Fixing Sales Pipeline Generation Starts with Fixing Lead Response Times. Here’s How to Do it in 8 Simple Steps.

Lead response time Drift

As a marketing or sales technology buyer, have you ever experienced the following?

You’ve been noodling on a go-to-market challenge and think maybe there’s a tech solution that can solve it. Your Google search uncovers 2 or 3 potential vendors, and you open up a few new tabs in your browser to research each of the vendors’ offerings. Let’s say you find a vendor whose technology you’d potentially invest in. So, either you fill out a ‘Contact Us’ form or you complete a form for some research study or report that looks promising.

Next moment, distraction. Your boss calls you, or you head off to yet another sales and marketing alignment meeting about missing your pipeline goals.

30 minutes later, if you’re lucky, you get a phone call from a vendor that goes to voicemail or you get an email from the vendor’s BDR/SDR team. By the time you get back to your desk, it’s the end of the day, and chances are, there are 10 higher priority emails in your inbox, and you mentally note the BDR’s email, thinking “I’ll get to that tomorrow.”

You never do.

Several other firefights consume the rest of the week, and now the issue that prompted your research has decreased in priority. You move on, but the vendors continue to reach out, eventually putting you into an endless email nurture sequence.

If you are one of those vendors trying to get our attention, it’s really frustrating. If you had been able to connect with me in my moment of highest intent, when I was first on your website, you chances of converting me to a meeting would have been infinitely greater.

The Lead-to-Connection or Lead Response Time Problem is Well Documented

In 2016, Harvard Business Review published a study from sales technology company, InsideSales.com. The study focused on one of the most important areas of marketing and sales, lead response management.

This study, based on user data from the InsideSales.com platform, looked at how well sales & marketing teams followed up on website leads. Its findings are stark and should be a wake-up call for all sales and marketing management teams looking to increase pipeline. It quantifies the missed opportunities when web visitors, who complete website lead forms, are not followed up with immediately.

One of their key findings focused in on lead response times. If a sales team waited longer than 5 minutes to follow up with a person who had completed a webform, they had a 10x decrease in their ability to connect with that person. So, as a sales person, you have 10 times less probability of connecting with a lead after 10 minutes than you do within the first 5 minutes.

And guess what percentage of companies actually made it within the 5 minute optimal window? A tiny fraction. Just 4.7%.

If you’ve ever been a technology influencer or buyer, and most of the marketing readers here have, this should not be shocking. Your days are filled with distractions. You are firefighting constantly. You tend to do new technology research in spare time between meetings, fire-drills and answering emails.

So, you’d think that speeding up how fast sales follows up with their leads would be simple, right? Let’s look at some options. Once you get a completed webform lead, let’s just fire off an email instantly into a shark-tank pool of BDRs and whoever grabs it, gets to work it. Alternatively, round-robin each lead, one rep at a time. Easy win, right?

Not so fast. These methods mean you have to ignore 15 years of demand generation best practices around lead quality (the marketing qualified lead or MQL) and the lead-to-close process. Real-time means real-time. If you want to pass leads in real-time to sales, then we have to compromise in other areas where micro-delays have been introduced:

  • No lead scoring
  • No intelligent lead routing
  • No lead-to-account matching
  • No CRM sync to check if there’s already an opportunity at that account
  • No data enrichment on the leads you’re passing
  • No service level agreement on either lead quality criteria or sales acceptance times

You’ve just dumped a massive volume of leads onto the sales team, and within weeks, they’ll be cherry-picking the best ones. Worst case scenario, they’ll ignore what you’re sending them.

It’s not speed OR quality. Its speed AND quality. You need to pass leads quickly, notifying the sales person as soon as the person engages on your website. In addition, and equally important, you need to ensure that sales have been sent the best leads that match the ideal customer profile and have a high behavioral score. How do you solve this?

Lead-to-Connection Time is a Symptom. How You Treat Buyers is the Real Problem.

The key to solving this lies in understanding that the lead management processes you’ve developed between marketing and sales have been built for your own internal effectiveness, not for the buyer.

Your processes have been optimized to measure and track INTERNAL marketing and sales metrics like how well you acquire, score, process and qualify leads. You haven’t been focused on EXTERNAL buying metrics like how fast and easy it is for the buyer to connect with a knowledgeable salesperson who can answer their questions. Sure, you’ve solved important internal issues that help you better manage leads, but the buyer has been left out of consideration.

The most important step in solving this is to invert your thinking. Think from the perspective of a buyer, not a seller.

As a technology buyer, I want to:

  • find relevant information for my challenge
  • get my questions answered quickly and efficiently
  • be given answers on my timeline, not based on some internal marketing and sales processing timeframe
  • interact with a human, not a gate or webform
  • be treated like a buyer who wants to spend money on your technology, not a task to be completed or a lead to be “dispositioned”

As an aside, this is incredibly hard to do for leaders of marketing or demand generation teams. We’ve been trained on demand generation best practices. We’re under massive pressure to produce more MQLs (what many expert practitioners now call a vanity metric), and ensure that those leads convert to meetings, pipeline and closed-won deals. So how can you trust you’ll succeed going against the grain of what your peers are doing? This is tough to do, but until you retrain your brain and look at the problem from a fresh perspective – from the perspective of your buyer – you won’t be able to break through this old mindset and your company’s new business will suffer.

