Most SaaS Companies Fumble Inbound - Does Yours?

March 24, 2016 Richard Bayston

Marketers love inbound, sales guys are less enthusiastic - and it’s often not implemented well as a result. In fact, while we obsess over getting meetings, getting our emails opened, and nailing conversions in the increasingly complex and un-funnel-like B2B funnel, we’re leaving this one on the table. Inbound sales is where customer service, sales and marketing all fumble the pass - and it’s a place where a lot of SaaS companies with airtight game everywhere else are dropping the ball and leaking dollars.

Inbound phone calls and live chat should be a part of your sales process, forking off leads to sales for replies by email or phone right away, or marking the contact for a later reply and offering content through email (then you’ve got their email).

How bad is it that, as an industry, we’re not great at this? Depends on what you like. If you like leads, it’s bad. Visitors to live chat can indicate that they’re a lead - but if chat reps don’t know how to react, that lead is gone. Reaction to inbound leads is crucial: the ideal response time is zero, or at least within five minutesbut most leads aren’t followed up within the hour- in fact, most aren’t followed up at all.

response time

Image Source: Response Time from Creation by 5 Min by Lead Response Management

So the people on the other end of onsite chat and the team that picks up the phone to deal with incoming leads can be a huge asset - or they can be a place where your sales org is leaking money.

Live Chat

live chat

Image Source: Owl Computer Headphones Funny Laptop Notebook by Alexas_Fotos CC0 Pixabay

Live chat can generate impressive conversion jumps, and is a favorite among website visitors. It’s another way to reach out and make a connection with prospects and SaaS chat tools have helped move it towards industry-standard status.

Like any other tool, though, live chat allows success; it doesn’t produce it all by itself. It’s only as good as the team using it. That means the process of leveraging live chat has to include specialized training for chat representatives, including detailed product and offering knowledge. They have to actually understand, not just have a screen full of options in front of them (though that does help). Only a real understanding will let reps link what customers and prospects are saying to potential upsell or cross-sell opportunities in time to make a difference.

So where are SaaS firms dropping the live chat ball?

1. Implementation On The Page

Setting your live chat window to pop up as soon as the page opens seems like common sense. But like most things that seem like common sense, there are ways to do it better. Waiting 25 seconds is the optimal time, according to Olark, and an automated greeter that says, ‘Hi! Can I answer any questions for you?’ or something like that draws users into the chat where they might not interact with an inert chat window.

2. Testing

A/B testing live chat can produce mixed results. Partly that’s because not every chat app is right for every site, but it’s also because there are other variables that often aren’t being tested. If A/B tests are showing a chat app that’s not producing as it should, maybe it’s the wrong app - or maybe it’s the wrong test. Poorly designed tests can give false positives or unreliable stats and poor implementation can stymie chat’s advantages, while highly-optimized websites will often experience incremental improvements rather big jumps. (And with multiple, changing variables, maybe bandit tests are a better way to assess chat implementation?)

3. Reps

The teams working live chat aren’t chatting. They’re handling lead generation, nurturing, and assessing and scoring those leads, and they’re also at the business end of customer success. They need to be adequately trained and supported, and they need to be able to pass on leads to sales or fork likely candidates over to SDRs.

4. Follow-Up

Strictly this isn’t a case of live chat dropping the ball; it’s a process problem. If leads are being generated over live chat and then going into a black hole, they’re lost. If reps are following up without the right information in front of them, their success rate will suffer, so in order to get every possible dollar out of live chat, chat reps need to be stitched into the sales process and sales need to know they have to jump on leads from chat, fast.

5. Um…. Hello?

As obvious as it might be, one of the biggest and most common failures in live chat is when there’s no one on the chat, or when there’s a long lag between a visitor asking a question and getting a response.

Phone Calls

phone call customer

Image Source: Help Emergency Service Computer Time Secretary by Alexas_Fotos CC0 Pixabay

With phone calls, we’re on more familiar territory. Phone calls are most people’s preferred way to contact a company, and they’re a good way to drive up conversions. That’s especially true if customer support knows how to fork off leads to inbound sales efficiently. Most incoming phone calls are about provision or price and they need to be dealt with quickly.

It’s equally vital that inbound sales leads get scored quickly so they can be passed on to the right person, and that staff answering the phones are putting as much thought, effort, structure and personality into it as staff making outbound calls.

