The Lead Response Pitfalls That Are Costing You

June 28, 2016 Geoffrey Walters

“I learned from my first restaurant: Make customers happy, make sure the customer comes back again. And automatically, success has followed me”  – Top Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa

Matsuhisa makes it sound so easy - make the customer happy, and they’ll return time and again. No problem! But for many sales managers, getting their team to generate customer satisfaction by responding to leads quickly and correctly is still a pipe dream.

Response times and quality of response are still falling considerably short of where they should be at many companies, despite the wealth of surveys that have been conducted over the last decade that show how important both these factors are in engaging customers and qualifying leads.

One such survey was conducted in 2011 by Dave Elkington and Ken Krogue, CEO and president respectively at Elkington and Krogue wanted to know when and how companies were responding to online sales leads.

After securing an expert collaborator in the shape of James B. Oldroyd from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they conducted a survey of more than 2,200 companies, who were asked how and when they responded to web-generated leads.

The results were startling, revealing just how far the average company is coming up short in its lead response strategy.

Let’s break them down and find out where things have been going wrong.


Sales Teams Are Too Slow Out Of The Blocks

“When you stop talking, you’ve lost your customer. When you turn your back, you’ve lost her.”

—Estée Lauder

A previous study by Elkington and Krogue from 2007, which covered around 600 companies, had confirmed that faster responses improve contact rates. “The study revealed that the odds of making contact with a new lead are extremely high if you call within the first five minutes of submission,” Elkington told Forbes.

Sales Response Rates

Image Source: Fast Response Improves Contact Rates in Steve Olenski Forbes


“The odds drop off dramatically by [the time] the first 30 minutes [have passed]. Specifically, a rep is 100 times less likely to make contact if the first call is made 30 minutes after submission.

The odds of making contact drop by 3,000 times [sic] if the first call is made five hours after lead submission.”

Yet despite these 2007 findings, the survey the pair conducted with Oldroyd in 2011 - this time with an increased sample of over 2,200 companies - revealed that companies’ response times were, on the whole, still nowhere near good enough four years on.

Far from being a matter of minutes, the average response time of the companies was 42 hours - and that figure doesn’t even take into account the companies who took longer than 30 days to respond!

Needless to say, a 42-hour response time is catastrophic in terms of qualifying leads. “Companies are making big investments in order to obtain customer queries from the Internet, and they should be responding at Internet speed,” wrote Oldroyd, Elkington and Kristina McElheran in the Harvard Business Review.


slow to respond

Image Source: Many Firms Are Slow To Respond by James B. Oldroyd, Kristina McElheran, and David Elkington Harvard Business Review


Why The Delay?

Even without the survey figures, it doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that faster response times are likely to lead to a greater number of contacts. Why, then, are slack turnaround times endemic in many companies? Why are they not responding “at Internet speed” and instead taking a whopping 42 hours?

As Oldroyd’s team note, one problem is that archaic practices are still in place from the pre-Internet age. Leads are pulled daily rather than hourly, meaning that some sit festering from early in the morning until the end of the day, and are then often not dealt with until the following day anyway.

In a world where 25% of people won’t tolerate a website that takes more than four seconds to load, and customer expectations include response times on social media within the hour, that 42-hour lead response time might be a little too slow.

Sales teams are eagerly adopting fast, efficient sales stacks that slash the amount of time reps spend on non-selling activities. But teams that still have this huge time leak in their process are also leaking revenue and deals.

Other causes were “rules for distributing sales leads among agents and partners based on geography and ‘fairness’” - another hangover from the Glengarry Glen Ross days—and “sales forces focused on generating their own leads rather than reacting quickly to customer-driven signs of interest.”


Time To Recalibrate For The Modern Age

The solutions for this are relatively simple to implement. As a sales manager, you simply have to reboot your team for the Internet age. The old practices are obsolete - and you need to get rid of them immediately.

Dan Sincavage of has some suggestions as to how you can do this reasonably painlessly. “Measure your response time in seconds and minutes, not hours and days,” he writes. “Don’t even consider scheduling first touches beyond a couple of hours.

“This forces your team to respond to leads quicker. Consider responses beyond a couple of hours in the red zone, something that’s detrimental to your team but could be done if it’s your only option.”

Reacting to leads on an hourly basis might seem overwhelming at first, but there are systems to help you do this in a way that is manageable. Sincavage recommends setting up a lead-notification system. Salesforce and other CRM solutions offer this. For example, they can track, and alert you to, leads generated through content such as webinars and ebooks, while also providing you information about that particular contact gleaned from social media.


What If You’re Responding Too Aggressively?

The figures are undeniable: the faster the response time, the more likely you are to make contact. But be careful: a fast response time is sometimes best avoided. This is where the salesperson has to listen to their experience rather than relying solely upon the figures.

David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist who has often found himself on the receiving end of what he feels are unnecessary contact attempts from overzealous, ill-prepared salespeople after only very light engagement with the company in question.

