In B2B sales, if you’re not actively locating leads, you’re losing business. There’s no way around it: Without new leads, your business is left treading water in a market that is constantly pushing downstream. Although it’s important to retain established customers (70% of companies believe that it’s more expensive to locate a new customer than to retain one), an organization is only able to grow through the development and conversion of new leads. Therefore, lead generation should be at least as important as customer retention.

However, there’s one aspect of B2B lead generation that many organizations don’t understand: Timeliness.

It’s about Time

According to Harvard Business Review, companies that contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have “meaningful conversations” with key decision makers as businesses contacting prospects even an hour later. Despite this statistic, only 37% of companies respond to queries within an hour. This reactive attitude happens in part because we fall into the bad habit of viewing customers as a faceless commodity—static, waiting to be acted upon. But the reality is that customers are individuals with their own lives, expectations, and deadlines, and they’re just as interested in finding fast solutions to their problems as the rest of us. This is even more important when your customer base is made up of other businesses.

Now, think about your business. Are your representatives contacting potential leads within an hour of receiving queries? If not, can you honestly say you’re doing everything in your power to decrease your response time?

If you answered ‘no’ to either of those questions, then it may be time for a change. By streamlining your processes and focusing your team’s attention on the importance of prompt response time, you’ll be better capable of locating and retaining the business opportunity leads that are most likely to follow through to total conversion. But what can businesses do to ensure that they are responding promptly to leads?

The Origin of Leads

To answer that question, we must first understand where leads come from. The most important thing to recognize is the difference between leads and names. Names can be obtained through any number of methods (ethical or otherwise). Entire lists of names can be purchased from online sources or through other companies. Name lists deliver a high quantity of potential buyers, but there’s little to distinguish these names as qualified or interested in continuing through the sales pipeline. Names give sales representatives a place to start, but when they do so, they are forced to start from square-one. Leads, on the other hand, have more to do with quality than with quantity.

Leads are potential customers who have already begun their journey through the sales funnel before a sales representative ever becomes involved. As we’ve covered in previous blog posts, acquiring leads requires a campaign with multiple media channels and provides a personal touch to set your company apart from others. This personal touch may make all the difference when decreasing your response time.

A Personal Touch

The internet has drastically altered the way people communicate. Where once long-distance, data-heavy conversations could require significant time to reach conclusions, large quantities of information can now be sent and received in seconds. This near-instantaneous communication has made it possible for customers to connect with businesses in unprecedented and efficient ways. Still, customers would rather connect with people than businesses.

A new lead may enter your sales funnel at many points. No matter where a potential customer begins the journey towards conversion, the first encounter they have should be with a member of your sales team. This may fly in the face of the business funnel mentality that less-profitable prospects should be weeded out early on so more attention can be paid to prospects who are more likely to result in a greater ROI. Many organizations understand this, and reserve actual person-to-person communication for leads that have progressed far enough along the funnel to no longer be considered “risky.” However, limiting contact with live representatives in early stages of the sales process may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you instead ensure that every new lead has the opportunity to have specific issues addressed quickly and directly by someone who understands the process, you increase the likelihood of those leads committing to do business with you. Bear in mind that although most prospects enjoy the idea of having access to an informed representative throughout the entire process, not every prospect will need to be hand-held. Train your representatives to be available but not aggressive—just as the lack of a representative can sour a possible sale, so can the presence of someone who is trying to pressure a prospect to commit before he or she is ready.

Tools of the Trade

Given the limits most businesses face regarding manpower, time, money, and other resources, it may seem like giving every potential customer access to a living representative is impossible. Nonetheless, it’s important to respond quickly to queries as they arise. The best companies have learned how to take advantage of specific tools to help them keep track of their leads and offer them the service that they expect. When used knowledgeably, these tools reduce response time and support sales efforts throughout the sales funnel. Here are a few of the most beneficial tools that an organization may choose to invest in:

Customer relationship management (CRM)

  • CRM tools are systems designed to operate together and allow organizations to effectively and efficiently manage their business relationships, as well as keep track of all relevant data. This information is generally stored in the cloud, so it can be accessed at any time and from any place. CRM makes it possible for representatives to retrieve information at the push of a button, so that even the most obscure prospect can receive prompt, quality service (leading to a lasting relationship). Many organizations understand the importance of a CRM, as 42% of CRM users plan to increase spending in marketing automation. However, in order to make the most of what a CRM system provides, organizations need to retrieve leads from their CRM databases on a near constant basis. Retrieving leads once (or less) per day may leave certain prospects waiting much longer than an hour to receive a response.

Community cloud

  • Better communication means faster communication, so a community cloud may make all the difference. Community clouds allow prospects, customers, and employees to connect easily in order to crowdsource customer service. In essence, it makes it possible for potential leads to get the responses they need, even if those responses don’t come directly from your representatives.

Customer analytics

  • The key to providing the best possible customer experience is knowing as much as possible about interests and concerns before direct contact is made. This can be difficult, but you should be able to develop a general idea of what the prospective customer needs with page visit information, and be better prepared to provide it when the time comes.

Automated responders

  • An impersonal ‘thank you for calling’ is probably not going to impress any potential customers. That said, an automated response is better than no response at all. If you’re going to use automated responses, be sure to keep them personal and specific. An automated response that gives detailed instructions on next steps for a specific customer will allow your organization to avoid missing its narrow window of response time. Automation has impressive results when done correctly, and because of that successful companies are 67% more likely to invest in a marketing automation platform.

Follow-up failures

Modern communication technology makes it possible for businesses and clients to communicate at lightning speed, but only if organizations are willing to act quickly. Unfortunately, the reality is that many businesses are not only responding well past the all-important one-hour mark, but are not bothering to respond at all: The same Harvard Business Review study found that 16% of businesses responded within 24 hours, 24% took more than 24 hours to respond and 23% didn’t respond, period. Even more disturbing, a recent study performed by Dreamforce in which potential leads were submitted to various marketing-centered businesses found that as many as 40% of the organizations contacted failed to respond to the submitted lead.

Perhaps the most important takeaway for businesses is that organizations who focus all their attention on generating their own leads may find that the more valuable prospects—customers who are able to generate their own interest and willing to make the first move—are being ignored. The lead that contacts your company is worth several times the amount of the lead that your company generates.

These business opportunity leads may mean the difference between the success or failure of your organization, so give them the attention they warrant. A quick response shows potential clients just how much you value their business, and in turn they will learn to value the work you do for them.