Best Practices for Following Up on Inbound Leads

Today’s guest post is from Derek Singleton of Software Advice. A great writer who recently published research on converting inbound leads. Enjoy his post!

As an online business, Software Advice thrives off connecting with business-to-business (B2B) software buyers on the Web and the phone. Since our company was founded in 2006, we’ve learned a lot about B2B buyer behavior on the Web—and we wanted to share what we’ve learned with the B2B sales and marketing community.

Toward that end, I recently analyzed data Software Advice collected from more than 6,000,000 unique visitors between January 1, 2008 and August 31, 2013. What I found offers insights into when B2B buyers research on the Web, when they convert on a website and when you can get them on the phone. As inbound marketing (and inbound leads) become a larger part of the overall B2B marketing mix, I believe it’s important to understand these behaviors.

Here are a few of the my most interesting findings, along with additional insights provided by Craig.

A Lightning Fast Lead Response Time Significantly Improves Qualification Rates

A few years ago, InsideSales.com published The Lead Response Response Management Study, reporting that calling a buyer within 5 minutes of converting on your site leads to dramatically improves your changes of qualifying that buyer. I wanted to know what happens if you call in 5 within seconds of converting, which our phone system allows us to do.

While I expected to find that calling this quickly would improve our qualification rate, it was pretty stunning to see that when we call a buyer within 5 seconds of converting on our site, we qualify that buyer at a rate 30 percent higher than our average qualification rate.

Qualification Rates at Second IntervalsLead generation, inside sales, sales developmentMeanwhile, it only takes 11 minutes for our qualification rate to drop below average. And after just 1 hour, our qualification rate drops 13 percent below our average qualification rate.

Qualification Rates at Minute Intervalsinside sales, demand generation

Derek’s analysis: For any company that relies on inbound leads to generate a considerable portion of their revenue, I think this data makes a strong case for investing in technology that will allow you to respond to certain types of buyers as quickly as possible.

I say certain types of buyers because this data is based on buyers that converted on a call to action that requests information from us directly—e.g. a price quote or request for a demo. For other types of buyers that aren’t ready to speak with a salesperson, I still think that lead nurturing is the best way to start the sales process.

Funnelholic analysis: Most studies confirm Software Advice’s data. As Derek mentions, technology is key to make this near-instantaneous follow-up work. Another factor I have found is mental. 50% of the time, I will hear: “Well I don’t want them to think we are stalking them” or “I don’t want to appear too salesly”. While some buyers are surprised that you will call them that quickly, no one complains. As a matter of fact, you are contacting them when you are top of mind so the conversation is typically very productive.

As Derek mentions, there are some leads you should call right away and there are others you should nurture over time. This is an important consideration as you design your lead follow up process. Derek mentions that his data is based on a desire to hear more or a demo request. You will have to test which offers work with immediate follow up and those that don’t. For example, one company worked with found that the Gartner Magic Quadrant was it’s highest converting piece. (I was surprised) They called these downloads right away.

B2B Conversion Rates Peak at the Beginning of the Year

After looking at the impact of time-to-first-call on qualification rates, I wanted to better understand what happens to B2B buyer activity at different months of the year, days of the week and times of the day. Looking at buyer activity month to month, the most interesting finding was that conversion rates were higher during Q1 and Q2, although there is a dip in June.

Conversion Rates by Month of YearTelesales, inside sales, lead qualification

Derek’s analysis: In my view, the above average conversion rates at the beginning of the year are likely due to the fact that businesses are working with renewed budgets and funds are more readily available at this time of the year. Meanwhile, conversion rates drop off a bit during the summer as people take vacations and they slide again in Q4 when budgets start to become a bit strained.

For us, this means that we have to plan for our inside sales team to be at full capacity at the beginning of the year, and to have new hires trained by the end of December. For the larger B2B community, I think this illustrates the importance planning your inside sales team’s capacity to match seasonal variations in lead volumes.

Funnelholic analysis: The summer months make sense…I felt like October would be closer to January and February. Oh well, that is why we have data! I like Derek’s analysis. It basically tells you to be fully ramped and trained up for the beginning of the year. Heck, raise quotas if you want.

