Matt Taylor

How fast does Durante Windows & Siding, in Birmingham, Ala., personally connect with someone who just filled out the Get Our Price form on the company’s website? “Within 30 seconds to a minute,” says marketing manager Daniel Gallegley.

Quick response is key to converting online inquiries to appointments, for two reasons:

1. Those inquiries are serious. “[Those homeowners] know they’re going to get a call,” says Chris Marentis, president of Surefire Social, an Internet marketing company. “They wouldn’t want that intrusion otherwise.”

2. You have competition. If a homeowner is looking at your website, he or she is probably also looking at the websites of your competitors — or will be in a minute if she doesn’t hear from you promptly.

Minority Rules

When it comes to Web leads, “response time is the No. 1 factor leading to conversion,” marketing and sales consultant Tony Hoty says. Yet only a minority of businesses — 37% according to one study by the Harvard Business Review — reach out to online prospects within the hour. Their reward, the same study found, is that they are seven times more likely to qualify the inquiry, i.e., set an appointment, and are 60 times more likely to do so than companies that respond a day or more later.

If that’s the case, then why sit on a red-hot inquiry? Companies do that because they are used to retrieving such messages from their customer relationship management system once a day, which may be too late.

Alternatively, not to waste any time, some contractors have online inquiries forwarded directly to their personal phones. But that can be a mistake, Marentis says. What if that inquiry comes in the middle of a sales call or other task that shouldn’t be interrupted?

Tips for Managing Web Leads

Automatic response: Program your system so that an email automatically thanks contacts for their interest and promises a quick response. That may dissuade the prospect from further searches. “You’re not going to prevent 100% of them from calling two or three other contractors,” Marentis says. “But you will get those who’ll decide to wait and see if you call” before they contact another company.

Experienced follow-up: Entrust phone follow-up to the company owner, marketing manager, or call center manager. “An entry-level employee is unlikely to understand the urgency of a hot inbound inquiry,” Hoty points out. And if that designated person is not there, make sure you have a protocol in place so that someone else knows to take over. Use a script and train for it.

Standout email: Respond by phone and follow up by email. Your prospect, Hoty says, is far more likely to engage if you get creative and, for instance, include photos of their home downloaded from Zillow, with language that suggests you have ideas for improvement.

Good timing: What’s the best time to reach them? While they’re still online. But if you can’t immediately reach the prospect, try calling back at different times of the day or week. “If we can’t get them during the week,” says Paul Toub, marketing manager for 1Call Bath Solutions, in Elkins Park, Pa., “we try to reach them on a Saturday.”

—Jim Cory is a contributing editor to REMODELING who is based in Philadephia.