Remember the good old days when you saw a product which looked interesting in a magazine, you filled out the number of the item on the “bingo card”, and posted it off to the publishers as much in hope as anticipation? This was a great system for publishers, because more often than not, anyone filling in a card thought: “You know, while I’m at it, I may as well also enquire about this, this and this…” But I digress. The card would take a day or two to get to the publishers, then it would take a day or two for the data to be entered into their system, then a day or two to be posted out to the manufacturers. So, if you were lucky, your request for information might reach the manufacturer within a week. And with the request having taken that long already, there was hardly much incentive for manufacturers to mail out the information that promptly either. When the stuff arrived, perhaps two weeks after you’d idly jotted down a number on a card, you’d probably forgotten you’d ever sent off for it, and you might well dismiss the envelope as unsolicited junk mail.
I was reminded of this when a reader recently mentioned to me how unacceptable it was for him to request information online and receive the message: “Thank you for your enquiry – we will endeavour to deal with it in the next three working days”. He was right, of course, this is unacceptable, if brutally honest. But it shows how far we’ve come. If I got a message like that nowadays, the first thing I’d do would be to resume my search for information elsewhere. Right away. Within three working days, who knows how much competitors’ information I might have gathered? Maybe I’d even have bought something.
The lesson to be learned is that the response time to a sales enquiry needs to match the time it took for the enquiry to reach you. If it’s taken a week to wend its way to your in tray, you can take your time with the reply. But if the enquiry appears in your email inbox within seconds of being sent – and it does – then you need to respond accordingly. You can’t get a printed catalogue on the enquirer’s desk within seconds, but you can give them something to be getting on with, whether it’s emailed information or a link. Indeed, you must do so. They want something now. And I believe you need to process that enquiry and clear it from your system (and preferably confirm that you’ve done so) equally promptly. If you don’t, others will.