The study, from software company Optify, also found 24 percent of companies do not have forms on their websites to collect visitor information.
Nearly 25 percent of companies do not have a form on their website to collect visitor information and generate leads. That's according to Optify, a Seattle-based company that provides digital marketing software for agency marketers, in its Marketing Automation Best Practices: 2013 Autoresponders Study.
The study analyzed companies from the Inc. 5,000 - a list of the nation's most successful private companies ranked by overall revenue growth over a three-year period - to assess adoption of autoresponder industry best practices. The list includes Publix, Levi Strauss, and Michaels Stores, although Optify only included 500 companies from the list with $1 million to $100 million in revenue in the advertising/marketing, IT services, software, and business services industries.
For its purposes, Optify defines autoresponders as "a sub-function of a marketing automation system that automatically triggers a series of email responses after an online form is completed and submitted."
In addition to assessing whether companies utilize autoresponders, the study also looked at the timing and frequency of autoresponse emails.
Optify CMO Doug Wheeler says Optify had its researchers go to websites, look for contact forms, fill them out, and record the responses they received.
"We picked brands we thought would do really well and expected one set of findings, but parts of the findings were not as good as they would be," Wheeler says. "That's why we decided to publish the study."
Coincidentally, Optify also recently launched its own autoresponder feature for its digital marketing software.
According to Optify, nearly 25 percent of companies do not offer an online contact form.
Further, only 37 percent of companies utilize an autoresponder and send follow-up emails after an online form submission.
Wheeler says the fact that essentially 60 percent of companies do not use an autoresponder was surprising because Optify was looking at strong brands and expected strong response rates.
Of the companies that do have autoresponders, 78 percent send a follow-up email within the first hour of an online form submission. The average response time is about three minutes.
"Immediacy is very important," Wheeler says. "If you look at any study about your ability to connect with someone, it is exponentially more difficult the longer you take to respond."
In addition, Optify found 29 percent of the companies that utilize autoresponders send more than one email within one week. The average number of follow-up emails in the first week is 2.5. The average interval between the first and second email was about 30 hours.
"Of the people who actually did it, they're doing it pretty well," Wheeler says.
He notes it's also important to follow up with a timely email that is personalized as opposed to a generic response.
According to Optify, the most overlooked best practices include an unsubscribe feature and a call to action.
Wheeler called the absence of unsubscribe "odd," and said, "If you think about it, unsubscribe is Email 101."
As for call to action, Wheeler says, "The whole point is to add value. It's a lot like leaving a voicemail and saying, 'Hey - call me back.' If you're going to have email, you should have a call to action and provide value."
That includes a subscription to an email series or some other means of engagement.
"The whole point of autoresponder is not to say thank you, but to say thank you and provide additional value," Wheeler adds.
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Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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