Tuesday Through Thursday is the Best Time to Reach Buyers

In my analysis of B2B buyer activity by day, I found that we qualify buyers that convert on our site Tuesday through Thursday at twice the rate of buyers that convert on a Monday or Friday.

Qualification Rates by Day of Weeksales development, inside sales, demand generationDerek’s analysis: The obvious implication of this data is that you should knock out your offsite and other meetings on Mondays and Fridays when qualification rates are relatively lower. Meanwhile, your inside sales team should hammer the phones Tuesday through Thursday.

But what’s perhaps even more interesting is how poorly we qualify buyers that convert on a Saturday or Sunday. The reason we don’t qualify these leads as well as leads those that come in during the workweek is because we don’t have a sales team to call them right away, which our time-to-first-call data shows significantly impacts qualification rates. I think this makes a good case for having an inside sales team around to respond to leads on the weekend, if there is enough lead volume on these days.

Funnelholic analysis: I never thought about having inside sales reps working on weekends to convert leads. I still don’t think I would recommend this action. Besides, I am sure buyers are downloading on weekends without the expectation that will be talking to sales. A b2b sales call on a Sunday may turn people off.

Tuesday through Thursday have traditionally been the best days for calling for my teamsI like Derek’s recommendation to clear the decks for Tuesday through Thursday for hardcore calling.

B2B Buyer Activity and Qualification Rates Are Highest Before Noon

Finally, I looked at B2B buyer activity throughout the day. As you might expect, I found that traffic, conversion rates and qualification rates are all at their highest during the work day (8:00 AM to 5:59 PM CST for us).

But what’s interesting is that our traffic and qualification rates are highest in the first half of the day. Our traffic picks up steadily starting at 8:00 AM CST and peaks at lunchtime, nearly doubling our average.

Unique Visitors During Working Hoursinbound marketing, inside sales

We see a similar pattern in our ability to qualify leads that come in at different times of the day. Our qualification rates peaks at the just before lunch time and from them on it’s comparatively more difficult for us to get buyers on the phone.

Qualification Rates During Working Hours (Central Standard Time)lead qualification, sales development, inside sales

Derek’s analysis: Your inside sales team should be able to hit the phones by 8:00 AM CST as leads that come in at this time of day qualify at an above average rate. If you’re on the West Coast, that means hitting the phones by 6:00 AM PST. Moreover, our data suggests that it’s crucial to have your inside sales team at working at full capacity in the first half of the day when research activity is the highest and your inside sales team is most likely to get a buyer on the phone to discuss their needs.

Funnelholic analysis: All my clients who I have begged them to have people on the phone at 6am are laughing right now. It’s amazing how much conversion happens before 9am PDT. If you are west coast, you absolutely HAVE to have people on the phones at 6am.

 

While this data just reflects our experience at Software Advice, I hope it offers some fresh perspective on how B2B buyers research their purchases on the Web, convert on a website and engage with inside sales. If you’re interested in learning more about the report, check it out at B2B Buyer Behavior – Web & Phone Channels IndustryView | 2013

  • http://www.wingreenmarketing.com/ Don Montgomery

    This is a terrific analysis. Thanks for posting. Couple of things:
    1. The data goes back to January 2008. I would think that there has been enough change in the nature of inbound marketing and of buyer behavior since then that the data from 2008 to perhaps 2010 isn’t as relevant. It would be interesting to re-crunch your numbers for the years 2008-2010 and for 2011-2013, then compare. This would give you two useful bits of information: (1) you’ll be able to see how accurately (or not) the entire 2008-2013 data set reflects current reality, and (2) you’ll be able to see empirically the trends and changes from those two periods.

    2. Anecdotally, we can validate the point that immediate call-back to a conversion yields higher success rates. Our lead generation services provide real-time alerts to designated salespeople the instant a new lead completes a registration form. From both our own and our clients’ experiences, we estimate a 30% better success rate when we make our follow-up calls within 5 minutes of the registration. Your ability to respond in 5 seconds, plus the data that you’ve presented as a result, are incredibly useful points.

