Salespeople are too slow at following up

When it comes to following up on a lead, it is should come as no surprise that a quick, timely response yields the best results. You don’t like to be kept waiting when you are seeking an answer to your query or a service of some sort, neither do your prospects. However, this reality hasn’t necessarily translated into better Sales performance.

A 2011 study by Harvard Business Review audited over two thousand U.S. companies by measuring how long each took to respond to a web-generated test lead. Amongst their findings, they found:

“37% responded to their lead within an hour, and 16% responded within one to 24 hours, 24% took more than 24 hours—and 23% of the companies never responded at all. The average response time, among companies that responded within 30 days, was 42 hours.”

If 2011 seems too far in the past to still be relevant, the findings were compounded by research conducted by at Dreamforce in 2012 and the following year. The company polled over 5,000 attendees and found that:

  • 40% of the companies did not respond at all to the submitted inquiry
  • The median first call response time of all companies that responded to the inquiry by telephone was 4 hours and 8 minutes.
  • The average first call response time for the same group of companies was 40 hours and 56 minutes.
  • Only 38 companies responded within the best practice time of 5 minutes.

These delays have a real effect on revenue. Forbes noted that B2B companies spend an estimated $30 to $200 on each marketing lead generated, and B2C companies spend an estimated $2 to $25 per generated lead. Crucially, they also discovered that many company executives simply do not realize the money they are losing by taking too long to attempt first call contact or by never attempting to contact a new lead.

Common barriers to a quick response

Of course, it’s not good enough to lament slow lead response times - we need to be cognisant of why they are occurring.

The InsideSales study was able to surface the most common reasons. These included: poor process management when it came to distributing sales leads among sales reps based on geography and “fairness.”; salespeople retrieving leads from their CRM database daily rather than continuously; and Sales focusing on generating their own leads rather than reacting quickly to customer-driven signs of interest.

As a cofounder of a high-growth SaaS technology business, I empathize fully with these behaviors and have been working hard to iron them out within our own sales team. We’ve found the Salesforce distribution engine has been a boon to our own sales team in making sure that leads are meted out in a timely and fair fashion.

There will always be an eternal tension between salespeople that are inclined to trust their own self-generated leads over those generated by their colleagues in Marketing. However, our demand generation team has labored to make sure their efforts attract and qualify valuable leads before they end on Sales’ plate. Through creating content around carefully designed buyer personas and implementing lead grading based on identifiable attributes (job title, industry, company size, etc), this has resulted in a greater level of trust between the teams that a web-generated lead is every bit as valuable as a self-generated lead.

Have something relevant to say

Of course, a fast response time is not the only ingredient for a successful sales call. That’s only half of the conundrum. You also need to have something relevant to say. Fortunately, that same content that is used to attract and generate leads can also be used for lead insight.

Author Walter Mosley once said, “A man's bookcase will tell you everything you'll ever need to know about him”. It is with this philosophy in mind that organizations are starting to see the value of understanding what prospects are reading and engaging with online before (and after) they become a lead. Prospect self-education is taking more and more of the B2B (and high value B2C) purchase journey. Clearly, if content is the main conduit through which buyers engage with a vendor then it also serves as a useful proxy for understanding what is going on inside their head.

Our Sales team uses idio for Salesforce to understand a lead’s content consumption history and what their interests are based on the content they’ve engaged with. This means that when a web-generated lead comes through: our SDRs and sales execs not only receive a first name, last name and last action, but also a profile of that individual’s current and emerging interests - as gleaned from the content they looked at on your site before becoming a lead. It’s as if you can read your prospect’s mind.


Improving your sales team’s lead response time takes a dedicated mix of culture, process change and technological changes. To not make these changes means - at best - you’re leaving potential customers hanging, and - at worst - you’re pushing them directly in the direction of a more responsive competitor.