You’ve got a lead. That’s great.

But what happens next is going to set the tone for your entire sales interaction – and play a huge role in whether you end up closing the sale.

There’s a lot riding on one key variable – your lead response time.

So, what is lead response time and why is it so important for your sales strategy?

Glad you asked!

What Is Lead Response Time?

A lead is someone who has expressed interest in your products or services.

In other words, this is someone who has shown themselves to be a viable sales target. This is different than a prospect, who fits the mold of your target customer but who hasn’t expressed interest yet.

Lead response time, then, is the amount of time it takes your salespeople to respond to a lead.

Usually, this refers to the initial message; if a lead reaches out to your business, how long do they have to wait before they hear back from someone?

Alternatively, how long does it take a salesperson to reach out to a person who has expressed interest in your product and therefore become a lead?

How Important is Lead Response Management?

You probably already know that lead response time and lead response management are important. And that the shorter the response time, the better.

But just how important are they?

If you can shorten your average lead response time, you’ll see higher close rates. One study found that 35-50% of all sales go to the vendor that responds first. Another found that your lead close rate goes up by 700% if you respond in under an hour.

If a lead reaches out to multiple competing businesses and one of them responds quickly while the others lag, the early responder is probably going to win the business.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that most customers value the service. Your promptness and immediacy are rewarded.

Similarly, your lead qualification will drop by a factor of 10 if you wait more than 5 minutes to respond. And 90 percent of your customers want an “immediate” response from you (defined as 10 minutes or less).

That’s a lot of pressure on you and your sales team.

But don’t worry. We’re in this together.

How to Calculate Lead Time

There are a few different ways you can calculate your average response time.

It’s generally in your best interest to rely on an external tool to help you calculate this figure.

For example, in Microsoft Outlook, you can use MyAnalytics – an employee productivity app that’s part of Office 365. Or, use one of our other top-ranked Outlook email analytics tools.

Gmail, the most popular email provider in the world, doesn’t have a built-in way to calculate lead response time.

That’s why we created EmailAnalytics.

EmailAnalytics is an analytics tool for your Gmail account. You can hook it up to any number of accounts (so you can observe your entire sales team at once) and measure dozens of different metrics – including average response time.

Even better, you’ll get access to dynamic data visuals, so you can intuitively form conclusions about the data – and discover new ways to improve your approach to email.

12 Ways to Calculate and Improve Lead Response Time

Okay, I’ve given you the best way to calculate lead response time.

So what happens if you’re not happy with the results you’ve found?

What if you want to shorten that lead response time?

Below, I’m giving you 12 of our best strategies for lead response management – and ultimately reducing the time it takes for your salespeople to respond to incoming leads.

1. Adopt a scientific mindset.

The best way to approach lead response management is to adopt a scientific mindset.

Conduct experiments to test different variables, study the data, form conclusions, update your assumptions, and repeat.

In the realm of lead response management, this means changing up variables like how leads are managed, how your salespeople are trained, and which communication channels you use (and how you use them).

Repeated observations and improvements will eventually lead to breakthroughs.

2. Establish benchmarks.

Next, get familiar with your benchmarks. In other words, what’s a “good” lead response time and what should be your goal?

About 41 percent of customers expect to see an email response within 6 hours of sending it, and many brands strive to respond to emails within 10 minutes.

Check out our comprehensive guide to email response time, which includes some other notable studies on “acceptable” email response times.

You should shoot for the fastest response time no matter what, but you should also set realistic expectations.

3. Automate everything you can.

Work as much automation into your lead management systems as possible. For example, when a customer downloads a whitepaper or opts into an email newsletter, you can automatically forward their information to a member of your sales team.

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Automation spares you from manual effort, often saving you both time and money. But even more importantly, it speeds up the process and makes it more consistent, so you have fewer leads lost in the shuffle and more predictable results.

4. Assign leads wisely.

You likely have some kind of system working to “quarterback” leads to different members of your sales team.

