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Who’d have thought this little fellar could cause so many problems (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read an interesting article today in Forbes magazine. It states that an astonishing 71% of incoming website leads are wasted.


Really? According to the research quoted in the article its true. Further in-house research conducted by, the company quoted in the article, indicated that its only 27% of leads that were ever contacted.

And interestingly  if you want to qualify a lead or importantly, make an appointment, 8 – 9am and 4 – 5pm were the best times to do so. 1 -2pm the worst.

The most interesting data related to the speed with which the company responded to leads.

Its not how, its how fast

The odds of contacting the lead fall 10 times in the first hour, and the odds of qualifying the lead fall 6 times in the first hour. After 20 hours, every call your sales people make actually hurts your chances of contacting the lead.

The odds of contacting the lead are 100 times higher if you call within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes. The odds of qualifying a lead are 21 times higher, again in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes

It seems when called back immediately the sales person knows where the lead is, which helps. And when they call back immediately the company you have contacted are still on your mind. Both reasons drive effectiveness.

And of course, the WOW effect of calling people back minutes after they submit a lead can’t be under estimated.

Now I started to wonder how this sort of data applies to traditional incoming leads? If this data is about properly tracked leads that are recorded on website forms, what hope is there that a non computerised lead system, or a CRM that doesn’t work properly, will get a response quickly?

Traditional leads 

I regularly had to deal with sales people who had not called a lead back. It was not unusual to have to deal with complaints from potential clients that had waited a week or more. There are always great excuses as to why the sales person hasn’t called the client back, but I can’t help thinking it’s almost an unforgivable sin on the sellers part.

I could deal with a delay of a half a day maybe, if someone was tied up in meetings, but these days, with customers expectations being where they are then even that is pushing it.

How many of your sales people leave it a day or more to get back to your leads? Or if you are a sales person, how many times have you left leads wither yourself? It’s far to often, and much more prevalent than you might think.

At the very least an incoming lead should have an immediate call to thank the client for the interest and gain a few more details – In other words, qualify the lead before its gets to the sales person. Its basic customer service surely?

How would you feel as a potential client of a business if they took a day or more to get back to you? Rightly annoyed I suspect. I have a lot of sympathy for sales people, given how hard their jobs can be. But that sympathy wears thin when you find out they aren’t calling leads back.

Even the most obviously useless lead deserves the common courtesy of a prompt call back. Even if it is just to tell them that they can’t afford your businesses product or service.

A true story (It happened to me) 

If you think I am exaggerating this issue, check this out. True story.

Recently, I’ve been looking at new cars. A company car I’ve discovered, is not something that most car sales people are interested in dealing with.

In the last 2 months I have contacted 3 main dealers. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. A few years back I had precisely the same experience with a Jaguar dealer.

Audi were excellent. I called in on a Sunday and as was promised, was called back Monday morning and I have since had a number of test drives in various cars as they helped me find the right car. Thanks here due to Gareth at Cardiff Audi.

Mercedes were a different story. The same Sunday visit, and promise to call me back the next day was proved to be unreliable as days went by without a call.

I finally gave in and called them, already annoyed, only to have a receptionist (who was lovely) bat me back and forth on the telephone as she obviously tried to put me through to a sales person.

Who does the selling anyway?

Three times she returned to me off hold, when I was expecting the sales person, to ask another qualifying question. The first ‘Is it a company car or personal car’ the second ‘can you chose who you buy it off?’ the third ‘when are you looking to buy?’ are all sensible qualifying questions. Ones I would have comfortably answered had they been asked in conversation with the sales person.

But when its the poor receptionist doing the asking, and obviously at the behest of the sales person the other end of the phone, it’s a little much.

Especially when an immediate call back was promised and once again days went by without a peep. Shocking service.

Eventually, after a call to the marketing director, a lovely helpful lady called me and sorted the test drive out. She was great, but honestly, was it too little too late?

