I am yet to meet a small business owner that doesn’t want more business, or at the very least for their sales and marketing costs to be lower. Huge sums of money are spent on marketing, from advertising to trade shows, social media to emails. Business owners sweat over the best marketing methods, always trying to minimise their time and spend on getting new clients. As a logical extension to this, we might expect that every new enquiry or lead would be treated like gold, but my recent experiences makes me question that this is the case. It seems that not all leads are treated equally, with digital enquiries and contacts forgotten, unattended or ignored. The digital sales funnel is looking very leaky, leaving potentially millions of dollars idling in cyberspace.

As a regular part of my work, I contact potential suppliers for businesses clients who are setting up businesses, some of them with budgets in seven-figures. Here are the stats for last month: 45 businesses contacted via their advertised contact emails or forms on their website. 1 responded with information via email, 1 responded with a ‘can’t help you’ and the others made no contact at all. None picked up the phone to speak to me.

I also speak to businesses to develop referral relationships; last month I was looking for marketing companies, as I have clients who need these services, but I don’t provide them so am happy to pass them on. Again, the stats are appalling – especially from companies who profess to be marketers: 15 enquiries, I reply message, no calls, no follow up for meetings. In other words, no referrals. I have business ready to hand over plus ongoing referrals but no one can be bothered even to find out.

It goes on, last week contacting 5 locksmiths, ready to hand over the cash for some work on my house. No replies.

How can it be that businesses can leave so much money sitting in cyberspace and don’t even bother to respond? If a sales telephone line was ringing, a business would never just let it ring out time after time without answering it. Yet businesses are doing the digital equivalent of this. My guess is that with technology progressing quickly, businesses just aren’t setting up the systems to keep up with the activity. Forms and contacts get added to websites and social media, but what happens next is not given any thought. As more and more people do business online and via mobile devices, businesses are that are asleep at the wheel and will suffer. Is yours one of these?

Web and email enquiries need to be responded to as if they are the phone ringing, in other words, right now. Where enquiries leave a number, don’t email back, call them. Someone should be dedicated to catching and following up all enquiries, with well-developed processes to move these prospects to sale. If you have an advertised form of contact then it needs to be monitored and responded to quickly.

Social media is even worse. Many small businesses see social media as a one-way street, broadcasting to build followers and a client base, these platforms need to be treated as conversations. Inattention to comments, failure to respond or engage will be treated with the annoyance that is deserves. The broad expanse of social media for potential to connect works equally fast against your business if you aren’t careful.

As a consumer ready to buy, no response is tantamount to a rejection, whether by design or neglect. Business is hard enough to get, so every new contact is potential business and should be given the same attention, regardless of how it got to you. If you make your clients work hard to buy from you, they just won’t do it, and someone else will make the job easier for them.