Why lead response time is crucial to achieving sales targets

Make sure to have the best chance at every sale by responding as soon as possible.

4 min read

What do marketing leads, the Olympics Games and 1990s’ Keanu Reeves films have in common? They’re all examples of times when speed absolutely matters.

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Of course, these days, we’re all being urged to slip away from the non-stop hustle and bustle of the rat race and to take it slowly instead. Going slowly certainly has its advantages when you’re making scotch whisky, enjoying a romantic dance or taking part in a metaphorical race against a rabbit-like creature. But responding to inbound leads is a time to hit fast forward, not the pause button.

Increasingly, as a sales team, you’ll live and die by your lead response time. However, speaking of the pause button, let’s hit it right here for a moment and revisit exactly what we mean by lead response time and examine why it’s such a vital metric. 

Lead response time explained

An inbound lead is any contact from a potential customer indicating an interest in your business’ products or services. This could arrive via a form on your website, an email, a phone call, or increasingly, a message via social media.

Inbound leads are often the result of marketing efforts, such as SEO and SEA, advertising, social or content marketing. As they’re inbound — that is, the prospect proactively contacted your company to communicate their interest — these leads are typically more qualified than outbound leads uncovered by the sales team. They’re actively looking for a sales solution, so they are likely further along in the decision journey, making them more likely to be closed and to be closed more quickly.

With all of this in mind, minimizing the time between a lead coming into your business and the first contact between the prospect and a member of your sales team is crucial. The sooner you respond, the more likely you are to sell.

A decade ago, a study published in the Harvard Business Review highlighted the importance of the one hour rule. In short, when a salesperson contacted a prospect within one hour of their first contact, they were sixty times more likely to turn the opportunity into a customer than if they waited a full 24 hours before following up. This study made lead response time a vital metric for all sales organizations to track and improve.

The sweet spot is now even shorter

While most sales leaders will be aware of the importance of lead response time, fortunately for your company, many still don’t prioritize it anywhere near highly enough. More than half of companies still take more than an entire business week to respond to inbound leads. That’s a potential customer who has received a referral, seen an advertisement or a piece of content, found you doing a web search and actively contacted your company. Most companies leave them twiddling their thumbs for more than a week.

Of course, not all companies are quite so carefree when it comes to turning leads into business. The HBR study we discussed earlier revealed that the average response time was 42 hours. Less than two full days sounds pretty good until you consider that most prospects searching for a new product or solution have done their research long before they contact any companies and are ready to take the next step, whether that be a demonstration or even a quotation. 

They’re itching to buy. This goes a long way to explaining why 78 percent of customers buy from the company responding to their interest first. If that’s not enough to keep most salespeople up at night, then try this one on for size: seven percent of sales organizations contact new inbound leads within five minutes. Seven percent may not be a high figure, but it’s just high enough to make it likely that one of your competitors is there, beating you to the punch.

How to respond to leads

Studies bear out the new five-minute rule:

The same principles behind the five-minute rule apply to any follow-up meetings or product demonstrations. Just because you got in there first while your competitors were still making coffee and grabbing lunch, it doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Staying ahead of your competitors and striking while the iron is hot and the lead’s interest is highest is key to turning them into a happy and valued customer.

Failure to successfully schedule meetings due to an inability to find a suitable time slot, or allowing leads to fall away after they need to reschedule an appointment, are some of the most common and yet avoidable causes of lost business. Using a quality scheduling tool can avoid losing leads in this way and ensure that any inbound lead contacted within five minutes has a meeting booked within ten.

Account managers and product teams can update their availability in a bookable calendar that SDRs can share with leads, avoiding the constant back-and-forth emails that usually accompany the meeting scheduling process. Once booked, both parties’ calendars are automatically updated. A link is even auto-generated on the spot—a sure-fire way to keep the time between initial contact and first critical meeting to an efficient minimum.

Although, there is something even more efficient than the five-minute lead response: the no-minute response. Embed your scheduling tool within your landing pages or website and prospects can book meetings and demos themselves right there on the spot. 

So, while we all agree that some things in life — a summer’s walk on the beach, brewing the perfect cup of coffee, or cooking a rack of ribs — are best performed at a slow and leisurely pace, when it comes to inbound response, having the speed to lead is an incomparable advantage.

Are you looking to book more appointments with your customers but keep getting caught up with other tasks? Here’s some tips that might help you out.

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