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In this day and age of electronic mail, electronic brochures, electronic advertising, it is fast becoming the norm rather than the fad that some pundits predicted a few short years ago.

Now, in this the 21st century, when businesses are continually vying for the best use of their advertising dollar; where the yellow pages is no longer the monopoly when it comes to getting our name in front of the public, we are still faced with the same dilemma - what is the best form of marketing for our business?
I’d like to say I have the answers, but I’m not that clever. Asking anyone that question is akin to asking McDonalds if they’ll ever sell a healthy burger. I’m sure someone knows the answer, but I don’t believe anyone will actually care.
For most of us we no doubt dabble in the local print media, local signage and signing our vehicles. But what about online advertising?
A web site is a basic need for just about any business these days. The more professional you want to appear, the more money you spend on a web site. Bells and whistles, fancy graphics… it all adds up. Before you know it, we are spending similar dollars to what it was costing for a ¼ page in the yellow pages. The difference of course is that the reach is much greater, unlike the yellow pages that was limited to an area.
Once again though, we find ourselves having to decide if we want to chase new business or just have the site as a showcase of our work.
The real advantage of a web site is that potential customers can browse without having to commit. They don’t feel pressured. I remember working in retail in my early days, you’d ask the customer if they needed help and they’d snap back ‘I’m just looking!’.  I remember one day going up to a gentleman in a store I was working in, asking him ever so politely if he needed help and I thought he was going to kill me. He ranted and raved around the store that I was harassing him, then he stormed out.  Shop assistants have to walk that fine line of being available but not stalking the customer.
Web sites stop that. But unless your site is interesting or welcoming, people won’t hang round either. An important thing about a web site is that if you tell people too much, they won’t need to contact you. The idea is to tell them a lot, but not so much that they don’t have to make an enquiry.
Once they have made an enquiry, they have effectively answered your ‘do you need any help’ with the affirmative.
But that is where some of us, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, fall into the next trap.
Just as a sales assistant might ask the question, if he can’t or doesn’t answer it, he looks unprofessional. The same applies to our online enquiry. If we don’t get back and answer the enquiry in quick time, we’ve lost the momentum and the client may well lose interest, wrongly assuming you don’t have the answer.
It’s all about communicating. The best sales assistants are, in the most basic form, great communicators. They listen, and they respond quickly with an answer. It’s not rocket science.
It is one of my pet peeves, because so many good businesses get poor sales results by being poor communicators. The web just magnifies those failures in a sales environment.
Let me give you a few examples;
I was, a few weeks back, researching this article when I decided to do my own ‘test’. Instead of quoting figures and results from other sources, I decided to do my own. It wasn’t scientific, it wasn’t technical, is was simple and uncluttered.
I went online to several suppliers in our industry, and decided to get prices on corflute sheets. I chose 3 well known local suppliers; 1 knows me well, one has dealt with me occasionally, and one doesn’t know me at all.
I asked them all the same question through their contact page. The question was:
“Please quote me on 15 sheets of 5mm x 1220mm x 2440 white corflute, please include delivery cost.” I signed off with my company name.
I left it two days, and the only one that replied was the company that I dealt with occasionally. It was a real order, so I let them supply me. I have since gone on to buy other products from them as well.
Yes, I could have rung, but I didn’t. Yes I could have followed it up, but why should I.
The other two companies may well have been out of stock. Why didn’t they have the common decency to let me know? Why have a web site at all if they are not going to respond to an enquiry?
I tried the experiment again. I have been looking for a new item in an allied industry for some time, and was going to wait for the printex show. I decided to research the product so I knew what best to look for.
I emailed two well-known suppliers in the field through their contact pages, asking for information on the machines in question. One replied the same day. They were obviously keen. I purchased the unit 7 days later. I haven’t heard from the other supplier to this day. If they can’t reply to a simple email, how good would their service be?
 I had a similar experience through my own web page. A prospective client sent me an enquiry asking me to quote on a ‘small’ job in the city. I replied the same day, asking for the address so I could do a site inspection.
Within a week, I got the job. Talking to my client later, I asked how she heard about us. She told me she just googled for sign shops in her area. I was one of four sign shops that she contacted through web site contact pages. To this day, I’m the only one that contacted her in answer to her original enquiry.
I’ve done over $10,000 of work for her company since that 1st email enquiry.
An expensive lesson for the other 3 companies to learn, if only they knew.
Now, we have Facebook, YouTube and google+ to add more confusion to the whole online scene.
Once again, I don’t have the answers to know what way the marketing will go. I do however know that if someone takes the time to contact me online, my first priority is to at least reply. Seems my opposition are happy to let someone else pick up the small jobs. I’m more than happy to oblige.


Shane Drew