By Andy Paul

For the small or medium-sized business (SMB) every inbound sales lead has the potential to become not only an order, but also to transform itself into a satisfied customer that represents a dependable stream of repeat revenue year after year. Today’s guest blogger, sales expert Andy Paul, shares the essential elements of effective sales lead follow-up.

The primary obstacle that stands between an SMB and converting an inbound sales lead into a repeat customer is the simple act of lead follow-up. On the surface, lead follow up would appear to be quite straightforward but this simple step is fraught with difficulties for most companies. Industry research on sales estimates that roughly 50% of all inbound sales leads are never followed up. And, when the leads are followed up, common mistakes are made that unwittingly doom the SMB to lose the opportunity to convert that lead into an order.

Comprehensive and effective sales lead follow up is a simple step that every SMB can take to build their prospect pipelines and grow sales without increasing headcount.

To develop an effective lead follow up process it is important to first understand what an inbound sales lead is. A sales lead is simply a question. With their inquiry a potential prospect is asking a question(s): What does your product do? How does it do it? Will it do what I need? What does it cost? And the first seller with the answers wins.

Here are the essential steps that every SMB seller should take be the first with the answers and maximize their conversion of inbound sales leads into orders.

1. Follow-up on 100% of Inbound Sales Leads
Every inbound sales lead is like a scratch-off lottery ticket. You don’t know what you have until you scratch the wax off the face of it and see what you have won. How many people buy a lottery ticket and then wait until the next day to see if they have a winner? None. Inbound sales leads should be treated the same way.

What this means is that every sales lead needs to be followed up. Make sure that all inbound sales leads are entered into your CRM system as soon as they are received and that each one is assigned to a salesperson for immediate follow up. Use your CRM system on a daily basis to check and make sure that 100% of your sales leads are being followed up. If you aren’t checking, it isn’t happening.

2. Follow-up all leads in less than 60 minutes
How much time should it take to follow up a lead? Less than you think. Research cited in the Harvard Business Review states that you are 7 times more likely to shows that you are 6 times more likely to qualify a lead if your follow-up occurs in less than an hour from the time the lead is received. Think how many more prospects will move into your pipeline if you respond to 100% of your leads in an hour or less.

Leads have a short shelf-life. Every minute that follow-up is delayed or deferred the value of that lead drops. And if your competitors swoop in to respond while you’re sitting on your hands and provide the prospect with the answers to their question, then you are suddenly fighting for 2nd place.

I worked with one client to streamline their sales lead follow-up process to reduce their response time to inbound sales leads from 24 hours to 30 minutes. The immediate result was more qualified prospects in their pipeline. The longer-term result was a doubling of their sales with the same number of salespeople.

3. Provide Complete Answers Quickly
As discussed above an inbound sales lead is nothing more than a question. Being responsive to a prospect means that you are providing a complete answer to their question(s) in the least time possible. The best way to do this is to position your deepest product knowledge closest to the customer. It is not enough to be the first to respond to the customer. You must also be the first to answer their questions. The first seller to respond to an inbound sales lead with the complete answer in Zero-Time will build trust, credibility and dramatically increase their chances of winning the order.

4. Measure, Improve and Measure Again
You must continually work to improve your sales lead follow up process. As the old saying goes ‘You can’t improve what you don’t measure.’ So keep it simple to start with and measure the following:
a) How many sales leads do you receive each week?
b) How long does it take to respond to each sales lead? (the time between when the lead is received until a sales person talks to them for the first time)
c) What percentage of your inbound sales leads are converted into qualified prospects?
d) What percentage of your inbound sales leads are converted into orders?

Set goals for these metrics and then check each month to see if you are achieving them. If you are, set new more aggressive goals and fine-tune each element of your lead follow up process to achieve the new goal. If you aren’t meeting your goals, examine each element of your process in detail and implement steps you can take to improve it. Then check your performance again in a month.

For the entrepreneur and SMB CEO/manager an effective sales lead follow up process is the easiest way to optimize your ROI on your investment in lead generation. Use these simple steps to make it happen for you.

Andy Paul is an authority on SMB sales and a leading expert on the speed of selling. He is the author of the award-winning book “Zero-Time Selling, 10 Essential Steps To Accelerate Every Company’s Sales.”. For more information, visit his website at Contact Andy at [email protected] or 619-980-4002.