  • Derek_Singleton

    Hi Don,

    Thanks for reading this post and I’m glad you enjoyed it. When I put together my analysis, I actually analyzed the data one year at a time and then aggregated each report because I had so much to analyze. I just went and looked back through my data from 2008-2010 and, for us at least, the trends that I’ve highlighted above have held pretty consistent. Of course, there are some changes in conversion and qualification rates year to year, but the general trends hold remarkably consistent for us. Now, I can’t say that another company would see the same consistency in their trends. This is just what our data shows.

    The biggest change that I see when comparing 2008-2010 to 2011-2013 is really around how many buyers we’re able to call within 5 minutes. As our processes and technology has gotten better, we’ve been able to call a larger portion of buyers under 5 minutes. Of course we’re always trying to improve on that as well.

    Let me know if I can provide any other information.

    Best,
    Derek

  • Robert Lesser

    Hi Derek / Craig,

    Thanks for highlighting this research on lead management and responsiveness.

    This post makes for a compelling case for sales to follow-up instantaneously on
    inbound responders.

    However, I wonder if fast follow-up is the key driver for conversion.

    Could there be other, more important factors to consider? Could fast
    follow-up be counter-productive?

    Factors such as buyer readiness, the type of solution and target market?

    For example, included in the data from the InsideSales.com study were results
    from a B2C Insurance sales team calling consumers who requested a quote. You
    don’t have to be a data scientist to surmise that these types of buyers will
    respond well to a fast follow-up.

    I worry that a reader will conclude from this post that every buyer should be
    called who completes a form. Should a CIO contact from a F500 account who
    submits a form for the first time and downloads a whitepaper on mobile
    technology be called within 5 seconds? Will this call do more harm than
    good? Can this contact or account be researched in 5 seconds?

    Most high performing sales reps will tell you that they choose wisely in the
    buyers that they target.

    I suspect that if more variables were researched other than lead follow-up, the
    conclusions would be different. Such factors could include: the lead score, the
    type of solution (volume vs. complex) and the target market (consumer vs.
    business, early stage vs. mature).

    What are your thoughts?

    Best regard,

    Robert Lesser
    http://www.twitter.com/robertlesser
    http://www.liveconversations.biz

    • Derek_Singleton

      Robert,

      I forgot to use the reply feature here, but I just left you a comment above. Basically, I think you make a really good and important distinction here. I don’t think that every buyer should be called right away, and that there has to be some nuance to your sales team’s follow up. My analysis is on the impact that our sales team’s follow up has when they call buyers that request information from us directly–via a price quote, demo or other direct request for more information.

      You can see more details in my note above.

      Best,
      Derek

  • Guest

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts. I totally agree with your point that not every type of buyer should be called right away.

    I tried to point out in the post that the benefit of a short time-to-first call is somewhat limited to the type of buyer that you’re dealing with, and the call to action that they convert on. In the post, I wrote, “… this data is based on buyers that converted on a call to action that requests information from us directly—e.g. a price quote or request for a demo. For other types of buyers that aren’t ready to speak with a salesperson, I still think that lead nurturing is the best way to start the sales process.”

    In your example of a CIO at a Fortune 500 company downloading a whitepaper, I’d say that it’s better to nurture that lead because the buyer is not requesting additional information from you. For indirect requests for information like this, I don’t think it makes as much sense to call within 5 seconds. They’ve given no indication that they really want to talk to a sales rep, they just want some content from your site.

    Sorry if I came off as seeming to suggest that every type of buyer should be called right away. Ultimately, I think you have to trust the judgement of your sales reps and understand what type of buyer you’re dealing with. Thanks for adding some nuance here and pointing this important distinction out.

    • Robert Lesser

      Hi Derek,

      Thanks for clarifying and good to hear that we agree on the fundamentals.

      I assumed that a lead is not only a request for contact (e.g. demo, quote) but also a content offer like a Gartner MQ report or a whitepaper. You wrote that a “lead requests information from us directly”. I didn’t understand that this lead definition does not encompass content offers.

      If the premise of the research is that for prospects that request contact from your company, then the faster you call, the higher conversion…..then I get that..

      Perhaps this could have been highlighted in the title of the post or earlier in the post.

      Thanks again for the post and your replies.

      Robert