The Solution: Conversational Marketing

At Drift, we’ve coined the term conversational marketing. At its simplest, conversational marketing enables buyers to have conversations with smart salespeople who can answer their questions and solve their problems. And we want to do that at scale, 24x7x365, whenever a qualified buyer wants to engage with our company.

Think of the real-life example of a tradeshow where the most natural activity is a conversation between a buyer and a seller. A buyer can walk up to a salesperson and have a straightforward conversation about what their solution does. No forms. No endless emails. No qualification questions before being “routed” to the right person. It’s human-to-human, talking about problems and potential solutions. Conversational marketing allows companies to provide that rich, human experience on their websites.

8 Steps to Decreasing Lead-to-Connection Times & Becoming More Buyer Centric

1. Introduce Live Chat to Your Website

Allow your website visitors to engage with your sales teams live on your website. This will likely only be possible during business hours, but you’ll finally be able to remove the gap between sellers and buyers by allowing them to talk directly. You’ll be surprised to find that many people prefer to engage with a chat widget over a form.

2. Enrich Website Visitor Firmographic Data in Real-time

With technology like reverse-IP lookup, you can identify visitors on your website in real-time, instead of waiting for them to fill out a form with 12 questions. This answers questions like the size of the company, how much revenue they have and where they’re located. It allows you to filter and control who your sales team engages on the site – focus on your ideal customer profiles and direct the job seekers to the jobs page. It’s also possible to identify individuals who your sales teams have been reaching out to and notify the rep who reached out when they’re on your site.

3. Connect Your Live Chat to Your CRM Data

Once you know the company that is visiting your site, you can enrich that data with CRM data, again in real-time. Who is the account owner? Are they a strategic target account? Do they have an open opportunity with a rep? Are they an existing customer?

4. Use Bots to Initially Engage, Then Qualify & Scale Conversations

When you have rich, contextual information on website visitors from your CRM and third-party sources, you can allow bots to engage them for the simple questions. Like:

  • Would you like to talk to sales, support or are you looking for a job?
  • Are you here to chat with a rep or just researching?
  • Are you in IT or Procurement?
  • What kind of information are you looking for?
  • Would you like to talk to your account manager?

For the buyer, bots allow a simple interactive chat to happen immediately, are a guide to deeper, more relevant content, and can be used to connect buyers to their account manager or sales rep if they’re am ready.

For the seller, bots are invaluable at sifting through each and every visitor and providing better help and guidance for the buyer. They help qualify visitors so reps don’t lose valuable time on support calls or unqualified leads.

5. Notify & Connect the Right Sales Team

100-person company on your site? Notify your small-business team. Large strategic account? Notify the enterprise sales rep who owns the account. Located in the UK? Notify the European sales team.

Do all this in real-time so the rep can jump in and take over from the bot with a “Human here!” greeting. You’d be surprised how well buyers engage at this moment because you are there to help them, versus trying to reactivate a conversation after a few days via email.

6. Connect Your Reps’ Calendars So Buyers Can Book Meetings

We often find that buyers are active outside the hours that reps are available. By connecting your reps’ calendars to chat, your bots can propose open times for the buyer to schedule their own meetings. Then, sync this over to your marketing automation platform or CRM system or wherever you maintain your system of record.

7. Tailor Your Bots to Ask for Email Addresses

Not every visitor wants to chat to sales, some are just researching and want more information. Ask the visitor for their email address so you can send some more relevant content, or in case they get disconnected. These emails can feed into your marketing automation platform or CRM system, similar to meetings.

8. Reduce Your Reliance on Forms

Conversational marketing works in tandem with marketing automation, and can replace some forms where it makes sense. At Drift, we use conversational marketing to register folks for webinars and events, sign up for our blog and newsletter content, capture contact details so we can send premium content either via email or direct mail. Sometimes forms work well, but more often than not, chat will be a better way to engage and convert.

You are Now a More Buyer-centric Organization

Congratulations, you are now a much easier company to buy from. Your buyers will be surprised and delighted that you’ve been able to chat like a human on your website and answer their questions in real-time. Your buyer will remember the experience – they were able to connect with a smart rep, get their questions answered intelligently and at their convenience without being pestered with phone calls for the following two weeks.

Your sales teams will love you because they’re finally able to talk to real people instead of old, stale leads. Their connection rates have shot up and their lead-to-meeting rate is hovering in the 30% range, not the the usual 2-4%.

And YOU will no longer be digging through a wall of data on internal metrics like MQL-acceptance rate and acceptance times and fighting with sales about out-of-SLA lead reports. Your booked- and held-meetings will jump up. Your SQLs or qualified opportunities will increase dramatically, and you can spend more time actually doing real marketing like creating great content to drive the right traffic to your website.

Finally, conversational marketing improves the customer experience beyond your imagination. Your buyers will remember and reward you for it through increased business and loyalty. And you get to enjoy marketing again.

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