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The Right Way to Follow Up on Inbound Leads

Since the dawn of inbound marketing, let's call it the early 2000s, best practice for lead handling has been to follow-up an inbound lead within five minutes (or as quickly as possible) because it maximized the odds catching someone live, qualifying the lead and making a sale. 

We can thank for the detailed studies that documented the value of this near instant follow-up, sharing it with all of us in sales and marketing, the creation of billions of revenue and ultimately the demise of the value of the tactic.

Best Practice for Lead Response Management by

It does still work for the hand-raisers. When a prospect wants to talk to a salesperson, they are impressed by and value a speedy follow up.

But if they just downloaded a white paper, it’s ridiculous to think that after five minutes they’ve had time to read it. And given the mechanical and uninformed nature of the follow-up than most often ensues, form-fillers' defense mechanisms have adapted; blipping your calls to voicemail is a price they're willing to pay to get the document, and unsubscribing runs rampant, reducing the value of the contact information to your marketing team.

If you do reach a form-filler live, it leads to awkward objections right up front.

“I just downloaded it—I haven’t had a chance to read it yet!”

As this practice has become more commonplace, prospects have become more hesitant to download anything, especially when they’re in the early stages of researching potential solutions and not ready to talk to a salesperson. It's a vicious, not virtuous cycle.

The days of “speed to lead” are over.

Sales managers who still insist on this practice are doing a disservice to their prospects (who are being conditioned to stop downloading stuff) and to the sales development reps (SDRs) who cringe when they have to answer these blatantly obvious objections.

That also puts more pressure on marketing to convert anonymous traffic into leads—they have to ensure that they’re feeding more relevant content until the target is sales ready.

You’re probably starting to notice some “no form fill required” statements added to submit buttons or as assurance you won’t be harassed after links within marketing emails. It’s a direct result of too-aggressive sales processes.

So, unless the lead is a “hand-raiser” (they’ve filled out the contact us form and asked for a demo or to speak with someone) abandon the five-minute rule and use this process (and your head) when reaching out to inbound leads.

Target the company, not the individual

When you get an inbound lead, your first instinct is likely to fly directly to Linkedin, look her up, and see what kind of power she has.

Has long has she been in the company?

What is her title?

And after you’ve got some information, you can’t wait to pounce on that inbound lead.

You call (and email) saying how happy you are to help!

  • What drove you to our website?
  • Why did you download that white paper?
  • What did you learn? What didn’t you learn?

In a recent webinar, sales trainer and entrepreneur M. Jeffrey Hoffman recommended taking that process and retiring it in favor of treating inbound leads in the larger perspective of the company reaching out, and not simply responding to the individual.

For example, if Linda from Intel downloads your white paper, your lead is not Linda. It’s Intel. Instead, Hoffman suggests that you wait a half day before calling the lead.

If it comes in in the afternoon, call the next morning--any quicker, and you’re showing desperation, or that you’re not busy.

In the meantime, get curious as about why that company might be interested in your content and start researching news, other titles, social shares and buying triggers.

“If I get that lead from Linda in the morning, I’m spending all morning [researching] Intel, and less on Linda. [That way,] when I reach out, I get to say, ‘I know you downloaded that white paper, you got a bunch of questions, I’m the Intel rep, happy to help. You know it’s funny, I left about a dozen voicemails this morning to a bunch of folks in your engineering team before I reached out to you.

“Do you know Stan or Bob?’

I’m going to do all my referral grabbing before I answer a single question about that white paper. That gives you a high level of authority and helps you maneuver around Linda if you need to,” he says.

Find reasons to reach out to people other than the inbound lead so you can socially surround them. That way, if you can connect with others in the account, you can find out what’s going on behind the scenes, and then when you do talk to the inbound lead, you can reference the conversations you’ve had.

“I’m going to go at every route I can, except for Linda for a couple of hours. Maybe I get a call back, maybe not--It doesn’t matter. And if I do get a call back, I can reference that Linda downloaded a white paper and ask, ‘do you know her?’” He says.

What about the hand-raisers?

According to Hoffman, this process also applies to hand raisers—people that have specifically asked for a demo or consultation.

I know—it’s difficult to wait when you’ve got a hot one on the line.

But waiting half a day isn’t going to kill the deal, and it will be way more impactful if you’ve done some research before reaching out.

They’re going to be far more impressed with your preparedness as opposed to the speed of response. If it’s not a hand-raiser, and you have a mandate to follow up within five minutes, don’t reference the downloaded content.

That way, it’s like a big coincidence and much easier to lead to the next level of conversation.

Inbound for account selection

This process is closer to account-based marketing (ABM) strategies anyway, where you’re treating the inbound lead as providing some sales intelligence and revealing buyer intent (this assumes that your content is addressing a business problem common among your prospects).

Treating inbound leads this way will also help you gain better engagement with the inbound lead in the first place.

In other words, when you talk to them, you can reference others in the company you’ve talked to and the research you’ve done.

That will definitely increase the likelihood that you’ll get engagement, and that’s what we ultimately want.

So, the next time you get an inbound lead, try this approach and test it out.

I think you’ll find a greater level of engagement over time--at least enough to take to sales leadership and suggest a better process.

Wondering if your website can generate more leads for sales to engage with? Check out our inbound lead gen self assessment. It's a great resource (and I guarantee you we won't call right away).

Get Inbound Lead Gen Self Assessment

Author's note: If you’re in sales, I recommend signing up for M. Jeffrey Hoffman’s free weekly webinar series Tuesday’s with Hoffman. I personally have found sales gold every week and never miss.

Editor's note: Our own handling inbound leads playbook is going to be taken down from the website and updated as it relies, in part, on the quick call to qualify research cited above.

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