Following Up

Using technology to create better customer relationships

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Need to find out something? Most people search the Web to get answers. More than 10.6 billion core searches were conducted in the U.S. in April, according to comScore, an Internet information provider. This probably comes as no surprise, since most of us have turned to Google or other search engines to uncover Websites that address our needs. But contacting the company to get more information. can quickly turn to frustration if search efforts at a Website are not responded to, or the information you obtain is inaccurate.

Being unresponsive to requests is not the way to win business—neither is being slow to respond or sending out inaccurate replies to specific questions.
Many small businesses have turned to technology to automate important but routine tasks and processes. By investing time up front to create informational content for each product or service offered, companies can craft custom responses to inquiries captured from the Web. A recent study by InfusionSoft (www.infusionsoft.com), a provider of small-business marketing automation tools, found that 65% of small-business owners surveyed cite an inability to consistently and efficiently follow up with leads as one of their top concerns. While most business people know how important it is to respond to inquiries, it is often a challenge for growing businesses to provide timely answers.

Response management services such as Aweber (www.aweber.com) and iContact (www.icontact.com) can be used to make sure potential customers are sent accurate, timely responses. Services from companies such as Salesforce.com (www.salesforce.com), InfusionSoft, and others can be used to do more detailed workflow automation. The main idea here is that your prompt, accurate reply is getting to your potential customers setting the groundwork for a positive relationship going forward.

Automation can also help companies improve their sales effectiveness, as well as improve relationships with current customers. Research firm Aberdeen Group recently examined small and midsize enterprises and found that companies that leverage technology to automate sales and marketing tasks can realize significant benefits. The best performing small businesses participating in the survey are using customer relationship management, lead management, and collaboration tools in much higher numbers than less successful survey participants. And by using these kinds of tools to implement standardized sales and marketing processes, the top performers averaged a 27% year-over-year increase in average sales deal along with a 26% increase in average annual customer revenue, while enjoying a 16% reduction in sales cycle time, according to the survey.

With automation tools from companies such as Eloqua and Pardot being more accessible and affordable than ever before, now is the time to review your sales and marketing processes. Doing so will allow you to automate important tasks that may have been falling through the cracks. The longer you let those Web inquiries go unanswered the greater the frustration will be for all involved all except your competition.

Brent Leary is a small-business technology analyst, adviser and award-winning blogger. His blog can be

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