How can I convert email inquiries to paying clients?

Q & A by C.J. HaydenWhen visitors to your website email you with questions about your services, they might be legitimate prospects. But they may also be window shoppers, tire kickers, or looky-loos. Before you invest too much effort in trying to close a sale, you should try to pre-qualify these online prospects.

What I’ve found is that the inquiries that tend to turn into business are those who tell me they were referred by someone I know, heard me speak, read my book and liked it, etc. The ones that usually go nowhere are those who say they found my site while surfing and had never heard of me before. So since that’s been my experience, those are the criteria I use for determining how much effort to use in pursuing an inquiry.

With someone who was referred, heard me speak, or read my book, I email a detailed, personal reply and invite a phone conversation within the next couple of days. With someone who found me surfing or who discloses nothing about how he or she found me, I have some boilerplate replies set up as alternate email signatures in Outlook, so I can just hit reply, insert the appropriate text and send.

To follow up with these prospects, with the surfers I might check to see if they had already subscribed to my ezine, and if not, add them to an email autoresponder that says “You inquired about my services a while back…” This autoresponder sends an initial email after 30 days have passed since the first query, reminds people of their interest, and invites them to contact me again. I can also send a broadcast email to the people on this list at whatever interval I choose.

If the initial inquiry was really vague, I usually don’t even do this much. Again, my experience is that a query like “How much do you charge?” with no other info included is rarely worth more than 30 seconds. Sometimes people will ask for free advice in an email inquiry, and while I do give free advice to serious prospects when I speak to them by phone, I don’t do it by email. It takes too long, and in my experience, rarely produces results.

For the prospects who were referred, heard me speak, or read my book, I will wait a week after my first reply, then email them with another personal reply inviting a phone conversation. If they don’t respond again, I just put them on the same autoresponder as the surfers. Unless I have some other indication that they are serious, it’s not worth a lot of effort trying to chase them down. The vast majority of serious prospects either agree to a phone conversation in our first exchange, or call instead of email in the first place.

I find that the key to closing a sale is to move the conversation from email to the phone as quickly as possible. When you hear from prospects by email that you are certain is serious — by the nature of the inquiry they make or because of who referred them — you can also respond to their email by calling them instead of emailing (or in addition to emailing).

Your prospect’s phone number may be in his or her email signature, or you may be able to find the person’s website from the URL in the email address or by searching for the person’s company name and get the phone number that way. If you have an inquiry form on your website for people to use for queries, you can also ask for a phone number there. (Although not all prospects will provide it, this may be one more way to help determine if people are serious.)

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