Imagine you want to buy a new car. So you head to a car dealership, it’s a Saturday, and you’ve done all your research and you’re ready to buy. You tell the salesman you’re interested in a car, and the salesman says “Thank you for contacting me, I’ll be in touch in 24–48 hours,” and walks away. The car salesman calls you two days later, on Monday, while you’re at work, to talk about the car.
Shocking, right? You were in the buying mindset, taking meaningful action towards a purchase, and were pushed off two days by the salesperson. By Monday, you may have already visited other car dealerships and purchased a car, or at least you’re further down the sales process with a more responsive car salesperson. This is a failure in sales response time.
The need for immediacy is common sense in the B2C world of instant gratification, but why is this same immediacy not an expectation in the B2B world? This is a problem. B2B marketers all across the world are tasked with online lead generation goals. These marketers are then judged by the number and quality of leads they generate for the sales team, even though they may have no control over how their leads are responded to. For the purpose of this post, the online leads we’re referring to are generated from forms on websites.
However, the quality of those leads quickly deteriorates if they are not responded to quickly. This is key — the quality of the lead changes based on how much time has passed.
The Problem: Slow Lead Response Time By Sales
In general, B2B leads receive staggeringly slow responses from sales teams. Consider this: a lead response study of 2,241 US companies found that:
The average first response time of B2B companies to their leads was 42 hours
Only 37% of companies responded to their leads within an hour
16% of companies responded within one to 24 hours
24% of companies took more than 24 hours
23% of the companies never responded at all
This is both a sobering statistic of businesses failing to make lead response a priority, and also a brilliant opportunity for responsive sales teams willing to engage leads before their competition calls them back.
So it takes a day or two for sales to follow up with leads, why is this a problem?
In short, it’s a problem because of the quality of a lead degrades over time. A good lead today can become a bad lead three days from now. Dr. James Oldroyd published the Lead Response Management Study, which shows company sales representatives have a short amount of time to respond before their leads become “cold.”
This research found “the odds of making a successful contact with a lead are 100 times greater when a contact attempt occurs within 5 minutes, compared to 30 minutes after the lead was submitted. Similarly, the odds of the lead entering the sales process, or becoming qualified, are 21 times greater when contacted within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes after the lead was submitted.” (Oldroyd, 2007)
The Internet Has Changed Your Buyer’s Behavior
People consume content differently now. With millions of webpages’ worth of information, your buyers, especially B2B buyers, can spend countless hours online performing research on their future purchase prior to ever contacting sales.
According to a white paper authored by Google and CEB:
“B2B customers reported to being nearly 60% through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point. More accurately, 57% of the sales process just disappeared.” - The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing
Businesses need to meet their buyers where they’re at in the sales process. If your buyer has performed significant research on your business before contacting you, they are ready to have a more informed conversation. More accurately, if your buyer is already 60% through the sales process, they are warmed up, educated and ready to talk — now.
In fact, research from InsideSales.com shows that 35–50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first. And this makes sense. Think about it. Buyers contact you when they are ready to talk; think about the mindset they must be in when they fill out a contact form. It’s likely they’ve been doing a fair amount of research and when they fill out that contact form they are actively thinking about your product or service.
That exact moment would be best the best time to talk to them because they are “in it.” But if the lead must wait for your sales team’s preferred timetable, on average that means the lead will be engaged a day and a half from now, when they are likely working on another task and are thus being interrupted.
Measuring Your Sales Response Time: The Secret Shop Test
A basic question all B2B businesses should ask themselves is this: “What is my sales team’s average lead response time?”
Most businesses hope it’s quick, but have they actually tested and measured it? The answer is usually no. Most business cannot rattle off their average lead response time because they simply do not know.
And in the immortal words of Peter Drucker:
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
And if you can’t manage it, how on earth will you ever be able to improve it? Improving a process requires having baseline data and then setting goals around improving it.
One way to set a baseline is to secret shop your website. Fill out your contact form with a quote request and then measure how long it takes your sales team to get back to you. Also take note of whether they respond via phone call or via email, or, ideally, both. Then take note of how persistent they are with follow-up. Do they only follow up with you once or twice and give up? Or do they follow up until they get a response? If you have a baseline, then you are empowered to have a discussion about it and, more importantly, improve it.
“Between 2005 and 2009, the budget spending of American companies in relation to Web leads increased by 82%. However, the average first response time of companies that responded within a month was 42 hours.” — James B. Oldroyd, The Short Life of Online Sales Leads
Back to the car buying example: imagine you’ve taken a potential buyer on two test drives of the same car over the first 42 hours and then on the 43rd hour, your competition calls them back. The buyer is already more invested in the buying process with you — and the competitor is simply too late.
This presents an opportunity for any company who is willing to commit their sales reps to a quick and comprehensive lead follow-up strategy. This is an area of your business you can optimize to quickly outperform the competition. If the average response time of your competitors is 42 hours, and your reps call everyone back within the first 2 hours, and call back multiple times in the week following, you will be the first company to start a relationship with the buyer. If you are the first company to start a relationship, you have the opportunity to move that buyer further down the buying process before your competition even contacts them.
Making changes within your B2B company’s lead response strategy can be a daunting task — one that requires buy-in from your entire sales team and marketing department. Even if you’re not yet sold on making these necessary changes, at least consider trying them out. Implementing a swift B2B lead response strategy for a week, a month — heck, maybe even an entire quarter — can’t hurt. And at the end of the day, attempting to be MORE responsive to your customers is an overall best practice every company should employ.
Originally published Nov 24, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023