Second Annual For-Profit Education Secret Shopper Survey
Are You Throwing Away Leads?
If you don’t call your leads, they’re not going to close. Pretty simple, huh? You might be surprised to learn that the research I have at my fingertips says over 30 percent of Internet leads never get a response and there is has been little improvement over the past year (at least in the for profit education vertical).
This spring, LeadQual (www.LeadQual.com), went undercover to conduct a survey to see how 158 for-profit colleges respond to over 780 Internet leads. This survey repeats one that we did last year in which we carefully submitted more than 450 Internet inquiries during regular business hours to a cross-section of more than 100 American colleges.
We learned that only 69% of leads were responded to, up slightly from 63% last year, and only 35% of the schools responded to 100% of their inquiries, no change from 2009. Along with that finding, we learned that the median time to respond to a lead per school was one hour and 35 minutes, virtually unchanged from our study one year ago.
That tells us that very few schools have rigorous systems and processes in place to be sure to consistently follow-up with their on-line inquiries. From experience, I can tell you that companies have trouble (a lot of trouble!) following up on leads. Closing leads takes a more disciplined approach than most people want to believe.
Why speed to lead matters
LeadQual research http://leadqual.com/whitepapers/SpeedWins.pdf echoes research done by MIT and Leads360 which states that the number one driver of conversion (beyond simply calling a lead back), is how quickly you make that call. MIT says calling a lead within minutes is 100x more effective. Leads360’ study http://www.leads360.com/download/whitepapers/leads360_wp_speed_to_call.pdf sites a nearly 4x improvement in conversion if called within 1 minute. You can pick which multiplier you want to use, but the evidence is clear, speed to lead matters.
The reasons companies struggle to connect with leads
I’m not saying the process of closing leads has to be a complicated one. It doesn’t. But there are two factors that scuttle sales people’s efforts to connect with leads.
First, many organizations don’t respond fast enough to Internet leads. I define fast enough as two minutes, or less. That might seem daunting. But the information we gleaned from our research states that the best companies respond to Internet leads in fewer than 120 seconds. These companies know that the average Internet consumer visits five web sites and completes at least 3 different web-based forms when shopping for products and services. They also know nearly 60 percent of Internet consumers choose to buy from the first company that responds to them.
Second, many companies rely on a call center to connect a sales person with a qualified lead. These companies rarely pay attention to how many leads are lost when a consumer is put on hold, while the call center attempts to connect an Internet lead and a sales person via phone.
How can companies overcome these challenges?
Track Speed of Response
As a first step, figure out how fast (or not) your team is responding to leads. Track how quickly your call center or sales representatives are responding to a lead. I call it speed of response. Everyone my company speaks with says they measure speed of response. But few folks really do. Measuring speed of response is like putting a gauge on your “sales & marketing dashboard” that warns you if your team is letting leads slip away. How? By watching your speed of response rate, you can see if your organization is reacting in less than two minutes. If they’re consistently not hitting that goal, you’re losing leads. To track leads, you can hire any number of good Internet marketing firms to put together a program, or, if you wish, you can track this data yourself.
Either way, keep in mind that CRM systems don’t accurately track how fast a sales rep responds to a lead. These systems track that someone has taken the lead, but not how quickly they follow up. CRM systems won’t be effective in measuring speed of response. Instead, try an ad hoc method where you assign someone to cross-check a random sample of Internet leads each week with recordings from your call center to determine how long it took a lead to receive a call back. It might be painstaking work, but it’s worth learning the answer.
And don’t expect sales reps to document when they called a lead. These folks are just too busy trying to make contact and close business to remember to track speed of response.
Put in place a rapid response team
Once you have a metric for speed of response, you can contract with a third party to serve as your rapid response team, or build a team in-house. If you choose the latter, though, expect to hire a minimum of a dozen people, including managers, to cover all the hours in a five to six day workweek. Remember, those dozen or so staffers would be needed just to make the first call to qualify an inquiry. That figure excludes additional staff to handle closing the sale.
Live transfer saves leads
You’re now measuring speed of response. And you’ve put in place a rapid response team. It’s time to address how effective your call center, or rapid response team, is in handing an Internet lead over to your sales executive.
Let’s say a lead comes in via the Internet to your call center. Your call center rep quickly dials the lead and gets them on the phone. They begin talking to one another. The call center rep qualifies the lead. At this point, you don’t want to keep a lead on the phone any longer than you have to. Now it’s about transferring the lead to your sales rep to close the sale. This is the point at which many companies put a lead on hold. Even if you do that for a few seconds, it’s a critical mistake. Those few seconds can cause a lead to become distracted, and hang up. And the likelihood of getting that lead back is slim to none.
Instead, make a live transfer from your call center rep to your sales rep. There are at least two ways to do this. You can implement some face-to-face training or e-learning courses to instruct your call center and sales executives to make this hand-off part of their process. Or you can invest in lead qualification management technology to help you make the transfer. The former approach grows increasingly complex with the size of your call center and sales team. If your team is small enough, say, a few dozen folks, then it’s feasible to bring everyone together and brief them on the change and continually remind them.
If you’re organization is large, and you have complex business rules for handing leads to sales reps, then technology may be the smarter play. Here’s how technology would work: Lead qualification management software alerts a call center rep to an Internet lead, determines whether the consumer is a qualified buyer and connects the call center and lead in seconds. Software of this kind enables the call center worker to record notes about the consumer and tap instant messaging technology to reach a cadre of sales people available to take a new lead, while the call center rep keeps the caller on the line. Lead qualification management systems can even factor in a complex set of business rules to determine the order in which sales people should receive a qualified lead from the call center.
In industries like education, mortgage and insurance, it’s a given that no lead is exclusive on the web. My company’s research shows speed counts when a company is trying to, for example, enroll a potential student or sell a loan.
You can hold on to those leads if you’re constantly monitoring your response rate, training your people to make live hand-offs and deploying technology whenever the scale or complexity of your lead management process grows too large.