“I often receive a telephone call even when my only contact with the company is one download or one webinar,” he writes on the website. “And the call often comes before I’ve even had time to read the content resource.”

Dodd insists that prospect education is vital to a successful conversation.

“When I accept one of these calls, what’s even more frustrating is that it’s clear that the caller has done nothing to learn about me, or what I do, or why I may have downloaded a response or attended a webinar,” he writes.

“In almost every case, if the caller had spent 10 or 15 minutes reviewing my LinkedIn profile, the articles I’ve published on LinkedIn, and the posts at this blog, we could have had a conversation that would have been much more valuable to the caller and his company.”

Dodd says that, when the inquiry demands it, the response should be quick. In other cases, what he terms an “immediate and aggressive” response should be avoided.


What About Contacting Leads At The Wrong Times?

“My longevity is down to my good timing,” said the actor Tony Curtis, and the length of a salesperson’s career will be determined in a similar manner. Dodd told us to beware the quick response if it doesn’t fit the lead, but we also need to realize that waiting until an optimum moment can also increase our chances of converting a lead.

The InsideSales / Harvard report showed that certain times of the day were far better than others in terms of lead conversion. For example, the connection rate between 4-5 pm was 164% better than that between 1-2 pm.

The following infographic lays out the survey’s findings in easily digestible form:


Lead Response Management infographic

Image Source: The Best Practices for Lead Response Management by


Key Findings:

  • Wednesday and Thursday are the best days to make contact
  • The best time to call was between 4-5 pm; the second-best was between 8-9 am, with the low points being around 11 am and 2 pm
  • The number of contacts made from first dials decreases tenfold if made more than five minutes after the lead has been received
  • Persistence pays off: the chances of making contact increases with the number of calls made, yet reps tend to give up too easily, with under 10% making it to the sixth call

It’s tempting to speculate why certain times of the day, or certain weekdays, are better than others. Presumably the middle of the week is better because people are more tuned in, neither cursing the fact that it’s Monday nor anticipating their Friday night out. Or it’s simply that the weekend’s excesses have finally worn off.

11 am and 2 pm are the classic before-and-after-lunch slump times, the former being the time when you’re starving and focusing on your food, the latter being when you’ve eaten too much and wouldn’t mind a nice siesta, thank you very much.

Whatever the reasons, the research shows that some times are better than others for making contact - you’d do well to bear that in mind if no one’s picking up your 11 am phone calls. And even if no one is picking up, remember: persistence pays off. The more contact attempts you make, the greater the likelihood of making contact.

Don’t get demoralized. Remember that faint heart never won a fair customer, take a deep breath and dial again.


It’s Not Just Following Up: It’s Following Up Correctly

“There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

—Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club

So you’ve got your CRM system in place and are nailing those lead responses on the hour, every hour. Great. But as Dodd points out, if the content of what you’re sending them is ill-researched, irrelevant or confusing to the customer, it’s likely to make them spend their money elsewhere.

“[O]rganizations are starting to see the value of understanding what prospects are reading and engaging with online before (and after) they become a lead,” writes Andrew Davies of the Salesforce blog.

“Prospect education is taking more and more of the B2B (and high-value B2C) purchase journey. Clearly, if content is the main conduit through which buyers engage with a vendor then it also serves as a useful proxy for understanding what is going on inside their head.”

When responding to customers, salespeople must always provide value. Buyers are more informed than ever before and are doing much more research themselves before encountering the salesperson - the oft-cited 2013 CEB survey shows that “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier,” and while some have quibbled with this figure, it’s undeniable that customers are boning up on what they’re looking for more than ever before.

Dan Tyre of the Hubspot blog says that the days of ABC - always be closing - are gone, and that the motto for 2016 should be “always be helping”. In this vision, reps act more like consultants than salespeople, providing the expert advice that helps the customer make sense of the data they themselves have collated.

“Make sure you’re providing value from day one,” writes Tyre’s Hubspot colleague Leslie Ye. “And this means real, objective value. If your prospect really isn’t a good fit, recommend a better solution and let them go, rather than forcing them into a purchase they’ll regret.”


Personalization Is In Reps’ Hands

We’ve already covered this in depth in a previous blog, but it’s possible to personalize emails on a mass scale in a way that is convincing and doesn’t sound like a robot has written it. The key lies in using a template instead of a script.

“This distinction is crucial to understand,” writes Ye. “A script is something you repeat verbatim to every single prospect you touch. A template is a general, tried-and-true framework you personalize to each lead… The best salespeople use templates, and they save countless hours of valuable time selling as a result.”

If you or your team are still stuck in the pre-Internet age of daylong or multi-day lead response, it’s time to accelerate. Respond to leads quickly, pertinently and at a time of the day when you’re most likely to get a response. Make sure you’re well informed and personable and you’ll soon be working to the Matsuhisa template, with happy customers who always come back.

Featured Image Source: Cave Pit Waterfall Inside Deep Down Looking Up by Free-Photos CC0 Pixabay

About the Author

Geoffrey Walters

A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.

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