Posted by | February 19, 2012 | Blog | No Comments

 

How Much Time Do You Have To Respond To Sales Leads?

Web lead response times

Web lead response times – source: www.hbr.org

Time is money.

I was asked by a client at a business-to-business technology firm last week how quickly you should respond to a web-generated sales enquiry? My answer is “as quickly as you can, definitely within 24 hours or less”. An MIT study, discussed below, shows that companies that respond fastest to web leads make more sales.

My answer was based on a 2007 study called “How much  time do you have before web-generated leads go cold?” prepared by James Oldroyd of MIT (and previously at Kellogg University) and David Elkington of Insidesales.com.  Prof. Oldroyd carried out a Lead Response Management survey while at Kellogg and a second survey while at MIT and he published an update on the research in March 2011 with the Harvard Business Review (see “The short life of online sales leads”).  Then InsideSales delivered a joint webinar on the research with B2B Lead Blog in July 2011, “Research from Harvard, MIT Pinpoints Hard Lead Conversion Lessons with Easy Solutions”.

The first survey looked at the impact response times had on leads converting to sales. It also studied whether the day of week and time of day had an effect on the success of follow-up activities.  The second survey looked in more detail at the best days and times of day.  They found that the odds of contacting a lead if called in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drop 100 times – “Immediacy of response far overshadows both time of day and day of week in its effect on contact and qualification ratios”.  Why is that the case?  InsidesSales.com suggested it is because:

  1. You know where they are – since the lead was just generated you can be pretty sure they are online and accessible by phone.
  2. People search on the web when they want something – a few days later they may not even remember they registered on your website.  Responding immediately means you reach the lead at the highest point of interest.
  3. The “Wow” effect – by responding very quickly you can impress potential customers with your speed and responsiveness.

In the March 2011 HBR update to the lead response survey Professor Oldroyd and his researchers audited 2,241 US firms and found that the average response time was 42 hours – 37% responded to a web lead within an hour, 16% responded in 24 hours, 24% took more than 24 hours and 23% never responded.

Web lead response times

Web lead response times – source: www.hbr.org

Professor Oldroyd concluded that delays cost money – “firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer”.

The big standout from the July webinar – “for inquiries submitted on the web, 78% of sales go to the first company to respond”.

So the conclusion is that you should follow-up web leads and enquiries as quickly as possible.  There are a few caveats though.  First, the type of contact should determine the way you respond.  For example, someone who submits an urgent request for quote should be followed up faster than someone who simply registers to download a white paper. Secondly, it depends on what you are selling – for example, if you make high-value complex technology products you may want to test the most appropriate mixture of phone and email follow-up.  Phoning someone 2 minutes after they download a technical product specification may ‘creep them out’, whereas a confirmation email with links to other downloadable resources and a request to schedule a call could work better.

Over and above the appropriate follow-up timing and approach, you may need to implement new processes and possibly new technology to guarantee a consistent response.  The reasons some companies do not respond quickly enough can include not having any way to track web leads, having no agreed rules for prioritizing or ’scoring’ them, no clear rules for routing leads to sales staff and no integration of the web leads to the company CRM.  Fixing these issues requires a mixture of process redesign and possibly some new systems.

To learn more about how Business-to-Business (B2B) companies can generate leads on the web please read our white paper, “Generating demand for technology products” (registration required).

Written by Michael White

Michael White is co-founder and Managing Director of Motarme, the Marketing Automation vendor. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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