Mastering sales lead response time

Your lead response time can make or break a sale. See how you can improve your lead response time with the 5 minute rule to close the deal.

Kraig Swensrud
Kraig Swensrud
April 17, 2019
min read
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If you’re in B2B marketing or inside sales, there’s a good chance you spend a good chunk of your day thinking about pipeline.  How much pipeline did we generate this month? Do we have the pipeline-to-sales coverage ratio we need hit our targets? And where are we going to find more pipeline next month?

It’s no secret, we all know generating qualified pipeline for sales is one of the most challenging tasks faced by modern B2B marketers, and it’s the reason that digital B2B Ad spending continues to increase at a rate north of 18% year over year to more than $6B in the US alone in 2019

US B2B Digital Ad Spending 2015-2019
Source: eMarketer

B2B marketers will spend their ad budgets and do everything possible to target the most qualified buyers, and convert those ads into clicks.  They’ll use all of the standard marketing channels like Google Adwords, LinkedIn, email marketing and ABM strategies. They’ll use traditional media channels like billboards, radio ads, and even experiment with new media like video spots on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

Why is Lead Response Time Important?

Timing is everything in sales. With so many marketing campaigns targeting your same customers- getting to your customer first could be the difference between a lost lead and a sale. The faster your sales team is at responding to qualified leads, the more likely the sale. Unfortunately, many businesses wait too long to engage their qualified leads. So how does one improve their speed to lead time?

The Goal: Turn targeted ads into clicks and conversions

After designing all of the creative, writing all of the copy, and spending all of the money to get these campaigns into market, there will be one goal.  Get a prospect to click, and drive them to your marketing site or landing pages where they can learn more about what you do.  Across all of these programs, the average cost to have a lead arrive on your website is $68 (source: Integrated Marketing Association, 2018).

Once they’re on your site you’ll probably present them with lots of offers and show them lots of forms in an effort to turn an anonymous visitors into leads for your sales team.

But there’s already a few problems.  Not every qualified lead that you have targeted with your advertising wants to fill out your forms, so potentially, you lose out on these leads forever.  Studies show that only 5% of the qualified visitors from your ad campaigns will ever fill out a lead capture form.  And of the ones that do, the form completion ends with a message that always says something like “Thanks, we’ll get back to you shortly.”

The traditional B2B marketing process of lead capture
The traditional B2B marketing process of lead capture

Wait a minute, you’ll get back to me shortly?

You heard it right.  Your marketing campaigns attracted qualified prospects to the tune of $68/visitor, most of them never filled out your forms, and of the ones that do you tell them “We’ll get back to you shortly” and send them away to research your competition?

Seems counter-intuitive, but for some reason it feels normal for B2B companies to treat buyers this way. But this isn’t how companies treat buyers in the real world.  Imagine you walked into an Apple Store prepared to embark on your journey to buy $40,000 worth of technology for your business.  But instead of being greeted by friendly sales associates who are there help you understand the products, specs, and pricing...what if instead you were blocked at the door by a bouncer who made you fill out a form and then said “thanks, we’ll be in touch shortly.”  Shocking, right?  We’ll that’s exactly what B2B companies have been doing to their prospects for more than a decade.

After the form, how fast does your sales team respond?

A widely cited study by the Harvard Business Review research team tested the response time of 2,241 B2B sales teams after a prospect completed a lead capture form.  The most surprising statistic from the study was that the average B2B lead response time was 42 hours.  

5 minute rules for sales lead response time

So it takes 42 hours to respond, what’s the problem?

The problem with slow sales lead response time is that buyers are busy and move onto other things, like other meetings and the rest of their life.  Or even worse, they move onto your competitors website and start researching them instead.  When you sales team finally responds (usually over email), it takes an average of 4.3 days of back-and-forth emails and voicemails just to get to a first meeting.  Even worse, 38% of qualified leads that your sales team responds to never reply, they just ghost you completely.

38% of qualified leads never respond after they fill out a form on your website

A slow response time means every one loses

A slow leads response time ultimately means that leads and meetings that could result in qualified pipeline just evaporate from your funnel, and evaporate from top line revenue number for your business.  

On a personal level, your marketers lose because they are spending money to buy highly targeted clicks that often never result in form completes (leads) at all. Your buyers lose because at the moment they were ready to engage with your sales team, no one was there to talk to them. Your sales team loses because they spend days trying to chase down leads and more than a third of those leads never respond.

So if this is the process that your B2B demand generation team has in place today, how do you maximize pipeline and revenue? How quickly should you respond to a lead?

The Five Minute Rule: Data shows the importance of speed

A study by (and sponsored by found something remarkable.  Since coined as “The Five Minute Rule,” the study showed that when B2B sales teams respond to leads in under 5 minutes, their chances of engagement and conversion of leads into pipeline skyrocket.

The 5 Minute Rule: Data shows the importance of "speed to lead"

But, going back the the HBR study cited at the beginning of this post, 74% of sales teams can’t meet this goal.  The result for those teams is that leads evaporate and meetings get delayed or never scheduled, resulting in a dramatic decrease of pipeline and revenue.

Strategies for sales lead response time success

There are a few things any B2B demand generation team can do to increase their lead conversion and pipeline metrics, both centered on they key metric that matters: speed. There are many strategies available to stay innovative in sales. Here are a few of our favorites.

(1) Make the 5-Minute Rule part of your sales team DNA  

Almost all B2B organizations have a function called a sales-development representative, whose job function is to manage all qualified inbound lead responses.  

Shahan Parshad, the VP of Sales Development at Salesforce preaches to his team the importance of speed, and the term “speed to lead” is part of the DNA of his organization.  Shahan even presents what he calls “the fundamental theorem of SDRs” where he explains how speed to respond, speed to engagement, and speed to meeting are the 3 most important elements required to maximize pipeline

(2) Explore Conversational Marketing for Qualified inbound lead response

So, wondering how to get quick lead response? Five minutes is a great goal, but how about zero minute response time?  Conversational marketing is a next generation marketing technology and the concept is simple. Instead of making your prospects fill out forms, start having conversations in real-time with your qualified buyers, over chat, voice and screen sharing, right on your website. And if making changes to your demand gen process seems like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Your sales team will be fighting to have these conversations because they know instant meetings result in conversions.

Conversational marketing is the rare opportunity for your company to completely change the game on how you interact and engage with qualified prospects.  Your buyers will be thrilled about the new experience and your business will feel the impact on the metrics that matter most, pipeline and revenue. Using the Qualified platform, you can make lead response instantaneous, growing your pipeline instantly by integrating chatbots on your site that directly connect to your sales team.

(3) How fast does your sales team respond?

If you’re curious, we’ll run an undercover buyer test for you and let you know the results. Use our free Test My Response Time tool and see how you stack up to the rest of the industry. See how you can double your pipeline with Qualified.

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