Let’s make things simple.

The speed that you respond to new leads makes or breaks your success.

In terms of how fast is fast – that’s pretty simple too.

You must respond as fast as possible. There is no such thing as getting around to it – you need to be jumping on it.

So far so good.

However, achieving rapid lead response time is rather more complex because on lead farm, as on Animal Farm, ‘All leads are equal, but some leads are more equal than others.’

And it’s here that lead response time stops being simple and becomes strategic.

Back to basics: why is lead response time so important?

A few facts and figures here will do the talking.

We’ve taken most of these from the classic Harvard Business Review research that took place way back in 2011. The results have since been replicated time and time again.

It’s ironic that sales teams have been slow to respond to the obvious implication that responding fast is a must.

  • You are 100 times more likely to get in touch with a lead 5 minutes after their enquiry than 30 minutes after (and it just continues dropping away after this).
  • You are 21 times more likely to successfully qualify a lead 5 minutes after their enquiry than 30 minutes after (and it just continues dropping away after this).
  • Converting leads to a sale is also greatly affected by the speed of that first response. For responses made in the first minute there is a 391% increase in sales eventually closed.
  • In terms of competitive advantage, 78% of customers buy from the company that responds to their enquiry first.
  • Only 7% of B2B sales teams are currently achieving an average lead response time of five minutes or less.
  • In fact, the average lead response time is a lethargic 42 hours and some data even suggests that around half take up to five days to respond (with many leads never directly responded to at all).

Enough said?

Well, yes, but remember that some leads are more equal than others.

Let’s look at how you can handle different sort of leads ‘more equally’ than others.

Responding to leads strategically

Straight to the top outbound leads

For prospecting campaigns such as SoPro’s the lead that arrives has been carefully targeted and their response is qualification enough.

This requires an immediate response and preferably by the ‘sender’ of the email.

If a phone call is requested – make it. If an email response is expected – push towards confirming a date for the call.

Inbound leads

Many larger organisations will have sales functions that specifically handle inbound leads.

These sales development or marketing qualification roles will be tasked with springing to action when an inbound lead fills out a form, downloads marketing content, attends a webinar, answers marketing emails or calls in.

Their role is to ensure that first contact is made as soon as possible and to create a dependable stream of sales-ready opportunities for account executives, who do not have the time to qualify every inbound lead.

Prioritising inbound leads

It’s when you become a victim of your own success that lead response strategy becomes critical.

Businesses generating hundreds of inbound leads every day, or even just 300 a month, need to have a strategy in place to prioritise and respond to them.

Not every lead is going to be an ideal buyer: the aim is to ensure that qualified buyers are prioritised. This is where automation technology can really help.

Sales tools can score leads and automatically prioritise them. The main goal here is to not automate the actual response, although this can be used effectively with personalisation in place and a lead nurturing programme. The main goal here, however, is to automate the path to a response, or to segment and funnel leads before directing them to a team member.

Lead scoring tools consider things like the amount of time spent on site, prior engagements, what pages and content have been engaged with and the job/company/sector/geographic information that has been captured on a data entry form. From this they generate a score: higher scoring leads need contacting immediately by a senior member of the sales team.

The relevant sales staff will be automatically notified with a link to the relevant data held and a time-frame for contact. This will include contextual information about the nature of the enquiry.

Useful metrics for measuring lead response times

Sales analytics tools can help you monitor how effective your lead response time is – and where it is breaking down.

These include:

  • Average lead response time by sales staff
    Far from being the basis for a finger-pointing exercise this can be used to reveal structural issues with the contact data collected and supplied or the number of leads assigned to certain individuals.
  • Opportunities and conversions by lead response time
    This is an ongoing assessment of the differences in opportunities and conversions that can be attributed to lead response time. It reveals the true effect of slippages in response time on your sales pipeline. Data from this is often used to create Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between sales and marketing.
  • Follow-up rate
    This tracks not the success of contact but the attempt to make a response. It reveals how many attempts at contact are made for each lead. Typically it can take up to eight or more calls and emails to secure a meeting: this metric helps you identify changing results over time, industry, product, channel or sales team member.

The cost of being slow to react

The implications of the Harvard Business Review lead response time survey were crystal-clear nearly 10 years ago.

Yet, we’ve seen the results of their study replicated over and over again in the intervening years.

Businesses are still failing to respond quickly to new leads – and sales are suffering.

As a rule of thumb, we suggest to all of our clients that failing to respond to a lead within the hour will halve your eventual close rates.

And that’s a lot of business.

Back in 2011, when HBR first published its study, we didn’t have the automation tools that we have now. Today there really is no reason that your leads should be left waiting for a response.

And it’s not just speed that sales and marketing automation and machine learning tools are delivering. We can now respond quickly and with a high degree of relevance and carefully targeted messaging to every lead.

All leads may not be equal but no lead should ever be hung out to dry.