Lead response times affects sales, that much is clear. However, there is a double standard that exists between B2C and B2B sales. Why is this? If a serious company’s B2C sales team was letting customers wait for “a day or two” before responding, they would be working elsewhere in less time than that.


But for whatever reason, this seems to be a totally normal practice in the B2B world. In this article, we will explore why that should not be the case, and how you will directly benefit from improving your team’s lead response time.


Buyer Behavior – It isn’t what it used to be


To assess the damage of poor lead response times buyer behavior must be taken into account as a key factor. The numbers show an alarming trend for B2B sales processes, such as for the B2B cold calling process, that are letting leads slip through their fingers.


The abundance of information available to the customer has led them to be much further along the buying cycle than they previously would have been. As a matter of fact, Google and CEB published a paper that found 57% of the buying process has simply “disappeared” due to the ready access of available information – much of it online.


This means that prospects who research and have questions answered through their own research, rather than engaging with the business, are most likely the ones who do reach out and engage with you. And who, therefore, are much more valuable leads or prospects.


This is great news for those who are equipped to respond quickly. But make no mistake, the clock is ticking.


Around half of the sales go to companies who respond first.

How did we get here?


This concept isn’t rocket science: Using a B2C analogy, if the line is too long for your morning coffee, you typically go to a different coffee shop rather than waiting.


Then why have B2B sales not been responding as quickly as their B2C counterparts?


There are a few good reasons why B2B sales have developed bad habits in lead response. B2B sales are typically much larger and more complex. In addition, they typically go through a far more rigorous decision-making process than a B2C sale – longer time frames, more decision-makers involved, etc.


In short, they take longer. But this doesn’t mean that lead response times are going to be any less important. You need to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. And certainly, more quickly than your competitors.


The 5-Minute Rule


Let’s think about a common situation we can all relate to – imagine you have missed a friend’s phone call. There are 2 probable outcomes. The first (and most sensible) is that you dial them right back – 9 times out of 10 they pick up the phone right away.


In the second scenario, you decide to call them back later when you’re finished eating or whatever it was you were doing. The problem is, when you call them back, they have already called somebody else and invited them to the concert they had tickets to.


You see where this is going. 


Dr James Oldroyd published his Lead Response Management Study in 2007 which proves the 5-Minute Rule to be true. Dr. Oldroyd found that if a lead was contacted within 5 minutes, that they were 21 times more likely to enter the sales process, improving a sales team member’s chances of a successful contact by 100 times.


Those are staggering numbers. Who doesn’t want to be 100 times more likely to succeed?


With businesses increasingly investing in leads, and lead generation, now isn’t the time to let hot leads go cold.


Dr Oldroyd also found that while American companies spent approximately 82% more on web-based leads (between 2005 – 2009), the average response time was 42 hours. The point? Companies are spending a lot more money on leads, but they aren’t treating their investment properly by responding quickly and engaging with these leads.


So how do we improve our response times?


Strategize for Success


What is your team’s average lead response time?


If you don’t know, that is a big part of your problem – you need to know. We have already established the direct correlation between response times and sales. It is just as necessary to time your lead-response time, as it is to track your conversion rate. You should not be guessing at this figure. As Peter Druker correctly wrote – You cannot improve anything that you do not measure.


First, focus on and implement ways to measure, track and trend how long it takes your sales team to get back to leads will be your first step.


Secondly, to improve lead response times set up automatic response software. Today there are an array of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) services – paid for as well as free. This type of tool will allow you to reply to your prospect immediately and set their expectation that someone will follow up shortly.


Dedicating a team to quickly getting back to potential customers, and holding them accountable by measuring, tracking, and trending their performance is a critical part of any lead response strategy. Here are more figures from a survey of 700 companies conducted by insidesales.com and Omniture.


  • Less than 5% of companies report being called back within 24 hours
  • Only 4.6% of companies surveyed had a strategy utilizing both phone and e-mail
  • Nearly 50% – a full one-half of companies didn’t respond to their prospect at all!


With all of this in mind, rethinking your strategy and tightening up your response times is not only a no-brainer, but it also has the potential to give your business a real edge over your competition.


A Few More Helpful Tips & Tricks


  • Initially, incent your sales team for improving their response times. This is a great opportunity to alter their mindset and increase sales.
  • Control what channels your leads are coming in. Take a proactive approach to how your leads find you and consolidate your efforts on the most productive avenues. This will help keep leads from falling through the cracks and help prevent your sales team from becoming scattered and less productive.
  • Leverage robust CRM software. But take it one step further by developing a dynamic set of responses to FAQs and Common Objections & Rebuttals.


The world is moving faster. With an improved lead response strategy, you set your sales team up for success!


Author’s bio: John Dubay is the Managing Partner at Leads at Scale, an outsourced sales support company that helps B2B companies generate well-qualified leads at scale, ready to be closed.

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