And BMW? They still haven’t come back to me! Especially annoying as I have driven 3 BMWs in the last 12 years.

The lesson

So make sure you know that your sales people are getting back to your incoming leads, and getting back quickly.

The upshot of all that research we spoke about was that it makes good business sense to call a customer straight back and deal with their enquiry immediately.

Who have thunk it?

What do you think? Do you have horror stories of waiting for that call back  Can you beat my 2 month wait for BMW? (Actually, Jaguar still havent called me back and that was 4 years ago!)

If you are a sales person what do you think? How do you handle incoming leads? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email on [email protected]

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22 replies
  1. TheJackB
    TheJackB says:

    If you want my business you will do me the courtesy of responding in a timely fashion. It is simply unacceptable now to wait more than a day and that is really pushing it.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      I agree. The car dealers particularly get away with murders, as there is no where else to get these cars from. In the world of B2B its almost fatal to leave people wait for that length of time
      Thanks for stopping by! Great to see you here

  2. lee
    lee says:

    Very interesting piece and just backs up what we have always thought. We aim to call our customers back within 2 hours of initial call or at a specific convenient time if they have requested that. It still shocks me just how surprised some people are when the actually receive a call back….its almost like they weren’t really expecting one.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      It’s amazed me just how many people have had similar experiences Lee, so I’m not surprised you’ve found that is the case at all
      And good work on the two hour call back! Impressive stuff

  3. Donn King
    Donn King says:

    Great data to back up the idea! I wonder, in practical terms, when you’re the salesperson, how do you deal with this necessity in balance with all the other required activities of the day? Time management folks often recommend that you sequester responding to email and phone calls to just a couple of specific times during the day in order to not be too fragmented to be effective. Does this counter that? Or does it supplement it? (E.g., have your two times during the day–just make certain returning calls to customers and clients come before anything else.)

    I work with people who want to develop top-notch communication skills, and it strikes me that this communication skill you’re talking about isn’t so much skill as it is awareness, and acting on that awareness. After all, it sounds like the folks who didn’t call back weren’t too busy–they just weren’t interested. Does that sound right?


    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      It sounds absolutely right there Donn. Not sure why though? There is a disinterest, or a cynicism of course, but whats at the heart of it?
      They don’t know how to do it? Or they don’t think its important maybe?
      Training or management issues perhaps?

  4. Pual Seligman
    Pual Seligman says:

    There area a number of transactions in life that i will go to considerable lengths to avoid because the selection and buying process is so painful. Fortunately most things can now be researched and bought on-line. Others, like shoes and clothes often need to be looked at or tried on, but you don’t expect (these days) any service or advice at all except for someone to take your money. “If it’s not on the shelf we haven’t got it” is a standard response.

    But some large purchases, like cars and houses, usually demand in-person contact with a sales person or intermediary, and they are mostly nightmares. Car dealers immediately insult me by asking how I am going to pay for the product etc. I usally just tell them what they want to hear, I can change my mind later. I know most (all?) of them will lie to me, so it’s a fair response.

    My partner recently wanted to find a suitable venue for a special commemmoration next year.This will be a large outlay. She visited three venues. One was attentive, but cost several times over her budget. One was simply rude. Left her hanging around for long periods, during which the receptionist tried in vain to find somone to take an interest. In the end she walked out. The third was friendfy and helpful. Guess which she chose.

    These are supposed to be hard times, you’d think they’d want your business, as you say.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks for the comment Paul. It seems stories like yours and mine are all too common. Why though?
      Is it that the sales and service industries cant attract the right people? Or are they badly managed or rewarded?
      Or maybe a combination of all of those things?

