By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD
How do you regard email? Is it something that you can’t live without, an inconvenient irritation, or somewhere in between? A few years ago I sent out an email to 156 salespeople to verify some information they had submitted. This information was for a printed listing to connect potential buyers to them. There was no charge for the listing.
Several of those messages bounced back immediately, with varying types of unresolvable error messages. Several more came back after four days of trying. To their credit, some people responded immediately or the next day. After a week, I sent a follow-up email to those who I hadn’t heard from yet. A few additional addresses were undeliverable with this second round.
With both mailings, I received many “out-of-office” messages. Few of them were the out-on-a-sales-call variety, but rather, they were the on-vacation-for-two-weeks type. This wouldn’t be alarming, if not for the fact that I sent my message to email addresses for sales inquiries.
The result was that of 156 original contacts, thirteen (8.3%) were bad email addresses, eighty (51.3%) were apparently good email addresses, but no one bothered to respond, and only sixty-three were answered. Remember, this was not a list that I bought or harvested, but rather the result of self-submitted email addresses from people who wanted to be contacted. This was an astoundingly poor 40.4% response rate.
Can you imagine if a company was that apathetic about their telephone number? The analogy would be that on 8% of call attempts the caller would receive a “nonworking number” recording or a busy signal, 51% would ring but never be answered, and only 40% would be answered by a person and responded to. With a record like that, how long would a company stay in business?
Before you criticize me for implying that email is comparable to the telephone, I need to point out that email is the default communication channel for an increasing number of people – especially the younger generation, who are rapidly becoming the decision makers at your prospects’ offices.
If you desire more sales for your company, the simple solution might be to check your email.
Start with Your Website: First, you need a website. If your company doesn’t have a website, no one will take you seriously. Once you have a site, check it periodically to make sure it is still there and working. Sites can go down (usually temporarily, sometimes permanently), pages can get deleted, links break, domain names become pointed to the wrong place – or to nowhere – and so on.
Keep Track of Your Email Addresses: Assign an email administrator who keeps track of all email addresses that your company uses. This includes both the ones to individuals, as well as general-purpose ones (such as sales, info, webmaster, and so forth). When an employee leaves, don’t just deactivate their email address, but have it forwarded to the email administrator who can route messages to the proper person.
Test Your Email Addresses: Once you’ve accounted for all your email addresses, check them regularly to make sure they’re working. This is especially true of department and company-wide addresses. Also, test all of the email addresses that have an auto-response message or are forwarded to another mailbox. Both of these situations are prime areas for problems to occur, and they can easily remain undetected for a long time. The most critical email addresses are the published ones. This includes those listed on your website; printed in ads, directories, and listings; and posted online on other websites. Test them daily. This testing can be automated. Just make sure someone is faithfully checking the logs to ensure the program is running and the errors are addressed.
Develop a Vacation Policy: Establish a policy for staff email when they are on vacation. Short of having employees check their email while gone (a requirement I would discourage), an auto-response message is the minimal expectation. This message must provide the name, number, and email address of an alternate contact.
A preferred approach would be to not inconvenience the client or prospect and simply have someone check the vacationing staff’s email account for time-critical and urgent communiqués. (This is an excellent reason to keep business and personal email separate. Just as you don’t want personal email encroaching on the business hours, it is wise to keep business email from detracting from personal time.)
Heighten the Importance of Email: With any mission critical technology, there are backup options, contingency plans, notification procedures, and escalation steps. The same needs to occur with email.
Verify Your Staff: Until now, I’ve addressed the technical side of email. Don’t discount the human aspect. Left unchecked, salespeople can become lackadaisical or merely delete any message that doesn’t sound like an easy sale. This is only remedied through monitoring and verification.
So the answer to the commonly asked question, “How can I get more sales”? may be as simple as “Check your email!”
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author on a mission to change the world one word at a time.