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How to Follow Up on Sales Leads

Many small businesses understand the importance of converting sales leads, but far too often, businesses don’t engage in an effective sales process. A shocking number of businesses fail to even follow up with potential customers who show an interest in their products. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 23% of businesses never followed up with web-generated sales leads. Another 24% took more than 24 hours to follow up with those leads. Nearly 50% of businesses in the study either didn’t follow up with web-generated sales leads or their sales reps took far too long to reach out.

A business offering quality products or services shouldn’t fail because of a flawed sales process. When it comes to following up with sales leads and potential customers, there are a few best practices to follow. We spoke to experienced marketers and salespeople to learn how to follow up on sales leads, and why you should follow up on sales leads to maximize conversions.

Respond to online sales leads promptly.

According to the HBR study, firms that followed up on sales leads within an hour of getting them were seven times as likely to qualify the lead than companies that waited more than an hour. Following up within an hour also made those businesses 60 times more likely to qualify the lead than companies that waited more than 24 hours. Clearly, it pays to respond quickly.

If a customer fills out an online form, there’s a benefit to following up within the first hour. Following up within the first five minutes can be even more valuable. This can be difficult as a small business juggling other responsibilities, but utilizing a live chat solution, in addition to any sales reps you employ, can be a cost-effective way to quickly respond to leads and convert potential customers into paying customers.

“If it’s an inbound lead, [follow up] as quickly as humanly possible,” said James Pollard, founder of The Advisor Coach. “Preferably within five minutes. If it’s a prospect you’ve sourced yourself, follow up every few days and then if [they] don’t respond, every few weeks until you clean out your pipeline.”

As Pollard mentions, the timing for following up with someone who filled out an online form is different than following up with someone you’ve met with in person. Let’s say you own a local sandwich shop and someone messages you on social media at 10 a.m. asking if you have gluten-free bread, because they want to come in for lunch today but have a gluten allergy. Responding in the next one to two hours is critical. If someone messages you at 10 a.m. saying they run a catering business and would be interested in partnering with your organization, timeliness is slightly less pivotal.

The same concept applies if you’re a B2B company, like a digital marketing agency. It’s important to quickly respond to those contacting who first contact you through an online form or email, but it’s OK to allow a little bit of time to pass when responding to a client you may have met with in-person or over the phone. If you’re following up to online sales leads and not hearing back, however, continue following up at regular intervals.

“After your initial 24-hour response, you want to have additional contact within five days,” said Emily Carlson, marketing lead at Rantizo. “From there, you should have a pretty good idea of timeline. If you do not hear back, follow up in a week. After that, follow up in two weeks. From there, a month. After that, I would just add them to the cold leads list and continue to market in ways to stay in front of them. You’d be surprised how many people come back around one to two years later.”

Carlson specified that this comes from the perspective of businesses with a two to six-month sales cycle. She also mentioned that follow-up times vary depending on different sales cycles. While the timing of following up differs depending on your company, it’s important to have a plan in place for following up with interested customers. In addition to timing, the messaging in follow-ups should change if you aren’t getting responses.

“Most people who follow up use the same medium and the same message each time,” said Pollard. “You want to switch both of them up because if the prospect didn’t respond to one medium or message, you can try again with something different.”

Personalize your sales communication.

Take the time to cater your messaging to qualified leads whenever possible. It’s important to value customers and try to offer them the best solution possible in a timely manner. For larger sales and important contacts, it’s always a good idea to meet with them in-person or to reach out over the phone.

“While we live in a passive world of email communication and digital notifications, nothing beats the effectiveness of an actual conversation with a lead,” said Glen Panarese, digital marketing consultant for Living Online. “Whether or not this is in-person, or via a phone call, discussions open up the potential to forge a relationship of trust, integrity and likeability, which is essential to the conversion process. In-person meetings are the most ideal way of following up, and in many cases, will act as a great gage of potential conversion.”

By personalizing messaging and taking time out of your day to jump on phone calls or meet in-person, you make it clear that you care about the needs of your customers. Panarese also recommends using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to interact with customers and speak with leads. In addition to social media, text message marketing has gained popularity in recent years and was another suggested medium by Panarese.

Regardless of your medium, try to have a conversation with potential customers. Having conversations, rather than immediately trying to sell something, is a good way to increase your conversion rate. Understand the needs of your potential customer before offering a solution. Personalized communication is a good way to get to the bottom of a customer’s needs.

Simplify your messaging.

In addition to personalizing your communication and making time to meet with prospective customers, you want simple messaging. Your sales pitch should be easy to understand, and marketing language shouldn’t overwhelm customers. According to research from Boomerang, emails written at a third-grade reading level were more likely to receive replies than emails written at a college reading level. Simplify your language to get more engagement on sales emails and any written marketing materials.

Simplicity should be valued when creating email subject lines as well. Boomerang found that email subject lines in all caps were commonly marked as spam, and subject lines that were three to four words in length generated more responses than other lengths.

“Following up with leads is key since many people intend to respond but lose your email in their inbox as more flood in, and they forget and simply never do, said Stacy Caprio, search marketing manager at TimePayment Corp. “The key is to get creative with your subject lines so they are more likely to click and take a look at your follow up message.”

Crafting simple and creative messaging is easier said than done, but it is an important part of effective online selling. Aim to create written copy that is simple but still drives your point home in a way that engages potential customers. Get creative in terms of content but keep wording simple.

Find the right times to follow up.

Don’t overwhelm potential customers with follow-ups. There’s a fine line between being persistent and being overly pushy. Find that happy medium, which might vary with each client, to better serve your customers.

“Be considerate with your leads and don’t spam them and text them at all times of the day,” said Jared Weitz, CEO and founder of United Capital Source. “If you have made contact online, communicate via email to start and include them in any informational content that you send out. A good rule of thumb is to email once a week, offer a phone call monthly and depending on the business investment, host a face-to-face meeting a few times a year.”

Your business might follow a different plan than what Weitz recommends, but the concept carries weight. You should maintain regular contact with clients and sales leads. You may reach out to cold leads less frequently than warm leads, but a key to the sales process is remaining persistent. Staying in the minds of potential customers requires frequent communication.

When it comes to converting on lead generation through a better follow-up system, the goal is to create great communication. This means following up promptly, personalizing communication to each customer, simplifying your messaging and following up the proper amount. No company will ever have a perfect sales process, but following best practices will help you convert more leads.

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