  5. Amanda Beynon
    Amanda Beynon says:

    If I give out a lead I leave the email or reminder in my inbox and keep asking if the customer has been called. Only when it’s been actioned do i delete the email. This comes from someone who sends themselves emails they see online of an evening (Yes i need a more exciting life!). My blood pressure stays high until I know it’s been done especially if I think it’s a goody-All the best Amanda

      • Valerie Markwick
        Valerie Markwick says:

        As a Learning and Development Consultant I agree with Donn King as most prospective clients will ask me to deliver training in for example ‘Communication Skills’ and think that this will answer all their prayers. As Donn says, it is an awareness which should come from Leadership; be part of the recruitment process and certainly in many cases, a change in attitude which is very hard to achieve!
        My view for organisations who are in the ‘service’ industry, as most of us are these days, it is all about ‘liking’ people and wanting to perform your best and always meet their requirements, and if employees do not ‘like’ people and have the right person skills already, you are on a losing side of the game.
        I have had so many similar car stories that I could relate – including a salesperson asking me if I was paying for the car or did I have a husband!!

  6. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    Oh Valerie! I dont know how you keep your cool in a situation like that?
    It amazes me, and I think you Paul and Donn have insight to offer here.
    The issue perhaps is not a training or management one? Perhaps a recruitment issue all along?

  7. Lynne Cartwright
    Lynne Cartwright says:

    Hi Tony,

    A couple of thoughts spring to mind:

    1) Recruitment issue – could well be, yes; but given that we can’t yet filter with 100% accuracy to get the right people up front every time, maybe an alternative line of thought is around motivation. If you’ve hired that slightly-less-than-perfectly-inclined person, how can you best motivate them to respond to every lead in good time? Performance-related pay? – making a percentage contingent on, say, i) responding to every lead within a specified timeframe; & ii) achieving an X% customer satisfaction score on the question that said “Were you satisfied with the timescale [or generically, ‘way’, I suppose] in which you were responded to?” each month…? Those who failed to meet the benchmarks would lose some cash. But rather than allowing that money to hit the bottom line (creating cynicism in your salesforce), what if you used it as a bonus fund to reward the better performers on these specific things? “The fixed total pot is there for you, folks – and your objectives are really clear; your relative behaviour dictates how it is distributed amongst you. If one of you can do it, all of you can…” kind of message. This is all assuming that the company really does want the business, and that senior management do believe that lead response times are a success factor.

    2) …. But then, you also said: “make sure you know that your sales people are getting back to your incoming leads, and getting back quickly”. This reminded me of something I saw in the press a couple of months ago – “gamification” – What if not only senior management knew – but everyone knew? – even the customers on site? Imagine a big CRM screen up on the showroom wall… “Brian – please call Mr Jackson, who has been waiting for 4.5 hours – 30 minutes remaining….” If Brian makes the call within the time, he banks a gold star and the task falls off the screen. If he doesn’t, he ‘loses a life’ somehow – with whatever consequence you want: maybe pay-related, maybe not. It might be enough just to have that competitive environment. Maybe the person that has the lowest average waiting time per lead showing on the board, at the end of the month, “wins”. In a car showroom, that might mean getting to take the sporty little number in the corner home for the weekend. Combine all that with a company policy that says “Receptionists are not salespeople – if someone calls in and wants to talk about buying a widget, they get to speak to a widget salesperson”, and clear job specs – and maybe some scenario-based, multiple choice e-training for new joiners to reinforce the principles – and it might make a difference. Whether senior managers will implement something like that comes back to whether they believe that it’s a critical success factor, though.

    Whisky in the cupboard tonight, believe it or not – home-made-heavy-on-the-brandy-mince-pies this time.

    Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year to you,


    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Wow Lynne! What a great comment. There are some terrific ideas in there.
      I especially like the gamificiation of the process too. Ive looked into this a lot, and I think there is a real possibility of a real world solution to this issue in there somewhere.
      I will challenge the recruitment v. motivation / incentive point you make though. Incentives will only go so far. Get the recruitment right and you are onto a winner without having to incentivise.
      Its extremely difficult to motivate someone that simply doesnt want to do it, and further, we are realising that these type of contingent motivators are very limited anyway
      See anything by Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation, or read this post
      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Donn King
        Donn King says:

        Love the discussion! I’ve been holding back just because of limited time because of the holidays, but I’m loving the insights.
        My initial reaction to the “is it recruitment or management?” thread was yes and no. Yes, to a great degree it’s a matter of finding the right people. No, in that it seems to be a widespread cultural thing. My own middle daughter got caught in this, thinking that once she got a job, it somehow belonged to her. The idea that the job belongs to the employer, when brought up, brings up all kinds of class warfare responses, but I continue to press it not to “side” with the employer, but to work to the benefit of the employee. Tom Peters espouses similar ideas in books like “Brand You 50”–the idea that employees are likelier to do well in the current and foreseeable economy by thinking like a solopreneur.
        Some of my colleagues in education believe the workplace will have to change to accommodate the attitudes of the current generation, but I tend to think the current generation (and I realize that’s a huge generalization) will either adapt to the realities of the marketplace, or they and the entire society will suffer. Economics will no more yield to our wishes than will the weather.
        The good news for employees and solopreneurs is that standing out isn’t so hard under those conditions! Amen to the “anything by Dan Pink” comment. Scott McKain’s story of Taxi Terry supports this as well.

  8. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    Quite true Donn, I’d no idea I’d be spending part of my Christmas Eve night dipping into a full blown marketing discussion on my very own blog, but I love it! Thanks for the continued input…
    Ive often thought about this idea of the ‘next generation’ and there differing attitudes shall we say? I think its a fascinating debate. Some, as you suggested there believe that the people in that generation (gross generalisation Id agree) will ‘shape up’ as it were, but others, and others I really respect, believe that the always on, want it now, and get it for little effort of todays internet powered economy has changed the way things are hard wired around here.
    I’m not sure of the answers, but Im looking forward to finding out what happens!
    I can also report huge beenfits from implementing the thinking around Dan Pink’s ‘Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose’ – fabulous ideas
    thanks again

  9. Lynne Cartwright
    Lynne Cartwright says:

    Hi Tony,

    Just emerged from Christmas et al 🙂

    I watched the video you posted at – I love it! – but… I am now going to be pedantic and irritating. I quote, ref. 6m 20 seconds-ish – “Because when the tacks are out of the box, it’s pretty easy, isn’t it? ‘If…then’ rewards work *really well* for those sorts of tasks – where there’s a simple set of rules and a clear destination to go to. Rewards by their nature narrow our focus – concentrate the mind – that’s why they work in so many cases.”

    Your scenario – following up a sales lead (= making that phone call back to the waiting customer) – to me is a simple task, and the salesperson just needs their focus narrowing. Mr Pink confirms that financial reward should therefore work for this 😛

    NB. I agree with you – and him – and Donn – entirely on the wider point: they won’t work for everything – they certainly don’t work for me most of the time. I like to think that I ‘do my best’, regardless. But then, maybe I’m busy doing what I think I should be doing, rather than doing what my employer – or even customer – wants me to be doing? Therein lies another line of enquiry/research… has anyone ever simply asked a representative sample of salespeople *why* they don’t make the calls? I would love to know what they would say.

    Re. the generation gap – it’s there, for sure (and I am speaking from – just about – the younger side). My Dad was a train driver for over 50 years (just retired), and started on the railway when the job was relatively ‘prestigious’ & drivers were proud to do their jobs well, and bred a sense of responsibility and pride in their trainees. He says the current generation don’t take pride in their work – which could manifest itself in ‘I can’t be bothered to phone that person’ behaviour. I do agree that there could be some of that, in this. So – what changed? Are people really growing up these days without the work ethic the previous generation had? – if so, why? Where did all the teachers/disciplinarians/exemplars go? I find myself looking at the current older generation, arms crossed, eyebrows raised… – did they all let their kids run riot? Or is it all smoke & mirrors? – was it ever as good as they say, across the board, in the first place?

