In some shops, when staff can’t come to the counter there might be a little bell which customers coming through the door can ring for service. If you ring the bell and no one comes, though, you’re almost bound to get impatient, doubtful of the company’s effectiveness and possibly inclined to leave.

Something very similar happens in a lot of small and medium-sized businesses when it comes to sales leads, particularly in the B2B space. Even when customers download an asset like a white paper, click on a call to action in an e-mail message or actually pick up the phone and leave a voice mail, companies aren’t always quick to respond. According to research data from, for example, companies are 100 times less like to get a customer or prospect on the phone if they wait as little as half an hour to respond to a lead.

An Age-Old Problem

These sorts of issues were first cited five years ago by the Harvard Business Review, in an article titled The Short Life Of Online Sales Leads. In a survey of more than 2,200 firms, more than a quarter took longer than a day to follow up on potential opportunities, and nearly as many didn’t respond at all. As shocking as that might be, it’s important to consider a few major things which have changed since then that could make slow follow-ups even more dire:

  • Technology is no longer an excuse: It might have been difficult for organizations to integrate CRM into their lead management process with distributed teams. Today, however, CRM is cloud-based and therefore accessible to anyone, anywhere. Following up and moving opportunities to the pipelines has arguably never been easier.
  • Online is not the only place leads start: while many companies continue to post lead gen assets on their web sites, customers and prospects may first turn into a lead via social media channels, a smartphone app or via chat conversations. This is in addition to analogue lead generation that continues to happen through call centres or even direct mail. Responsiveness is not only vital, it’s vital across all touch points.
  • Slow responsiveness could reverse the blowfish effect: With the right technology and the right strategy, SMBs can potentially look (and compete) as though they were a large enterprise. If leads aren’t nurtured, however, that’s exactly what won’t happen.

Set Your Clock By These Numbers

Of course, the best way to ensure opportunities don’t fall through the cracks is to have some methodologies that make sure sales teams are well-organized and proactive in nurturing leads. This includes tying marketing and sales efforts together, of course, but it’s also worth looking at data that provides some guidelines on making contact with customers and prospects. Recently, for example, a study lead by a visiting research fellow at MIT looked at three year’s worth of data on lead response management to offer some of the following findings:

Wednesdays And Thursdays Work Best: Based on contacts from first dials, these were the times in the week where customers and prospects were most likely to pick up.

3:00-5:00 PM Are The Ideal Hours: Starting in mid-afternoon is good, but trying to reach out right as people are finishing up those last e-mails are your best bet of all.

Make It More Than A Handful Of Tries: The chance of getting someone on the other end of the line rose to 90% for those who go for as many as six attempts.

Get In A Lead Response Groove

Of course, leads and opportunities will often emerge without warning and SMBs simply have to jump on them when they do. If sales teams want to use these findings to think about how they spend their time, however, they could consider allocating their priorities in a way that might look something like this:

Mondays: Team meetings to discuss recent wins, missed opportunities or deals that might still hold promise. Use analytics tools to see what worked, what didn’t and what could be optimized. Study what’s in the CRM and where more attention should be paid.

Tuesdays: Prospecting and increasing business within existing accounts using CRM, marketing automation and even social selling to drive awareness, provide education and move deals through the funnel.

Wednesdays-Thursdays: Look at opportunities that haven’t gotten followup (or that need more followup) and plan your pitch for those end-of-day calls

Fridays: Appointment-setting, industry outreach, administration and CRM updates

Even if it’s not realistic to stick to a schedule like this every week, it might be worth going through a similar exercise to determine how to align all the things on the average sales pro’s plate with the most important task of all – turning leads into actual revenue.

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