When Customers Hold Their Hands Up: Lead Response

by Troy Harrison, author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”

In businesses around the country, conversations about prospecting (outbound lead generation) and inbound lead generation are happening nearly every day. What isn’t spoken about much is what happens to the lead after it comes in. Many times, incoming leads either are mishandled or not handled at all, and then the marketing department gets blamed because “the leads are weak.” Make no mistake – anytime someone reaches out to contact YOU, the company plans on buying SOMETHING from SOMEONE. Whether that’s you – or whether it should be you – depends on how the lead is handled. Here are some key factors in a conversion rate:

Lead response time: It’s crucial that an incoming lead is responded to quickly. “Quickly” means different things to different people, but a Boston University study several years ago pegged the “magic window” at 30 minutes. What they found is if a lead is responded to with a personal phone call within 30 minutes of receipt, it has 20 times the chance of turning into a sale as one responded to 24 hours or more after receipt. Think about that for a moment. A potential customer will never be more interested in initiating a sales conversation than they are at the moment that they fill out your “contact me” form, so why not take advantage of that? It works.

Lead response quality: Lead response quality is huge. If your “contact form” is like most, after prospects fill out the form, they get redirected to a screen thanking them for reaching out. Maybe the automation sends them a generic “someone will be in touch” email. That’s all well and good, but all too often no one actually gets in touch. Note that the Boston University study depended on a personal phone call, and your sales process should, too. I was talking to a business owner recently who bemoaned the fact that, at a recent tradeshow, his company received 40 new leads, but only converted two into orders. Upon further questioning, he said his salespeople simply responded with an email after returning from the show and that they waited on the customer to re-initiate contact. A personal phone call, done quickly, is key to lead conversion. If your salespeople don’t want to do this, find new salespeople.

Where in the buying process you are contacted: Your entry into the customer’s buying process is crucial. Is the prospect getting ahold of you to learn about your product or to discover information? That’s good. Does the prospect think all the necessary info has been gathered and just want you to provide a price? That’s less good. If the prospective customer is just reaching out to “keep the competition honest?” … That’s worse. This is information you need to know – and one reason, in my opinion, that salespeople don’t treat incoming leads with high importance is that they assume the negative. Don’t. Teach your salespeople that every incoming lead is a high-potential opportunity.

Shortcutting the sales process: Closely related to the above point is that there is a temptation to shortcut the process, particularly the Discovery phase. Doing a good discovery is an investment of a lot of time and work – but it’s also the most important phase in selling. 80% of the chance to win or lose the sale depends on the questions being asked, and if you don’t ask very many questions (because you assume knowledge on the part of the customer that may or may not exist), you are costing yourself an opportunity. Worse, you might sell the customer the wrong thing and create a bad reputation for yourself. Here are the key metrics that should be used to evaluate your incoming lead program:

  • Time elapsed from lead receipt to initial personal contact
  • Ratio of incoming leads to Discovery appointments
  • Discovery appointments resulting in Presentations
  • Presentations resulting in Proposals
  • Proposals resulting in Sales
  • Sales to repeat customers

Even if you don’t get many incoming leads, it’s important to have a good program for handling them, and to make it part of your sales culture. Don’t rely on sales automation programs; they are no substitute for personal selling on the part of you and your salespeople.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and “The Pocket Sales Manager” and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces. To schedule a free 45-minute Sales Strategy Review, email Troy@TroyHarrison.com.