Salespeople need to respond to sales leads immediately.  All our sales training participants in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto would agree.  Who wouldn’t?  Yet, the response time to sales leads for many companies ranges from OK to downright horrible.  While we all agree that this is an important component of a successful sales strategy, why does it take so long for many B2B and B2C Salespeople to engage with a lead?  Here are the reasons why and what your company can do about it.

In the 6 years that our company has been in existence, I would estimate that 95% of the time, we are the first sales training company to respond to an inbound lead when a decision maker contacts more than one supplier.  Our average response time is less than 30 minutes.  In many cases, the person who reached out to us is quite shocked when we contact them so quickly.  Our commitment to making this a priority is a major influence on winning the business.  Yet, it appears that quick response time is something that we all agree with but aren’t fulfilling.

Many companies are slow to respond to sales leads

Here are some interesting statistics from a few studies done on lead response time.   Drift, an online systems management company, tested 433 companies in their lead response time in a 2017 survey.  Here’s what they found.

  • Only 7% of the 433 companies responded within the first 5 minutes.
  • More than half (55%) of the companies did not even respond over the course of 5 business days.
  • Of the companies with the 10 fastest response times, all of them used live chat on their websites.

It appears that many companies have had a bad response rate consistently over time.  Here are the highlights of a survey done by the Harvard Business Review in 2011 with over 2,000 companies.

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

The shocking part in both of these surveys rests with the number of companies that didn’t even respond  to a sales lead from a web inquiry.  While the survey results vary, the fact that even one company could be so negligent in this regard is one too many.

Where the disconnect occurs

In any company, the primary role of Marketing is to generate leads from the ideal customer profile.  Sales has the responsibility of engaging with those leads and converting them to confirmed business.   The transition between the two is where the disconnect tends to occur.  This is especially true in larger companies with designated people assigned to the specific roles.  In small business, marketing and sales can be the responsibility of a smaller team of people or even assigned to the same manager.

Smart Salespeople know that strong sales performance comes from maintaining a healthy sales pipeline of potential business.  This includes short and long term sales opportunities with varying degrees of sales cycle complexity.  Juggling all of these potential sales is no easy task.  Even with a strong 50% closing rate, a great Salesperson would need double the amount of sales opportunities required to hit objectives.  A average 30% closing rate requires over 3 times the activity.  This means that consistently overfilling the sales funnel is required practise.  Proactive follow-up and over-delivering is expected from buyers to get the sale.

This means that when a sales lead is passed to a Salesperson, he or she certainly wasn’t waiting around for it.   The sporadic, unknown nature of leads is impossible to predict, so it must be handled within the busy schedule already planned.  Here is where the problem typically occurs.  The priority of the Salesperson to engage is balanced within current commitments.  That can easily result in response time being many hours later or even the next day.  A slip up in planning may result in the lead not getting any response at all.

Lead response time must be a top priority

Getting everyone  on the same page when responding to sales leads is vital to deliver the right customer experience, especially at the start of a potential buying relationship.  Sales needs Marketing to make the phone ring, increase website activity and generate instore customer traffic.  Marketing needs Sales to monetize their efforts and treat web inquires with the highest levels of customer service.  That means making them an immediate priority.  This starts with Management communicating the importance of lead response time to Salespeople.

A Valuable Lesson

Many years ago, I was working as a fully commissionable Salesperson for a media company.  I’d been hired to develop new business and had an extremely limited account list of developed clients.  Prospecting and cold calling filled 85% of my time.  One day, I received an inquiry from my Sales Manager and was quick to call the lead back.  The next day I was in their office meeting with the owner of an insurance company that met my ideal customer profile.  By the end of the year he was my third largest client.

Inbound leads are qualified sales leads

Top performing Professional Salespeople have the right attitude and a way of looking at things.  They know that inbound leads are qualified sales leads.  They have interest in knowing more about your products and services and are reaching out to get more information.  From a sales perspective, these leads have a greater chance of purchasing because they initiated contact.  That sure beats cold calling dozens of prospects to find one that might have the interest to have a discussion.

Too many Salespeople pre-judge leads based on previous experience and stigmas.  That’s a huge mistake to make.  Marketing efforts and dollars have been invested to deliver leads from potential customers.  They deserve the same courtesy as other qualified leads. Considering that your competition might be taking hours or even days to call a lead back, why not be the first Salesperson to establish a trusted relationship?

Sales Lead Protocol for Managers

Web inquiry leads should be routed immediately to a Sales Manager or someone who can ensure that the Manager is aware of a new lead.  The Manager should be the person to make the first call or send the first email back to the contact to quickly establish an immediate response.  Too many companies pass the lead over to a Salesperson without management involvement.  That’s like throwing marketing dollars into the wind with your eyes closed and hoping that some come back to you.

Don’t think that avoiding contact from a Sales Manager makes things more efficient.  As a customer, how would you feel if you received a call or email from a Sales Manager within one hour of filling out a contact from or leaving a message for a call back?

After receiving the inquiry, the Manager now has the opportunity to thank that person for reaching out as well as making a commitment that a Salesperson will respond in no more than one hour.   Leads need to be distributed to Salespeople who are able and willing to engage immediately.  The Sales Manager should also ask the Salesperson to send them an email or text on the status of the account in 24 hours. The Sales Manager should then communicate with the lead the next day to confirm that a Salesperson has been proactive.  While you’re at it, why not find out how long it took for your Salesperson to make contact?

The Sales Manager’s next step is to follow up with the Salesperson on the status of the lead in one week and then again one month later.  Many Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs can be customized to track your response time and success rate with sales leads.  If your company doesn’t have one, create an Excel spreadsheet that tracks the necessary components and update it in your sales meetings.

Does this sound like too much work?

It’s a matter of perception.  As a Salesperson or Sales Manager you need to make sales lead response time a key priority in having first impressions count.   When done properly, there’s a good chance that your new potential customer will not even entertain a competitive quote.  Isn’t that worth the investment?


What do you think?  I’d love to read your comments below.   Please feel free to share this article on your favorite social media platform.  If you’re a smart Salespeople dedicated to developing your skill set check out our book  SHUT UP!  Stop Talking and Start Making Money available on Kindle and paperback on Amazon.  Our online sales training program  The Sales Skills Incubator is a comprehensive 8-hour course with a downloadable workbook for practical implementation in your specific sales role.  Take the free trial on Chapter 1 – The Stigma of Sales.




Dave Warawa – PROSALESGUY