Contact Us ... Really?

Website button for "Contact Us"
Does your website have a button like this?
Sometimes I have to search and cobble up something to write about. Other times circumstances conjure up important topics that make my fingers start twitching for a keyboard. Today, I am going to veer off the current path, your personal marketing efforts on social media. Today, I need to talk about the endgame, where all the social media, internet, website, supposed to lead. If you are preparing to read on about booking orders, you are missing the point of your social media endeavor. Today's topic is contact, more specifically, your company website's means of receiving personal inquiries and how responses to those inquiries are handled.

Here is the basic, ever so basic and over simplified, plan.

  • Social media drive traffic to website
  • Blog drives traffic to website
  • Everything else drives traffic to website
  • Website provides a bunch of ways for people to contact you about your products and services
If you do the first three well and get people interested enough in your company to go to the website, then fail to provide a timely response to an inquiry, I would argue strongly that you have nullified and squandered a portion of your marketing investment and the personal efforts of the good people at your company working to support those efforts.

website contact request form
Make sure your site's contact form actually makes
Back to what compelled me to write this article outside of the intended sequence. I write lots of articles about industrial process control. Generally, my research is conducted without outside assistance. When I do need input from a source, my preferred method of reaching out is to use contact forms on a product manufacturer website. Clearly identifying myself and my position, as well as whom I am writing for and how it relates to the contacted company, I state the purpose of my inquiry, ask for the help I need. Without exception, my article is something positively promotional about the company I contact. All good, right? Not so.
The level of "no response, ever" occurrences is stunningly high. 
I don't ask for help from these companies without good reason. I need what I ask for, to write an article that will tell readers a few interesting things about their company, product, or service. If I get no response, I write about a different subject. No response equals no promo.

At CMS4i, one facet of our efforts on behalf of our customers is to get people to click that contact button. It has occurred to me that our own customers may be delivering the same experience that I have received. Time to sound an alarm.
Responding to website inquiries is an important business process. 
The inquiry response procedure should have a deliberate design and a written procedure. The procedure and the importance of its proper execution should be understood and adopted by everyone involved, and it should be tested on a regular basis.

What is a deliberate design?

Consider what the goals should be for the inquiry response and how the character and form of the company's response will serve those goals. Generally, you should be striving to engage these valuable instances of communication, people investing their time and effort to reach out to you. These are the people you are searching for with your social media presence. By filling out a contact form, or clicking the "chat with us" button on your site, they just knocked on the door of your business. There should be an intentional response procedure that will provide each contact with an unequivocally positive experience.

Why do we need a written procedure?

Procedures have a way of drifting and morphing into modified versions of their original form. This can be especially true in the case of contact inquiry response, where the frequency of procedure execution may be low. A written procedure serves as a refresher that can be reviewed periodically by those involved in handling inquiries. It also provides a reference point for business process performance evaluation.

The importance of adoption

Everyone that will be executing the response plan must believe in the plan, through an understanding of its purpose and the value of its proper execution. One method of promoting procedure adoption is engaging the executors of the procedure as part of a team that creates the procedure. Their viewpoint and input will likely prove valuable.

The people interacting with potential customers that have reached out to your company for assistance, information, etc., need to be carefully selected. It is important that they recognize the value of these contacts and conduct themselves in a manner that will be positively regarded by any and all inquirers. The knowledge and skill level, as well as their communication skills and demeanor, are key elements of success.
The response to website contact inquiries should not be considered a purely administrative function. It is a person to person sales interaction.

What should a plan look like?

Developing, implementing, and maintaining an operable plan is a challenge for every business. The volume of inquiries and the resources available to respond to them vary widely from company to company. It is important to create a plan that can be executed by your organization. Some things to consider:
  • Inquiry Reception: How do the inquiries enter the company? When a user clicks "Submit" on a contact form, where does that information go, who sees it? What should they do with it?
  • Inquiry Filtering: Do you need to classify inquiries for direction to certain departments or individuals for response? Is there a need to pre-qualify the inquiries in any way to make their handling more effective or efficient?
  • Response Time: What is the response time goal? What are the likely customer expectations for response time? Keep in mind that this is the Internet....and the 21st century. Your response goal should be as fast as you can design and execute it.
  • Response Form: To what degree will responses be customized for each inquiry? Are there materials or content that should be included with every response? Will the response follow multiple paths, such as email and postal mail, or some other route?
  • Records: What documentation or data should be produced and retained for each interaction?
  • Referral: Are there other parties in the organization that should be notified about the contact occurrence? For example, passing the contact information along to a local distributor or field sales representative might be appropriate. 
  • Value Exchange: It is important that you create value for the individual that contacted you. Value can take many forms, from an accurate and timely response to tangible "Thanks for contacting us" gifts forwarded to inquirers. Whatever the case, make the user's inquiry a 100% positive experience from start to finish.
  • Testing: The plan must include periodic testing of the procedure from end to end. This will help verify proper functioning of the website elements that gather and transmit the inquiry and that all the back office activities are operating the way they should. Testing can be as simple as having a good friend fill out the contact form and see if the response conforms to the plan.
Develop and execute a solid contact inquiry response plan that will expand your website inquiries into additional useful contact and increased business. Don't wait until you have lots of inquiries. Do it now. There is much to think about, but be cautious about over complicating the process.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime. You can even use our website contact form!

