“Is there such a thing as following up too fast? No, only too slow.”
This sentiment on lead follow-up time, articulated by Manny Oliverez, CEO of Capture Billing and Consulting, is familiar among executives and sales managers; consider the ever-expanding range of software applications that help automate, schedule, and follow-up digitally with leads for insight into market demand.
But what is this automation costing your business in terms of lead conversion? Is it possible there is such a thing as following up too quickly?
Over the last decade, sociologists, psychologists, and business owners around the world have grappled with a growing problem, labelled Consumer Deficit Attention Syndrome (CADS). CADS represents the difficulty businesses face penetrating overly saturated markets and connecting with consumer groups who have come to expect instantaneous results. Michael Helfand, founder of findgreatlawyers.com, puts it simply, “If you don’t get to [the prospects] ASAP, they will find someone else.”
His advice echoes recent research on lead qualification: a 2010 study led by Dr. James Oldroyd at the SKK School of Business and co-sponsored by David Elkington of InsideSales concluded that companies that follow up on web-generated prospects within one hour of lead creation are 32 times more successful in qualifying than those who waited 24 hours to follow-up. The data also suggest that following up five minutes after lead generation was 7.8 times more likely to yield a qualification than following up 30 minutes after the lead generation.
In short, Dr. Oldroyd’s team has validated what many sales teams now already know: qualifying leads, let alone closing sales, can be a matter of seconds.
Automated and Fast … and Alienating?
It is no surprise that businesses rely on automated response applications to qualify leads: all you need to do is set up the auto-responder message sequence, organize incoming prospect contact information, and decide at what interval you want to touch the prospect. But Oldroyd’s research has also shown that prospects don’t respond to immediate, automated follow-ups to web-generated leads, in spite of what CADS, basic common sense, and the research team’s own article title would tell us.
The study concluded that, for B2B leads, an email-only response sent immediately after lead creation yielded just a 25% qualification rate; an immediate phone follow-up yielded a 50% qualification rate. Email responses that were closely followed by a phone call fared even worse with a 12% qualification rate immediately after lead creation. In the study analysis, the research team posited that, “Emailing first, then following with phone contact, loses effectiveness almost immediately. Phone contact allows a bit more time in following up and shows more receptiveness while initial email contact is a turn off.”
As Oliverez of Capture Billing and Consulting, lamented, “People are used to getting an automated email after filling out a form. Those are [now] basically instantaneous.”
Not All Fast Follow-ups Are Created Equal
When web-generated leads are such an integral part of the modern sales funnel (accounting for 40% or more in some industries), how can you create a 24-hour strategy for personalizing follow-up in a matter of seconds when you are a small shop?
Looking at automation differently can help. Mr. Oliverez recently dismantled his classic automated follow-up touch system in favor of a new kind of automation: his site is now programmed to deliver contact information directly to Mr. Oliverez’s phone as soon as individuals complete the web form.
“It’s a plugin and a free service for my WordPress site. As soon as I get [the information] I can basically touch the phone number in the text as I read the text to call them back. This way, while they are still on my website they get my call. The response is usually ‘Wow!’”
Another tip is to find a way to come across as relatable and human through automation. IT Consultant Tom Buck uses a short, standard follow-up message of “Sorry, I’m away right now, can I get back to you properly in a couple of hours?” to personalize the follow-up touch by sounding both familiar and respectful of the prospect’s time and needs. Mr. Buck reports that potential clients “love” this response and has contributed to his competitive differentiation.
The challenge with both Mr. Oliverez’s strategy and Mr. Buck’s strategy is the amount of constant vigilance required to maintain them; if Mr. Oliverez is unable to call immediately, or Mr. Buck can’t respond properly in a few hours, the leads – according to the research – go cold.
But the research can only show us trends and likely outcomes. What has your experience been? Has automation hurt or helped your qualification rate? Have you found speed more important than response content or personal impact?