    I’ve led a project team for the last year or so that has developed a terrific, collective, sense of pride in going the extra mile & striving for perfection (& has won a couple of internal awards off the back of it, & a lot of customer appreciation), and I like to think that my own, transparently high standards, from the outset, and challenging them all to ‘step up’ and achieve what they were capable of, might have had something to do with that. My Dad was, I know, taught by old school railwaymen who wouldn’t stand for shirking – and I don’t either, rightly or wrongly. Here’s another potential solution: make sure the Sales Managers set a good example – maybe the wider salesforce will simply copy the behaviour.

    Best regards

    (Resident Nazi)

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Hi Lynne!
      Great comment! I think there are some interesting issues raised there, especially as to whether we ever had it as good as we inevitably seem to think we did. I seem to remember reading something about each generations perspective on this very thing.
      As for your comment on the dan pink stuff, I’d argue that a sales reason today especially, needs to be creative in their dealings with customers. This entails the motivations Dan is talking about, rather than the more simplistic contingent and extrinsic motivators of old.
      The point is where creativity is required, the narrow focus of the contingent motivator actually harms our ability to perform the task.
      I guess the question actually is, of we have the right (creative?) people working for us in the first place!?
      And so we are back to the start of the argument again!
      Thanks for joining in!

  10. Lynne Cartwright
    Lynne Cartwright says:

    PS. I meant to say – I’m an accountant, not a sales professional, so reserve the right to be completely wrong; not sure I’m allowed to be on here, if truth be told.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Hi Lynne!
      Welcome to the blog! Thank you for your kind words. It’s always been my intention to talk about as wide a marketing cannon as possible, so I am really pleased you have enjoyed what youve read so far!
      I really look forward to engaging in some debate with you in the new year!

  11. Daniel Morris
    Daniel Morris says:

    s/It’s far to often/It’s far too often/ (sorry, couldn’t see another link to submit that

    Very interesting statistics and good food for thought. As a seller I’m often surprised that prospects seem “shocked” to get a prompt call back. Pragmatically, in a global market place it may not always be possible to respond to a lead within a very short window, and I often debate if calling someone straight away who submits an enquiry at 1745 their time is going to exhibit keenness or desperation on our part. As a buyer I’m often astonished how some companies are still in business! Including my ex-builder, who hasn’t been back to site since 28 September when we wanted the extension weather tight by 1 November…

    I’m sure that car dealerships are “drowning” in statistics and surveys, but the phrase “Measure what is important, don’t make important what you can measure.” from Robert McNamara (US Secretary of State for Defence during the Vietnam War) springs to mind. To put into context, the US military were measuring their “success” based on the number of buildings bombed, rather than strategic objectives. Finding that 71.89% of XY purchasers who’ve already bought the car are happy after the event might be very important to build long-term/repeat customers, but ignoring fresh opportunities seems crazy. It seems to highlight a lack of clear process, poor lead scoring and scant accountability.

    Your anecdote also emphasises the snowball effect. I recall a statistic from 25+ years ago that more than 90% of phone calls taken by senior executives were less important than their task in hand, and just how disruptive those calls were to completing the task in hand. Electronic mail was going to free them from all those distractions! I can empathise with the receptionist trying to do her best, and perhaps the salesperson juggling a live consultation with a then inconvenient inbound call, all stemming from a poor process and failing to follow-up in a timely fashion.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thank you for that very thoughtful comment Daniel! I must say, I hadn’t fully considered the impact of bad processes here. Maybe the fact that three different dealerships seemed to have the same problem should have alerted me!
      I certainly felt for the poor receptionist, but neither had I considered the sales person might have also had a ‘live call’ on the go – all good points. Not sure I buy that, given the opportunity to call back was wasted, it was all about being overwhelmed with work mind you?
      Its does though seem a process issue may well be at the heart of these sort of problems, and not just he people issues we have spoken about here.
      thanks again for the comment!

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