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