Lead response time: How quickly should you follow up with leads?

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Speed matters when it comes to lead response time. How quickly are you responding to people asking for a demo, downloading something or signaling in another way they are interested in purchasing your product? Some companies respond within minutes, others take some time, others, yet, automate everything. Let’s dive into this topic with two chats I’ve had with experts.

This article includes:

  • A chat with the Lead Forensics CMO
  • Email and phone call syncing
  • A chat with a global customer success expert

How quickly should we respond?

Lilah Waite, CMO at Lead Forensics, joined me on a recording of the Business Storytelling Podcast to discuss the topic. You can listen here or watch the video version as well.

Some of the key highlights on lead response time from our chat:

  • Respond to inbound leads within 10 minutes. Responding days later can cost you business, and sometimes people don’t even remember why they contacted you. Other times they may have hired competitors.
  • Offer a human connection. That’s why phone calls still matter to have a good lead response time
  • Don’t give up. Lilah mentioned that many sales teams, on average, contact prospects 1.3 times, even with a good lead response time, that likely won’t be enough. Consider upping the average to over 10 times. Keep in mind that not all contact attempts come at good times. Even if I’m interested, if you call when I’m in a meeting, I can’t talk.
  • Marketing should deliver leads on a single-instance reporting instance. In other words: Don’t send leads in batches but ship them automatically as they come in. (It’s hard to follow up quickly if you don’t see the lead until a day or week or worse later.)

Certainly, speed can be a differentiator; I’ve won deals and bought things from companies when communications happened quickly. Of course, if teams are used to taking their time or systems aren’t set up to respond quickly, it can be a struggle early on. Use [A]’s process and update pieces of the process one step at a time.

Read next: Can content intelligence take the chaos out of content creation?

Set a goal and go after it, Lilah said. Even if your lead response time goal is 5 minutes and you make it to 10 minutes, that’s still better than 4 days, she said.

Consider a quick email to improve lead response time

I’m a huge fan of drip email campaigns (aka nurture campaigns). Sure, most of the ones that land in my inbox are kind of bad. The wording is annoying, doesn’t get to the point, and many start with a lukewarm welcome:

“Hello, Christoph. I hope you are doing well.”

<Swipe left>

At least that one got my name in there. Another recent one said:

“Dear <test user first name>….”

This isn’t even the real email? Anyway, swipe left.

Read next: Email design inspiration: Do all marketing emails need to be designed?

While I hate unannounced phone calls and hardly ever answer them, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I do answer calls from unknown numbers to me. And when the caller is in my phone as a contact I’m much more likely to answer.

Now the iPhone is even identifying by name callers that aren’t in my phone but that have emailed me before! That’s important for email marketers and salespeople to be aware of.

So here’s what happened:

  • Salesperson Kyle emailed me to say how funny it was that we were both at the Content Tech Summit – where I facilitated a workshop.
  • Ok. Well-written email, but swipe left. Not currently looking to buy anything.
  • Then later, I got a call. The iPhone let me know that maybe it was Kyle.

I almost answered just because of that. I didn’t even remember who Kyle was, but there was a connection. Somehow. I almost answered, which is better than a direct decline of the call.

How many business people get their phone calls on their iPhones? No idea. But I use mine exclusively. My office phone rolls over to it 100 percent of the time. I use AirPods for most of my calls.

In the office, I use Skype for Business or Zoom when it’s a group call. Either way, if you take business calls on your iPhone like me, this is good to know.

Read next: Will this virtual background work for my video Zoom business meeting?

More on lead response time and follow-up with Tamara Burkett

Follow-up matters, and of course, that is one reason why some marketers and salespeople just hammer us with emails.

Tamara BurkettGlobal expert Tamara Burkett joined me on an episode of the podcast and shared even more tips.

As Tamara shared on the Business Storytelling Podcast just 3% of prospects at any given time are actually ready to buy. That, of course, is 3% of relevant prospects. So if I build a large audience that has nothing to do with my business that 3% doesn’t come off of that number but the qualified prospects.

Read next: Demo: Use Google Optimize to convert more people

We discussed automation and best practices to build relevant relationships and experiences with your prospects.

What’s a good follow-up?

What a good follow-up depends on who you’re talking to. What are the problems they’re trying to solve and how can you help them, and where are they in the funnel? Make sure you’re addressing their needs and their challenges. Of course, if you follow up quickly, those items might be top of mind for them.

Where is that fine line between being helpful and being annoying?

It comes back to what are their pain points and how you can address them at the right time. Sometimes knowing when the right time is is harder than it sounds. A quick lead response time can help here, as they just signaled their interest in your product.

For example, in the past, I’ve gone to websites of conferences and reached out to sponsors to offer them my event coverage package.

Sometimes people reply and say they were so upset that I emailed them out of the blue. Other times people reply and say that sounds like a great idea; let’s discuss it. Sometimes the timing was right, and sometimes it was wrong. Of course, it can be hard to figure out where their mindset is.

Read next: Cold email best practices: 8 tips to be successful with cold outreach

Another strategy is to focus the discussion around asking about what their current goals and needs are.

Again this can work with some people but doesn’t work with other people. For example, when somebody calls me and asked me what my current goals or needs are I often disqualify that call as an immediate sales call that I don’t have time for. But if somebody calls me and says “hey do you need help with X” and I currently need to ask I might be open to considering furthering that discussion.

