Nicolette Dease

Teleprospecting: When cutting response time is a priority (and when it’s not)

When you’re converting inquiries into qualified leads, it’s widely believed that time is of the essence. Even research published in the Harvard Business Review says you’re almost seven times more likely to qualify a lead if you respond by phone within five minutes than if you respond an hour later.

That’s why, when one of our Research Partners, a B2B telecommunications company, wanted to convert more inbound leads into sales-ready ones, we cut our response time. The results were surprising, as you’ll see in a moment.

We typically phoned people who submitted a Web form on the company’s site within about five hours. We slashed that to five minutes or less with:

  • Automated alerts — Our IT team developed a program that notified our lead generation specialists to make a call the moment someone submitted a Web form.
  • Adjusted hours — A lead generation specialist was always available during the hours when someone would most likely submit a Web form.
  • An easier-to-use database — Lead generation specialists had to go through several steps to access the partner’s database; we revised it so they could reach the lead they needed in one click.

As a result, whenever someone submitted a form, the person received a call back within five minutes more than 85% of the time. At the end of six months, I was eagerly looking forward to the results. Here they are:

Almost nothing changed! Even though we cut response time by more than 98%, the number of qualified leads remained virtually the same and the amount of calls it took to get a qualified lead actually increased slightly.

Our effort did not have much impact. So what did this teach us? To slack off and not respond to inquiries for days? Absolutely not. Instead, we learned three valuable lessons:

Lesson #1: Know your customers and their needs

Will they lose interest or select another vendor in the next hour or two? If so, then instant follow-up may be a good idea. But in the case of our partner, the potential customers’ needs for B2B telecommunications were not going to change dramatically in a few hours, so cutting response times did not have much impact.

Lesson #2: Know what you’re selling

If it’s a transactional sale, five-minute follow-up may very well be worthwhile. Not so much, obviously, for the complex sale. However, again, that doesn’t mean if you have a complex sale you can kick back and wait to respond to inquiries. Our research in complex sales has consistently demonstrated that follow-up within 24 hours is always optimal.

Lesson#3: Test before investing

What works for someone else may not work for you – even if it was featured in the Harvard Business Review. Begin by identifying your key performance indicators: What you want to achieve. For this test we wanted to:

  • Increase sales-ready leads — Our partners were satisfied with the amount inquiries their inbound marketing efforts were producing. They wanted more sales-ready leads – leads that fit their Universal Lead Definition.
  • Improve lead qualification — Our goal was to reduce the number of dials required to attain sales-ready leads. We were hoping this could ultimately make our team more productive.

Once you set key performance indicators, measure them before and after the test, and compare. It’s really that simple. Start on a small scale, and then implement the program across your entire organization if the results merit it.

Related Resources:

To Call or Email? That is the Question

Webinar Replay: Research from Harvard, MIT Pinpoints Hard Lead Conversion Lessons with Easy Solutions

Webinar Replay: Teleprospecting that Drives Sales-Ready Leads

New Chart: Chief requirements for B2B lead qualification

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B2B Telemarketing



  1. April 25th, 2012 at 10:24 | #1

    Very interesting research! I wouldn’t expect immediate follow ups to drastically improve the closing rate – customers need to shop around and take some time weighing their option – but having almost no impact is surprising. Cheers!

  2. April 27th, 2012 at 03:59 | #3

    Hi Nicolette. 5 hours to 5 minutes? Wow. YOu are right in saying what works for others may not work for you. But I agree with the 24 hour follow up–I think that would be ideal.

    • April 27th, 2012 at 14:12 | #4

      Thank you Hannah, I would try to stay away from waiting the whole 24 hours but definitely try to work within that time frame without spending extra money on resources.

  3. May 18th, 2012 at 21:40 | #5

    Good thought. Web forms could be generic or specific. Inbound inquiries has to be classified, and then qualified. Yes, quicker the response, it helps. In the sales world, prospects always have a choice. There is no defined time line, and presenting right data is the key. All those approaches are good to reduce gap/time. End of the day, it has to be a perfect attempt….

  4. May 31st, 2012 at 18:20 | #6

    KPI’s upfront are so important. Thank you for the great article and the reminder!

  5. June 15th, 2012 at 18:43 | #7

    You make some great points. A complex sale isn’t going to be achieved any faster if you respond in 5 minutes simple because of the nature of that particular buying cycle. People aren’t looking to make a quick decision, but neither will they lose interest right away like a spur of the moment purchase.

  6. August 13th, 2013 at 05:59 | #8

    Good points. Yes, it is better test before invest, because testing can show new trends and other significant information. We usually train our telemarketing team – showing products, services, guide them and etc. Showing value which they are proposing/selling to our customers and clients.

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