales and marketing? Everything. Yes – in all the mayhem of technology innovation, we seem to have forgotten that customers are the reason any of us have jobs – they are the foundation of our business. It is no different for those of us with “internal” customers (i.e. corporate offices or headquarters that support branch offices or franchisees). If your sales are flat or declining, before you sink money into another ad campaign, e-mail blast or worse – decide to develop a blog or Facebook account – honestly evaluate your customer response time. And while you are at it, test your online forms and e-mail addresses to ensure they are working properly.

If your sales and support team cannot respond to a request within 24 to 48 hours, max, what good is sinking more resources into increasing trial? How many sales have you already missed by not responding in a timely manner, not responding at all or having a broken online form?

Customers – existing and potential – should be your number one priority, closely followed by associates and last, but not least, vendor requests (sales pitches). Having been on both sides of the sales fence, I am a strong proponent of responding to sales requests unless it is bulk e-mailed or obvious spam. A vendor could be a potential client, source of clients or even employer one day – you just never know.

My advice: respond to others as you would have them respond to you.

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