In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, two researchers reported on how quickly businesses responded to online leads. (It was an American study specifically looking at online leads, but I believe it holds true for most countries.)

Drawing on work across over 1,000 businesses, they found is that 37% of companies responded within an hour. That’s pretty good. At the other end of the spectrum, 23% of businesses didn’t respond at all. That’s possibly not a good idea.

The researcher’s conclusion was that businesses are not responding fast enough. Because whilst 37% is good, it’s not 100%. So why aren’t all businesses responding quickly?

One day is good – one hour is better

To dive into that question further we first need to look at another study by these same two researchers. The second study looked at the effect of responding quickly and used some 1 million sales leads from about 42 companies – 13 of which were B2B.

What they found was businesses that responded within one hour of the lead coming in were seven times more likely to have a meaningful conversation with the buyer compared to those who responded somewhere between an hour and 24 hours later. One hour versus one day, seven times better response rate. And, we can assume, more likely to convert that conversation into a lead and a sale.

So, why do you get such monumental achievements or such great improvements in the response rate? I think it’s really simple. The prospect is in the office and in the mood. An hour later they’re probably in neither of those modes – not in the office and not in the mood.

There’s probably a third reason as well: if you get them quickly they haven’t had the cahnce to speak to your competition yet. It’s pretty basic stuff, but a strong, compelling argument for responding quickly.

Four recommendations to improve lead conversion opportunities

1. Respond quickly

Yes, it’s obvious, but must be said. We know that responding in a day is better than in a week, and that within an hour is better again. I’m going to suggest that you set the target at five minutes. Where possible, make it a near immediate response.

2. Ensure your response is consistent with what the buyer’s expecting

If your lead form says, “Enter your details to chat now’ or ‘to speak to a consultant’ then the conversation is an easy one: “I’m ringing up because I’m the consultant and I’m going to talk to you.” But if your response form said, “Enter your details here to get this free…” then it’s silly to have that same conversation. Think about the buyer’s journey, where are they up to, what are they ready for next?

It’s also important to get the timing right. It’s silly to ring someone and ask them about the report they downloaded five minutes after they hit download – they probably haven’t read it yet. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait longer to follow up – you just phrase the conversation differently. “Thanks so much for downloading the paper. I know you haven’t read it yet; I need to give you some time to do that, maybe you’d like to make a time a few days from now for us to have a chat? When would suit?”

3. Consider sequencing your emails (or ads)

I know that some of your online leads are not generated by emails, but some are. For those that are, consider sequencing your emails or your ads so that you can respond quickly. Don’t send your email out at 10pm if you can’t ring at 10pm, for example. Equally, maybe stagger your emails throughout the day, so that you can afford to keep up and respond quickly when you get an inbound inquiry.

4. Bring in an inside sales resource

If your field salespeople can afford to consistently call back leads really quickly, then happy days. But for most businesses that’s not the case. So, consider employing an inside sales force whose job it is to make those calls on behalf of field sales so that they can respond quickly. The improvements are worth the effort.

Speed up your sales capability

If we go back the original question, “why aren’t all businesses responding quickly”, we can probably draw two conclusions. One, that they aren’t aware how important response time is on successfully moving buyers through the buyer’s journey.

And two, they simply don’t have the time or the manpower to respond to all leads or enquiries within the hour – this is especially true for SMEs. Some might only have one or two salespeople. For others, the CEO is the salesperson (among many other things).

We’ve had the same problem ourselves – even though we know all this! So, we followed recommendation four, and got an inside sales resource to carry out that function. We also offer this as a service to our outsourced marketing clients to ensure they’re making the most of every lead. This has enabled them to follow up hundreds of new leads a month (particularly smaller, soft touch leads) and enjoy improved conversion rates.

If you want to explore this a little more, let’s talk.