So you got a lead…




What I’d really like you to do now is to stop worrying about having the latest release or modules for your marketing automation platform and work on the human interface.Adam Chapman

There are hundreds of articles, opinion pieces, methodologies and some great advice on how to generate more, or better (hotter) leads. And tons more materials on designing a beautiful sales pipeline and progressing leads through it.

However, where all of this clever thinking falls down is with one simple task. It’s so simple people lose sight of it all the time. And without it, the entire process fails. “What is this simple thing,” I hear you ask?

It’s “Do something with the lead you generate.”  That’s it.  Nothing more than that.

It comes back to something else I say time and time again and occasionally I feel like I’m the only marketing person saying it (except all the other great marketing people who are Citizens of Cortex City!): “If it doesn’t turn the dollar, why the heck are you doing it?

So let’s cut away some of the fluff around these topics and focus. Let’s assume you have effective collateral, some great copywriting, hot lead generation, and a functional sales pipeline.

You’ve spent good marketing money and your time and effort1 on a CRM system, a lead scoring methodology and here it is. A prospect has rung your bell and needs attention.

Now before anyone says “Ah yes, but I have a beautiful marketing automation system that pushes that lead to my inside sales function to qualify and move along the process“, let’s remember that you’ve automated your marketing — not your humans sitting by their phones waiting for beautifully formed leads to come their way.

And sometimes humans are lazy. Or not properly motivated, or incentivised. Sometimes they’ll make a cursory investigation and proclaim the lead isn’t worth their time, or it’s too complex so they make up a reason to dismiss it. Sounds heretical but it’s true.

I’ve seen it happen in the businesses I’ve worked in and I’m betting that you’ve seen it too but couldn’t bring yourself until now to confront it. Why would someone, anyone, waste a perfectly formed, hot lead you’ve generated?

What I’m driving at in this article is that you need to look at the single point of failure we describe above.  That interface – whether it is any of the reasons mentioned or something else – needs addressing or you will lose money where you don’t have to.

Let’s bring some statistics in that will help illustrate the point.  You must work on leads in a timely fashion – and by timely fashion I mean QUICK.

Leads generated, especially those generated online, have a short life.  Here is an extract from a Harvard Business Review article regarding the short shelf life of sales leads generated online2:

“These results are especially shocking given how quickly online leads go cold—a phenomenon we explored in a separate study, which involved 1.25 million sales leads received by 29 B2C and 13 B2B companies in the U.S. Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.”

Time to respond to leads

The research also indicates that many firms are too slow to follow up on these leads.  Harvard audited 2,241 US companies, measuring how long each took to respond to a web-generated test lead.

Although 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.


Figure 1. Chart showing how long companies take to respond to sales leads


Comparison of the tail off of customer response rates

Here’s some primary research into the rapid tail off of customer responses.  It shows how many customers respond to you based on a 1 hour, 24 hour and greater than 24 hour delay.  By ‘customer’ I refer to ‘a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker’ as that’s what we really want.

Before I add the numbers, just take a look at this graphically:


Figure 2.  Graphical representation of difference in time to respond to a lead

Now let’s add the numbers to quantify what’s going on here.  Remember, these figures show the number of potential meaningful conversations with key decision makers, from a total of 1,000 potentials.

Contact within 1 hour = 874
Contact within 24 hours = 125
Contact after 24 hours = 2

See why you need to act now?  Prospects get bored, go off the boil, move on to other things or simply plain forget about you.


This idea came from an enterprising business development executive I used to work with.  They were sick of seeing a lot of marketing leads come in but not having enough sales team members3; to cope with a sudden influx of leads.  They’d hit the same problem I describe above.  In fact, they came to talk to me about this issue when they’d engaged a prospect, but the lead did not remember the action they had taken to qualify themselves as a lead in our database (i.e. did not remember downloading a whitepaper).

My BDE was very clear:  “Based on the notion that a sales lead has a short half-life, we ought to do all we can to make sure that leads are tended to as soon as they are ‘born’.  We need to streamline the leads – ‘leads-line’ if you will.”

Therefore, we started to split the distribution of any outgoing email campaigns into multiple batches, separated by a period of time.

For instance, an email campaign attending to 60,000 prospects would have a running order such as:

Batch A – 15,000 prospects – Monday mailing
Batch B – 15,000 prospects – Wednesday mailing (30,000 cumulative)
Batch C – 15,000 prospects – Friday mailing (45,000 cumulative)
Batch D – 15,000 prospects – Monday (following) mailing (60,000 cumulative)

What this meant was that the same amount of leads were generated, but split up into more manageable chunks. Hence, the bottom of the lead pile was reached faster than if the batch of leads came all in one go; shortening the amount of time between a lead taking a ‘call-to-action’ and a BDE engaging the lead.  This led to increased conversion rates through to the opportunity stage.


In closing…

What I’d really like you to do now is to stop worrying about having the latest release or modules for your marketing automation platform and work on the human interface.  Streamline your campaigns; remove the logjam.  Make sure inside sales are receiving those leads and doing something useful with them pretty damn quick.  And if they’re not – well, that’s a subject for another article on proper incentivisation of staff.


1. And some of your not-yet-gray hairs
3. Having too little resource is not a problem that’s going away anytime soon, in any company.  Yet it’s quite an attractive problem to have in the context shown here.


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