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Why Speed to Lead is Holding Your Sales Team Back

Published Date: Thursday, Oct 12, 2023
Last Updated on: Wednesday, Mar 06, 2024
Salesperson looking concerned at his results.

It's no secret that modern buyers expect convenience, and speed plays a big part in that.

In a world where instant gratification and swift responses are the norm, businesses are under increasing pressure to keep up the pace.

For sales teams, the heat is felt overwhelmingly. With 78% of B2B customers now purchasing from vendors who respond first – it’s no longer just an expectation for sellers to respond quickly, but a downright necessity.

Such high intensity has given rise to the concept of “speed to lead,” an approach that prioritizes rapid response times to customer inquiries. But, is that always the right focus? 

In this blog, we’ll explore why speed to lead might be holding your teams back and how this approach can impact your business’s bottom line, customer relationships and overall efficiencies.

What is speed to lead?

“Speed to lead” is a term used in sales and marketing in the context of lead generation and customer acquisition. It refers to the speed at which a sales team responds to new inquiries or leads generated from potential customers – the number of minutes between a prospect making contact and you responding to them. 

The theory behind speed to lead is that the quicker a business or salesperson can respond to a lead, the more likely they are to convert that lead into a customer. Several factors contribute to this idea:

Reduced competition: The longer a lead goes without a response, the more likely they are to explore other options or lose interest. A rapid response can help a business stay ahead of competitors.
Timely engagement: Responding promptly to inquiries or leads demonstrates attentiveness and a commitment to address the prospect’s needs, which can positively influence their perception of the business.
Higher conversion rates: Leads contacted shortly after expressing interest are more likely to convert into paying customers because their initial intent is still fresh and relevant.
Improved customer experience: Fast response times contribute to a positive customer experience by evidencing that the business truly values the prospect’s time, needs and consideration.
Person manually taking notes from a sales call

Why does speed to lead matter?

The principle behind speed to lead is grounded in consumer psychology. It recognizes that when someone takes the initiative to express interest, their enthusiasm and curiosity are at their peak. By responding promptly, businesses can capitalize on this high level of intent and convert these leads into customers.

Speed to lead also plays on the known patterns and behaviors we’ve come to associate with modern buyers. With an increasing number of customers working remotely, there’s no longer a stark divide between B2B and B2C sales. B2B buyers now expect the same immediacy in their work seat as they would at home with any ecommerce order.

Equally, Gen Z is now an active part of the buyer cycle, and their behaviors and preferences are radically different than the generations preceding them. They’re more likely to react negatively to subpar buying experiences and less willing to accept back and forth from brands.

A person moving customer details into a CRM system.

What's the issue with speed to lead?

On the surface, speed to lead sounds like something every competent sales team should pay attention to. The reality is – it’s outdated. 

Speed to lead is built around a model that considers every inbound lead equal – whether good, bad or ugly. There’s no consideration for what makes an MQL “high quality” and what makes an MQL “low quality”– and that means every inquiry is assumed to be a genuine sales opportunity and handled with equal urgency. This can cause serious detriment in terms of revenue, ROI and ROE.

Here’s why:

Quality variance

Inbound means multiple different sources are bringing in your “leads”. It could be a contact form, an inbound call, a live chat or any other means of starting a conversation with a business. Unfortunately, they’re rarely exclusive to MQLs. 

Inbound channels also attract non-sales-specific customer communications such as support requests, order updates and an abundance of other requests that are either unworkable or irrelevant. If automatically qualified (AQLs), low-quality inquiries are pushed onto key sellers as genuine opportunities, and measured as such, they’re just a waste of selling time.

Manual effort, time and resources

When all inbound leads are handled by a team of SDRs, they can spend a huge share of their time chasing or routing low-quality leads that never convert into pipeline – because there’s no gatekeeper. 

It should only be the prospects that want to talk to sales that are pushed through to an account executive. Otherwise, businesses will see one of their most expensive, high-value resources wasting time on poorly qualified inquiries – which reduces the overall return on effort from your sales initiatives. Plus, if a sales rep is on the phone to an existing customer, that limits their opportunities to handle incoming net-new calls or conduct other revenue-generating outbound activities.

Velocity reductions

Speed to lead assumes that every prospect needs to speak directly to a key seller at the first opportunity. But that’s not always the case. Where possible, high intent prospects should be able to book a meeting quickly and directly with a sales rep. 

They shouldn’t have to wait for an email receipt or follow-up request to arrange an appointment. Letting your prospects self-serve (to an extent) also speeds up pipeline velocity, enabling you to reach out with a more informed understanding of their personal needs and preventing potential buyers from having to repeat the details of their request.

No effective routing

Speed to lead puts pace on a pedestal. What it fails to consider is the experience provided to customers. We know prospects want fast interactions – but if the interaction is poor, or doesn’t serve their expectations, they still won’t convert. There’s a balance to strike.