Is Your Web Site Ready for "Mobilegeddon" ?

In late February, Google announced that it would be changing its search results ranking algorithm to favor websites that are mobile-friendly. As of April 21, 2015, websites that provide a mobile-friendly experience will see better performance from its mobile search results.

Below is an example of the notices they are sending to Webmasters.

This is pretty serious stuff. Google knows that the future of search lies in mobile, and is pretty much forcing everyone with a web site to get their act together.

This is particularly timely for the process control / instrumentation / valve automation / industrial automation world (let's call them "process control" companies for short). It's estimated right now that only about 20% of process control companies are friendly to mobile viewing. That means 80% of process control web sites are NOT MOBILE!

This morning (April 2015) I received a press release from Spirax Sarco, promoting their "newly designed, state-of-the-art website in the first quarter of 2015.  The customer facing website effectively promotes the Spirax Sarco brand, company capabilities and value proposition. "

Guess what? It's not mobile! Although their press release says the site is "programmed to provide a site visitor with clear, easy to read appearance no matter what device and/or platform they use. Whether the site viewer is on their desktop computer at the office, or viewing the site on the go from their mobile device, their interactive experience will include well-structured navigation and useful content." - NOT.

How does that happen? I mean, Spirax Sarco is one of the biggest brands in process control. I am assuming the new web site design was an active project for months. What were they thinking? I don't blame Sarco. I truly feel bad for their marketing people. I blame whomever they hired to build the new site. They shouldn't have let it go live without this critical function.

Anyone out there, in the process control world, who wants or needs to discuss the mobilization of their web site should email me at I'm happy to give you a free appraisal of your site and honest advice on the best path toward compliance.

Hey Industrial Company - Your Web Site Design Forces Your Online Marketing Plan

For almost two decades I've planned, designed, created, and deployed hundreds of web sites.

Many, because of my background, are for industrial distributors, reps, and manufacturers. One of the more "interesting" aspects of this process is the "forced marketing plan" that comes out of the web design process.

By "forced marketing plan" I mean the physical documentation, visual structure (i.e. the web site), and mental awareness of the business's unique position in the marketplace, competitive advantage, and core competencies.

Think about it. Many small industrial businesses were started by an Entrepreneur who wanted to leave their "factory job" and strike out on their own. An opportunity for a new territory or product arose and the entrepreneur jumped on it - pretty much "ready-fire-aim." Market planning wasn't something these Founders cared much about (or even knew much about). Product Lines + Customers = Orders - that's the only formula the Entrepreneur needed.

Through the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's these businesses flourished. Sales increased, more employees were hired, and new buildings were bought - signs of success for the hard work and dedication of the Founder.

Along comes the 2000's and this thing called the Internet really takes off.  The Entrepreneur is told they need a web site, so they hire a techie without any understanding of the business or market. The Founder ends up directing the design and content with an eye for what they've always done. As a result, the new web site turns out to be an online "line card".

No thought about viewer appeal. No thought about message. No thought about market. No thought about strategic or competitive advantage. No value proposition. No consideration for brand. No mission statement. Pretty much just a list of manufacturers they represent or products they sell.

A proper web design project must consider, identify and address these criteria first. But unfortunately, that's where the blank expressions and confused looks begin with many Entrepreneur-led companies.

Today, a web site is a business's number one marketing asset. As such, it needs to define the core business virtues. The emphasis on content marketing underscores this. Businesses must "tell their story" in a way that defines the business and provides visitors with a clear, honest, and easy way to know what the business does. Its imperative.

A good web development team will sort those items out in the beginning. Even if it means taking the extra time consulting, and even"forcing", the entrepreneur to confront and identify the uniqueness of their company and finally realize that marketing counts, more so now than ever before.

The Double Edged Sword of Very Popular Open Source Software

I've been involved with content management systems (CMS) now for 16 years. I've been through all the "proprietary" vs "open-source" arguments. I've argued and defended the case of open vs. proprietary with countless clients and competitors.

My stand has always been that, if the software product does exactly what you want it to do, and you have the support of an excellent vendor, and the core components (database, CSS, HTML) are freely available and widely used, then platform is secondary and shouldn't be ruled out because its not open source.

And back in December 2014 something happened that supports my position against "just because it's open and big its a safe bet".

Wordpress is the biggest player in the content management space today with 70 million web sites running on their platform had a major vulnerability discovered.

Its another case of "the bigger you are, the larger the bulls-eye on your back."

In December a "Russian malware called SoakSoak" infected 100,000 Wordpress sites. It's reported that a slideshow plug-in  opened the vulnerability. More on the issue here.

So, what's my point. Don't always buy into the argument that large, open source software is better than smaller, proprietary platforms. Consider this before you decide:

  • Does the product do what you need it to do?
  • Do you see value  - technical, budgetary, experience, or market - in the vendor?
  • Is the code sitting on top of a widely used database and have a large pool of knowledgable coders?

If the answers to all three of these are "yes", then I wouldn't let the "I must have open source" argument drive your decision. There are many excellent, smaller platforms out there today - and in some ways - they are more immune from attack by virtue of their being under the radar.