When to Contact a Lead (Hint: Earlier Than You Think)

check-timeEngage your leads early in meaningful dialogue to improve your chances of conversion.

Your strategic marketing plan is generating a steady influx of quality leads, so closing sales should be easy, right? Only if you are contacting your leads early enough in the sales cycle.

Leads become sale opportunities if they are approached like a garden. Care is needed from the start to cultivate and produce the desired results. So, when is the perfect time to begin nurturing leads? It is earlier than you might think.

When a potential customer first shows interest in a blog post, opens an email, or shares your company’s post on social media, this is the first point of positive contact. You needs to keep that contact going and develop it into a conversation. And we are not talking about starting out with a sales pitch, either. Leads become sales when they are cultivated and grown like a trusted relationship — and the earlier after first contact the better.

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, most companies are not responding nearly fast enough to their sales leads. The authors audited more than 2,200 businesses and measured their response time to web-generated leads. While only about a third (37%) responded within an hour, the average first response time was 42 hours. Surprisingly, 23% of companies never responded.

Google and Corporate Executive Board’s white paper on lead follow-up offers some insight on why quick responses are so important. For one, a reported 35% to 50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first. That is largely because today’s B2B customers are nearly 60% through the sales process before they first engage a sales rep. By the time you hear from them, they are close to buying and want answers in a timely fashion to make their decision.

So, how fast of a response is ideal? A study conducted by Franklin Covey found that contact ratios improve 900% if web leads had some form of contact by the company within five minutes of submission. Now, it is probably not possible for your sales team to act upon every lead with that kind of velocity, but it is vital that they utilize proactive sales strategies, rather than reactive.

Reactive is leaving a message and, if they hear back, responding to it. Proactive is going after the sale with confidence and commitment to engaging the lead in real dialogue.

Early dialogue: What it is, and what it’s not

Early on in the sales cycle, you are not pushing to close the sale, but rather you are building a relationship through conversations. You are creating dialogue, not a sales monologue. Be there first, be relevant, and be action-oriented, and your customers will rely on your solutions more often.

You begin this dialogue by asking great, open-ended questions, essentially taking the time to get to know the potential customer. This helps you determine what will best suit this prospect’s needs, and it builds confidence and trust and will very often help the prospect consider issues they may never have thought of.

When you get that potential customer thinking outside the boundaries of their initial issue, it provides a bigger opportunity for you to showcase how your services or products can solve several of the customer’s dilemmas. It is also important to consider your products or services in terms of how they benefit the customer; your presentation will then be customer-focused, and that builds trust and respect in the relationship.

There many moving parts to an effective lead-nurturing campaign, and often there are many steps required to cultivate those leads into sales. From the start of the sales cycle, your company should:

  1. Take the time to discover and understand the potential customer’s needs and wants first, then advise and offer information. Make the move to match and sell the appropriate solution your company can offer.
  2. Have the ability to listen and offer viable solutions. Your sales team needs to be well informed about the products, services, and solutions that they are selling.
  3. Your sales team must be able to follow up quickly, consistently, and with an open dialogue to turn leads into customers.

Studies show that the faster you begin dialogue with a lead, the better your chances of conversion into a sale. This means that when cultivating a qualified lead, you don’t want your sales reps to make one phone call and simply leave a voicemail.  You want real conversations to happen. If you don’t, your lead-generation efforts were for naught.

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