Far too many companies see a website as a project to be completed rather than as an integrated part of the business. Just whack up a few pages and then forget about it – rather like some kind of brochure in the sky that you don’t even have to worry about handing out.

Setting aside the fact that a never-updated website is a poor marketing investment, what’s genuinely jaw-dropping is just how many companies literally ignore their website once it’s live. And not just the website – but also any enquiries that come from it.

Yep, you did read that correctly: a great deal of companies don’t respond at all to website enquiries. Of those that do respond, plenty take several days – or handle the response badly.

Whenever I tell clients about this, they are astounded. They’re even more astounded when I tell them that there’s a fair chance that their company could well be one of those letting valuable website enquiries slip through the net.

As part of our website auditing service, we offer the option to benchmark a site against those of competitors. But we can go beyond just evaluating the websites – a little bit of mystery shopping also reveals how those companies handle enquiries. This end-to-end approach not only provides a valuable insight into which competitors are most likely to come higher in search engines, attract more visitors, get more visitors to click the buy or enquire button – but also which ones are most likely to close the business.

Some time ago, a customer of mine realised that, for many people, buying something is in many ways a problem. It’s something that gets in the way of normal life. A decision that takes research and consideration. It may involve learning about things that don’t really interest you that much, in order to make a comparative choice. So, he put in place an internal four-hour service level for responding to customer enquiries with a firm quote.

That’s quite ambitious, but his is a competitive industry. Just putting the service level into place wasn’t enough – new sales tools were created, such as high-quality proposal templates, so that a colour proposal could be generated quickly. One went out right away by e-mail and the other the same day in the post.

The result was a staggering 40% increase in closed business. My client was right to think that a purchase is, from the buyer’s position, a problem.

What my client did was to be the first to provide a solution in the majority of cases. The solution provided was presented in a slick and professional way – and the combination of the presentation and speed of response essentially meant that the customer measured competitors against the benchmark set by my client. The client even won a great deal of business when they were far from being the cheapest price – they’d given the customer confidence that they’d be the right choice.

At the other end of the scale, our website benchmarking reveals that the majority of businesses respond in a lacklustre way to enquiries – or don’t respond at all.

Here are a couple of examples. From twenty car dealerships who were asked via their websites for a brochure, only two responded within a week. Less than half responded at all. Most staggering, one brochure arrived almost a year later! None of the dealerships followed up the mailing by either phone or e-mail. None.

From a dozen training companies, only five responded to an enquiry for a course catalogue. Only one followed up the enquiry with a phone call.

And when you do make contact, things can get worse. I once had a sales person from a computer company actually ask me to ring their service department direct to check if they had the capacity to perform an upgrade, rather than finding out for me.

We always include client’s websites when benchmarking. Well, otherwise it’s not a true comparison – we need to base any decisions resulting from the research on what we really do know, not what we think we know. And – you guessed it – to the horror of the clients, their companies typically performed no better than their competitors.

These are hard lessons to learn. Most companies are – quite wrongly – more obsessed with either search engine results or website hits than they are with converting visitors to buyers. The majority of companies don’t put in place the internal processes – which are often simple and obvious – to enable them to get the most benefit from their website.

As the saying goes, it’s not rocket science. Customers want a good response to their enquiries and they want it quickly. They want their problems solved, so they can move on and get on with life. And you know what you give customers? Yep, you give them what they want.