For example, your lead management software might automatically forward details of various leads to each member of your team in succession, distributing leads equally. If there are any inefficiencies or inconsistencies in this system, it’s going to totally disrupt your average lead response time – so work out the kinks and streamline this however you can.

Avoid overworking your salespeople and aim for an even distribution.

5. Use multiple communication channels.

For most of this article, we’ve been focusing on email. Email is hands-down the most efficient (and most universal) communication platform available for businesses.

But other communication channels have merits as well. If you want to accelerate response times, make sure you’re jumping on multiple potential channels.

For example, you can make it easy for leads to reach out to you via phone or social media.

6. Prioritize leads.

Do you score your leads? You have to know that some leads are clearly more valuable than others.

A lead who fits your audience perfectly, comes from a lucrative business, and who seems eager to buy is going to be much more valuable for your brand than a lead who’s probably just kicking tires.

Ideally, you’ll give a fast response time to every lead who reaches out to your business, but if forced to choose, you should be prioritizing your best and highest-scoring leads.

Always tilt your lead response management strategy in favor of these valuable opportunities.

7. Empower your sales reps.

We’re focused on improving response times, so naturally, we have to focus on our responders – the team of sales reps responsible for closing deals. We have to empower them!

Okay, so how do we do that?

We can give salespeople more tools (and better tools) for responding to new leads. We can free up our salespeople’s schedules so they aren’t so burdened with busy work that quick responses become impossible.

We can also help salespeople understand that other work is a secondary priority – and they can drop out of administrative meetings if it means catering to a potential new customer.

8. Create a collaborative environment.

In line with this, it’s helpful to design and foster a company culture that favors collaboration.

Make sure all your sales team members know that working together is vital for your organization – and that people aren’t shy about asking for or granting favors.

This will make it easier for your sales reps to cover for one another.

If there’s a lead in need of a response and the rep assigned to them is busy all day, the rep can forward it to another rep whose schedule is more open.

9. Set team and individual goals.

Goals are important for motivating people, setting direction, and encouraging people’s best performances. So yeah – set goals!

When setting goals, try to set both individual-level goals and team-centric goals. Team goals will encourage people to work together more closely and collaborate to achieve something better for the organization.

Individual goals will give you a chance to zoom in on individual employee strengths and weaknesses – and balance them out to achieve higher individual performance.

You’ll need both if you want to succeed.

10. Offer rewards.

I’m generally self-motivated. I like to do my best at everything, no matter what’s at stake. But many people aren’t like this – they need something a little more tangible if they’re going to do their best.

That’s why it may be in your best interest to offer rewards and incentives for faster lead response times. If a rep can consistently keep an average response time of 5 minutes, consider giving them a monetary bonus or a special parking spot.

Even small rewards can go a long way to encourage better performance.

11. Gather feedback.

Spend time gathering feedback, both from customers and from your sales reps. Are your customers happy with the response times you’re giving (and with your communication overall)?

Do your sales reps have ideas for how they could respond quicker? Is something in your organization stopping them from responding quicker?

This is the “straight from the horse’s mouth” approach, and it’s incredibly valuable. Take these comments and suggestions seriously, and consider making active changes to your sales strategy to accommodate them.

12. Study the data and find ways to improve.

I showed you how to calculate your average lead response time, so put that knowledge to good use. While you’re at it, study other metrics related to your email activity, including number of emails sent and received, and average thread length.

The idea here is to figure out the biggest strengths and weaknesses associated with your email communication habits and find ways to correct for them.

As long as you keep finding new ideas, experimenting, and improving, you’ll eventually make progress.

If you want to calculate your lead response time and find better ways to improve, you need a tool like EmailAnalytics.

It integrates directly with Gmail to teach you everything you need to know about your sales reps’ habits.

You’ll learn not just their average response time, but also their emails sent and received per day, their busiest times and days, and dozens of other metrics.

See it for yourself! Just sign up for a free trial today and get your hands on it. No credit card, no software to install.