This is a guest post written by Andy Paul, the CEO of Zero-Time Selling, Inc. and author of Zero-Time Selling, Ten Essential Steps That Every Company Should Take to Accelerate Their Sales. Measure the effectiveness of your inbound sales lead follow-up efforts with the free Online Sales Assessment Tool.
For the small or medium-sized business (SMB), every inbound sales lead has the potential to become not only a customer, but also to transform itself into a satisfied customer that represents a dependable stream of repeat revenue year after year.
The primary obstacle that stands between an SMB and converting an inbound sales lead into a repeat customer is the task of lead follow-up. On the surface, lead follow-up would appear to be quite straightforward, but this simple concept is fraught with difficulties for most companies. Industry research on sales estimates that 40-50% of all inbound sales leads are never followed up. And when the leads are followed up, common mistakes are made that unwittingly doom the SMB to lose the opportunity to convert that lead into a customer.
Comprehensive and effective sales lead follow-up is a simple concept that every SMB can take to build their prospect pipelines and grow sales without increasing headcount.
To develop an effective lead follow-up process, it is important to first understand what an inbound sales lead is. A sales lead is simply a question. With their inquiries, potential prospects are asking the questions: What does your product do? How does it do it? Will it do what I need? What does it cost? And the first seller with the answers wins.
Here are the essential steps that every SMB seller should take to be the first with the answers and maximize their conversion of inbound sales leads into customers.
1. Follow Up With 100% of Inbound Sales Leads
Every inbound sales lead is like a scratch-off lottery ticket. You don't know what you have until you scratch the wax off the face of it and see what you have won. How many people buy a lottery ticket and then wait until the next day to see if they're a winner? None. Inbound sales leads should be treated the same way.
What this means is that every sales lead needs to be followed up. Make sure that all inbound sales leads are entered into your CRM software as soon as they are received and that each one is assigned to a salesperson for immediate follow-up. Use your CRM system on a daily basis to check and make sure that 100% of your sales leads are being followed up. If you aren't checking, it isn't happening.
2. Be Speedy
How much time should it take to follow up with a lead? Less than you think. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies that try to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have meaningful conversations with key decision makers as firms that try to contact prospects even an hour later.
Every minute that passes by while you wait to follow up with a lead is time that a competitor will use to swoop in and talk to the prospect before you. If they respond to the customer with the answers to their questions first, then you are suddenly fighting for 2nd place.
I helped a client streamline their sales lead follow-up process to reduce their response time to inbound sales leads from 24 hours to 30 minutes. The immediate result was more qualified prospects in their pipeline. The longer-term result was a doubling of their sales with the same number of salespeople.
3. Provide Complete Answers Quickly
As discussed above, an inbound sales lead is nothing more than a question. Being responsive to prospects means you are providing complete answers to their question(s) in the least time possible. The best way to do this is to position your deepest product knowledge closest to the customer. It is not enough to be the first to respond to the customer. You must also be the first to answer their questions. The first seller to respond to an inbound sales lead with the complete answer in zero time will build trust, credibility, and dramatically increase their chances of winning the customer.
4. Measure, Improve, and Measure Again
You must continually work to improve your sales lead follow-up process. As the old saying goes, "you can't improve what you don't measure." So keep it simple to start with, and measure the following:
How many sales leads do you receive each week?
How long does it take to respond to each sales lead? (the time between when the lead is received until a sales person talks to them for the first time)
What percentage of your inbound sales leads are converted into qualified prospects?
What percentage of your inbound sales leads are converted into customers?
Set goals for these metrics, and then check each month to see if you are achieving them. If you are, set more aggressive goals and fine-tune each element of your lead follow-up process to achieve those new goals. If you aren't meeting your goals, examine each element of your process in detail, and implement steps you can take to improve those elements. Then check your performance again in a month.
For the entrepreneur and SMB CEO/manager, an effective sales lead follow-up process is the simplest way to optimize the ROI on your investment in lead generation. Use these steps to make it happen for you.