Sometimes it might be OK to send somebody a coupon, and sometimes it might not be the right time for that.

The different stages of the funnel

For leads in the awareness stage, it can become trickier.

😡 Let’s talk about email OVER automation. Yes, email works. Yes, we want to keep sending our top prospects emails. Yes, we really want to work with them because we know we can help them.

🤔 But where’s that line where emails just become spam and annoying?

Let me give you this example:

💰 I was in the market to buy a software product and started looking at a specific company. I signed up for their newsletter, tried a free account to get a sense of what the product could do, and followed them on social media.

♨ I was really considering their offering. Dare I call myself a hotter-than-hot lead? And then the emails started flying.

… We noticed you signed up for our blog. Thanks. You can also buy from us here…

… Hello, did you get our blog welcome email?

… Don’t forget that you can buy from us here, too.

(I’m still waiting for their first blog post.)

… We noticed you clicked on that one button. Are you interested in how to get more out of that button? Call us NOW.

… Did you click by mistake?

… Most people that click on that button that do this will get 152 percent higher results when they call us…

Of course, I’m being overly dramatic here, but you get the point. There’s a fine line as we are figuratively pushing buyers down the funnel between staying connected and being annoying.

Usually, communication becomes annoying when it’s irrelevant.

By way of example, here’s a non-business case: I follow the New York Yankees. Yes, sometimes tweets, emails, whatever are repetitive, but usually – because I’m interested in the topic – most of the content is welcome.

That’s a good way to think about email cadence, follow-up emails, and really any growth marketing strategies:

How is this piece of communication relevant, useful to the recipient, and keeps building our relationship?

Sounds easy in theory but harder in practice.

How can you use content in your follow-ups?

This is where teams can partner and find a way to use content that has already been created in new situations with new prospects

Sharing valuable information can help prospects become more educated buyers. Of course, as a company, we want them to buy our stuff, but we also want to build that relationship to get and keep them as a long-term customer. That is easier said than done, and I have seen an increase in self-serving content out there.

Of course, salespeople and even marketers in a content performance culture have more and more pressure to hit their numbers today. That comes down to knowing your numbers, building that long-term funnel, and understanding that a small percentage – 3% – of your qualified audience is ready to buy anytime.

You need to plan ahead. If you’re reaching 100 people, just three people of those will be ready to buy. Of course, if the marketing team can help automate reaching 100 people and qualifying them, it’s easier to be more targeted about reaching out to the correct three people or maybe six people of which three are ready to buy. And once those three raise their hand, of course, it’s important to reach out right away.

Of course, remember that the other 97 are still prospective buyers, but not today, maybe not tomorrow. So they need to be nurtured along to some kind of relevant and timely follow-up.

Is it a numbers game?

Certainly, you don’t want to spray and pray, but it is a numbers game, and you do have to reach a good amount of relevant people to make a sale.

How to get the timing right?

When it’s a one-on-one conversation, ask the person when a good time for follow-up is and what that follow-up might look like. It’s a little harder when it comes to messages to the masses. Or messages on a cadence, even when everyone gets their own personalized cadence.

In those cases, make sure you’re looking at the numbers. How are people responding? Are they looking at the message multiple times? I once got a deal after somebody read my email about ten times. And I could tell that they opened it 10 times. they certainly were interested. And that also was confirmed when they finally replied.

Make sure the conversation focuses on them and their needs. And keep in mind that it’s not always about the sale at every stage in the conversation.

But of course, when somebody is ready to buy, make sure you help them finalize the purchase quickly.

How to pick the right channels for communication

Experiment. See how people react on different channels and also ask them. For example, I will tell anybody that I do not want voicemails, please. Text me, email me send me a direct message on Twitter.

As much as I don’t like voice messages and I know others feel the same way voice messages on LinkedIn seemed to have worked well for me.

Text messages can work well for reminders.

Read next: When and how to use a Slack channel to communicate with people

Email works but can also be overwhelming.

How about automation?

Automation can increase productivity and efficiency. It is a tricky balancing act of what do you automate and you want the automation to work and what don’t you automate.

Potentially an easy way to start automation is what are some standard communications that always happen. Examples include:

    Scheduling a meeting
    Reminder for the meeting
    Follow up after the meeting

Scheduling meetings certainly can be automated. Some tasks in onboarding also can be.

Some things can be semi-automated by setting up triggers.

Keep in mind that you do want it to be smooth and frictionless for the prospect of a customer. And don’t lose the human touch completely and try to integrate humanness into your automation.

How about CRMs?

There’s a wide spectrum of client relationship management systems that can be used. some CRMs certainly can’t be used and are not affordable for smaller businesses.

Salesforce is expensive, and you really need internal support to use it so it’s pretty much mostly useful for larger businesses. HubSpot is a good one to use and easy to get started on with a qualified HubSpot solutions partner.

Before picking a system consider: What are your challenges?

For example, if you’re struggling with the follow up consider a system that will prompt you to follow up.

Read next: Setting up your CRM correctly

Syncing CRMs across all platforms

Conversation happen in so many places today that it is becoming more and more important that your CRM syncs everything across all the different platforms – including email, phone calls and social media.

 that didn’t used to be a standard feature but it’s becoming more and more important. Make sure you consider all the channels were communications happen as you pick a CRM.


Relationships and follow-up matter to build an audience and drive business. That includes the speed at which we respond. Pick the right medium, the right intervals, and the right level of authentic human interaction to move your relationship forward.

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