Following Up on Leads: How Soon & How Often?

I had occasion recently to answer two questions relating to lead follow-up, discussions that readers of this blog might find of interest:

First, a prospective client wanted to convince his management that there was a business case to be made for installing a process by which sales leads would reach the sales force more quickly. He wanted to know if there were any industry benchmarks that would support his contention that leads have a fixed “shelf life” and that therefore it was important to follow up on them promptly.

We found the statistics we needed in a 2006 white paper by Knowledgestorm: “The Fine Art of Lead Management and Lead Follow-up.” The paper reads:

“The best time to contact a lead (especially an online lead) is the same day you receive it. A good marketing goal: call every lead within four days … Reaching a business lead within four business days significantly increases the likelihood that this lead will become a sales prospect. After seven business days, lead responsiveness dropped twenty percent.”

A few days later, on LinkedIn, I participated in a spirited and informative discussion on a similar topic, specifically how much to pursue prospects that show initial interest but then stop responding. The original question read (in part):

“When you generate a lead … and receive a positive response, you start the first level of talks (call or email) and (then) suddenly the lead disappears! I generally try to follow-up 3-5 times either through telephone or email. If still there is no response I move on. To what extent should we pursue the prospect by telephone/emails?”

The question elicited some very informative responses, largely from people with considerable expertise in sales and sales operations. One expert recommended a minimum of 10 follow-up attempts! I chose to represent the marketing viewpoint, namely that after a fixed number of follow-up attempts, the onus (in my view) falls upon marketing, not sales:

“I expect a sales rep to make a reasonable best effort to re-engage with an interested prospect, but after a few such calls/e-mails (I’ll leave the sales experts to define what that number is) it should fall upon marketing to have in place an intelligent, personalized, rules-based lead nurturing program that triggers a series of automatic e-mails to those prospects, and then alerts the sales rep instantly when the prospect responds.

With today’s marketing automation technology, it’s possible to set up automated campaigns that trigger based on whatever criteria the user defines – one such criterion could be “leads that haven’t been touched in 45 days.” Or the sales rep can choose to manually add a lead to the lead nurturing list.”

Comments? Is lack of timely lead follow-up a sales issue, or a marketing issue? How much time, or how many attempts, should a sales rep be afforded before marketing “takes over”?

One thought on “Following Up on Leads: How Soon & How Often?

  1. Landon Ray

    Timely follow up is not a sales or marketing issue… it’s just an issue. And it needs to be handled by both teams.

    Our thought is that new inquiries should be automatically delivered relevant information/collateral immediately so the prospect has something to chew on while the sales rep works to make contact.

    There should be simple to follow process in place that gets executed every time… like:

    1. New inquiry is sent something to read.
    2. sales rep is tasked with a call.
    3. if no contact, automated email is sent to follow up on first call.
    4. sales rep is tasked to call again in a couple days, with follow up email if no contact.
    5. more collateral sent a couple days later, with an invitation to reconnect.
    6. sales rep is tasked to call again in a few days.
    7. etc.

    The statistics that we all know about say that trying less than 8 times is a mistake. Of course, where sales people are high-end, this first touch starts to look like something for an appointment setter or call center to handle.

    If no calls connect after several attempts, the lead should continue to be marketed to via every available media.

    A good rule of thumb for direct response is to plan to spend as much following up with a lead as it cost you to generate it. Otherwise you’re wasting your money buying leads that you’re not converting well.

    So, for B2B marketers whose leads often cost upwards of $30 or $40 dollars a pop, it makes good sense to run the full court press.

    If you’re generating leads for $2 or $3 a pop, then spending a lot of salesguy time chasing them down is probably a waste. A nice DM package, a phone call, and then ongoing emails is probably wisest.

    All this, of course, is rule-of-thumb stuff. Everything needs to be tested, including the follow up process. Marketers tend to focus too much on testing specific creative (if they’re testing at all) and not on testing overall lead management strategy.

    There’s a ton of opportunity here for most businesses.. we all experience horrible follow-up every day with the businesses we (try to) buy from.

    Marketers who get this and learn to execute have a real competitive advantage.

    Anyway.. that’s my 2 (or 3) cents.




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