April 14th, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

What happens when people fill out online forms asking for a salesperson to contact them about a product? 12 percent of inquiries made to Fortune 100 companies fell into a black hole and received no response, according to a study conducted by Velocify. Of those that did respond, their results weren’t optimal. 46 percent of buyers received both phone calls and emails, which Velocify judges a good response. 21 percent received only emails, while another 21 percent received only phone calls. A multichannel touch, reaching out over the phone and through email, works better.

Companies generally weren’t quick enough to call, at least according to the study’s standards. Only 15 percent of companies called within an hour, which research shows increases the likelihood of conversion by 36 percent.  On the other end of the spectrum, 10 percent of  people waited a full week before they heard back from the company. The average time before a call was 3.5 days, far above customers’ stated preference: a response within 24 hours.

When it came to email, companies’ responses were even worse, considering how easy it is to automate responses. Some companies clearly are automating emails: 10 percent received an email within seconds, and 20 percent within minutes. But then responses spread out: 20 percent didn’t receive an email until hours or days later, and 13 percent not until weeks later. A third of people didn’t receive any emails (though some received phone calls). For me, it’s important to separate quality and speed here. Obviously, anywhere from weeks onward is too long to wait for a response. But receiving a personal email within a day or two means more to me than an automated email with no personal follow-up.

The study also linked a company’s response to buyer inquiries with its profit margins and revenue growth. Companies with the highest revenue growth generally had response scores four percent above the norm, while the bottom 20 percent of revenue performers had response times four percent below the norm.

There was a stronger relationship between revenue scores and profit margins. Companies with high profit margins had response scores 20 percent above average. Those with the lowest margins were almost 40 percent below average. Clearly, devoting staff and technology to following leads and touching more customers saves money, despite the investments in people and technology that may come with it.

One thing the study doesn’t mention is the possibility that lead scoring could have played into the timing and frequency of the call backs. Maybe a company had reason to believe they had an extremely poor or highly likely lead on their hands, and acted accordingly.

The study also doesn’t touch on the interplay between channels. Is a personal call or email followed by automated follow ups? If a customer doesn’t respond to email, do sales teams call to try to elicit a response? The interplay between channels will become more important as other paths to reach the customer, like social media, enter the equation. That said, for the companies that can’t get the basics right, they have plenty of other problems to take care of first.

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