Without any pre-qualification, high-intent leads risk being routed to an underqualified SDR for an initial conversation – rather than a highly experienced account executive or bonafide key seller. When an AE makes that first touch to book a meeting, they stand a better chance of building rapport because they understand the challenges the prospect is facing and they’ve seen them first-hand on similar accounts. That sales experience is worlds apart from an SDR calling and saying “hey, how can I help?”

Sales team working more collaboratively due to streamlined sales processes.

Speed to qualification: A better alternative?

To bring balance to the inbound quality issues caused by speed to lead, sellers need a way to prioritize MQLs and route high-intent prospects to the most qualified and capable professional on the team. That’s where speed to qualification steps in.

Speed to qualification refers to the speed and efficiency with which a sales team can assess and determine whether a lead or prospect is a good fit for their product or service. This process involves evaluating the lead’s level of interest, budget, authority to make a purchasing decision, and alignment with the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP). The goal is to quickly identify qualified leads who are most likely to convert into paying customers.

It’s a crucial focal point because it allows sales teams to invest their time and resources into leads with the highest potential, rather than pursuing unqualified leads that may never convert. By rapidly qualifying or disqualifying leads, sales teams can prioritize their efforts and work more efficiently, ultimately increasing their chances of closing deals and generating revenue.

Pivoting focus to speed to qualification enhances the sales process through:

Efficiency: Speed to qualification streamlines the lead management process, enabling sales teams to quickly identify and focus their efforts on leads with the highest potential. This efficiency saves time and resources, while ensuring high-intent prospects achieve the same attention and response speed seen with speed to lead.
Higher conversion rates: By promptly identifying qualified leads, sales teams can allocate their resources more effectively, increasing the likelihood of converting leads into paying customers. The impact of this is improved conversion rates and higher sales revenue as sales teams are able to capture their prospect while intent is relevant and before they reach out to a competitor.
Improved customer experience: Rapid qualification ensures that potential customers receive timely and relevant information based on the nature of their specific inquiry, enhancing their overall experience and relationship with the company. This can result in increased customer satisfaction, loyalty and potential upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
Reduced wasted efforts: Speed to qualification helps avoid wasting time and drive a better return on effort from their activities. Sales teams can disqualify leads early in the process, allowing them to focus on more promising opportunities and put resources behind prospects showing the right intent.
Shorter sales cycles: Swift qualification accelerates the sales cycle as sales reps can engage with qualified leads with more agility, reducing the time it takes to move prospects through the sales funnel. This means that buyers get what they need faster, and sellers have more time to touch other prospects in their pipeline.

A satisfied salesperson.

How can sales teams improve speed to qualification?

Several factors contribute to a successful speed to qualification strategy, including the use of lead scoring systems, automation tools, and well-defined criteria for lead qualification. These measures help sales teams streamline their processes and ensure that they are prioritizing leads who are most likely to benefit from their products or services.

Automated processes

Sales teams need to rely on automated processes to remove as many unworkable leads as possible. With an appropriate triage and call routing procedure in place, businesses can swiftly and systematically qualify a high volume of leads and ensure the most valuable receive the appropriate attention. Conversational analytics can be deployed to recognize specific traits and phrases that would deem an inquiry as a certain quality score.

Appropriately skilled people

Higher paid or higher revenue-generating team members shouldn’t be involved in the triage process until there is a qualified opportunity. Firstly, because the resource cost is too high, and secondly because it shouldn’t be their primary focus. Instead, deploy this responsibility to assigned individuals that are trained, monitored and managed to maximize those opportunities, while ensuring that they’re capable of protecting your company brand by appropriately supporting any existing clients that come through inbound channels.

Set key performance indicators (KPIs)

By setting benchmarks and key performance indicators, businesses can ensure that they are the industry leaders in responsiveness, but also in their conversion of those responses into bonafide opportunities. Sales teams should be tracking whether the triage process is producing velocity through better qualification in the initial stages. Consider how you can improve customer interactions alongside pipeline velocity by bringing the right data and context to the table for the first touch.

Sales team strategizing to improve lead handling processes and pipeline velocity.

Final thoughts

While the concept of “speed to lead” has long been championed as the holy grail of inside sales efficiency, it’s essential to recognize that faster MQL response isn’t always better

With speed to qualification, businesses can invest the time of their greatest assets where it is most profitable: high-value, high-intent prospects. By embracing a more nuanced approach, where speed is harmonized with precision and a deep understanding of the customer’s journey, businesses can build stronger relationships, improve conversion rates, and ultimately propel their sales teams forward, unburdened by the limitations of a one-size-fits-all, “speed at any cost” strategy.

Looking to optimize your inbound sales potential? Harte Hanks can help. Our best-in-class SDR outsourcing has helped the world’s most successful brands to quickly and seamlessly make their next winning sales moves. From GTM strategy to performance overhaul, we deliver agility, pace and innovation at scale – driving better performance at all stops in the buying cycle. From prospect to profit.

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