When you get an inbound call, reps need to act not as sales reps, but as consultants. Sean Alpert, Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, says, ‘If you set proper expectations, prospects are more willing to open up and share key information that can be helpful to close the deal.’ Sean thinks reps should be able to make inbound calls dealmakers, and recommends asking upfront whether the caller is likely to be ready to come to a yes-or-no decision by the end of the call, or what the rep can do to get the caller to a place where they are ready.

But that only works if there’s a specialist on the phone when you get the call. This is an area where sales and customer service need to work together, and where there needs to be an understanding that a generalist who can track orders, pass the call on to someone’s office, talk about warehousing, schedule installation and every other phone-related task, is going to lose a lot more in leads than they save in multitasking.

Inbound reps need to be specialized, reachable and highly trained. They’re not using (all) the same skills as outbound reps. Ronna Caras uses the example of hiring a mechanic to fix your car: ‘most of us do not have the expertise to give step-by-step instructions to our mechanic... We know the problems and we rely on them for the solutions.’ Similarly, in inbound, ‘your best agents must be able to manage the conversation to satisfy needs the caller knows about and states aloud. This same agent must be able to identify unspoken needs and work to satisfy them as well.’

All that depends, just like live chat success, on well-trained reps being given their autonomy. Instead, all too often the best part of an inbound call is the first five seconds. After ‘Hello, you’ve reached, my name is Jan, how can I help you?’ things go downhill. ‘Computers tend to take over from there... instead of focusing on their callers, agents tend to bully them with impersonal, but necessary questions,’ Caras goes on.

‘Once they’ve made the conversation all about their order screen, it’s pretty tough to re-engage a caller and start to up-sell.’ When reps pick up the phone they have to have enough elbow room and enough training to act as consultants, guiding callers through the process and offering value every step - including upsells and cross-sells where it’s appropriate. A screen full of tickboxes is a poor substitute and that will be reflected in quarterly performance metrics.

What are the key places where SaaS companies are dropping the ball on inbound phone calls?

1. No Call Tracking

Call tracking gives you data you can use to score leads and build more effective processes. Not using call tracking on inbound calls is like not using a CRM on outbound calls. It makes no sense. Good call tracking should involve a single number, ideally toll-free, that can be used across websites, content, landing pages and offline materials; marketing will be pleased that this will integrate with their click and traffic monitoring efforts.

At the same time, call monitoring should integrate with CRM. In this way inbound calls suture marketing and sales closer together.

2. Poor Call Routing

Initial calls can be routed based on who’s available, or who’s the best fit for that call. In small inbound departments with few reps, of equal skill, availability routing simply allocates fresh calls to available reps. In larger organizations marketing can work with sales to optimize routing so that calls triggered by specific marketing materials, in response to specific offers or those from particular product pages go through to reps skilled in those products, so that every pass gets caught.

If you have offerings for different sizes of company, or a modular offering like AutoCAD with its specializations for mining, civil engineering and so on, this might be an effective way to make sure prospects are in safe hands from the moment you pick up the phone.

3. Poor Prospect Data Access

The biggest fail in sales: you don’t know who you’re talking to. Whether the person on the other end of the line is a Fortune 500 CEO or one-half of a two-guys-and-a-laptop outfit with a big idea, people stop listening when you do. If reps are picking up the phone and playing 20 Questions to get information the prospect already gave your organization, you’re losing out. Ideally inbound reps, outbound, marketing, support, everyone, should all have access to the same data and it should include CRM data, social sources and comprehensive, interdepartmental contact logs in an easy-to-follow fashion.

The acid test is, can a rep check something while they’re on the phone without the caller detecting a lapse in their concentration? If not, look at upgrading your tools.


Phone and chat are key customer support channels. But played right they can also be key sales channels. Making that work relies on having the right chat tool correctly implemented and on the right phone integrations. But it also relies on skillful reps being given room to maneuver and having the right training and tools in place to support them in getting the call or chat to the right person, quickly and smoothly.

Featured Image Source: Arian Foster Fumble by AJ Guel CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Previous Article
The Future Of Email: Is There Anything Better?
The Future Of Email: Is There Anything Better?

For many of us, email is a frustrating necessity of life. For others, like John Pavlus of Fast Company, 'em...

Next Article
Bit-By-Bit: Marginal Gains In Sales Processes Produce Major Results
Bit-By-Bit: Marginal Gains In Sales Processes Produce Major Results

Often, when we look for improvements, we try to change everything. We look for new systems or new people – ...