Sales Lead Management: Are You a Victim of Failure to Follow-Up?


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I talk about the concept of stopping “revenue leakage” a lot, and one of the biggest causes of revenue leakage is when sales or marketing reps fail to follow-up (FTFU).  You spend a lot of time and money to generate inquiries and then see the effort wasted. Not only is this bad sales and marketing policy, it can be fatal to the success of your sales lead management program.

Although it was for a low-ticket service, a recent personal example illustrates the point. I was looking for new oil change service and went online to search for local options. Finding a local auto repair company with solid online reviews, I went to their “book an appointment” page and requested an early morning slot a few days later. The site acknowledged my request and said that I would be contacted with a confirmation.

Two days later, I still had not received a confirmation so I booked a slot with one of the shop’s competitors. You probably guessed it – that’s when I received a confirmation from the original company. A few hours too late and the sale was lost. Multiply that sale by a bunch of others and it impacts revenue and profits.

What Can B2B Marketers Learn from this Example?

When you wait over 48 hours to acknowledge a customer, this is a serious failure to follow-up, whether you are selling in a B2C or B2B environment. The difference is, the auto shop lost a $50-60 order (not counting follow-on revenue) while an  enterprise software company or some other high-ticket B2B supplier can lose a sale of tens or hundreds of thousands. The stakes are higher but the principles are the same.

So what are the lessons of this example and how do they apply to B2B marketers who are selling more expensive products and services?  Here are several:

  • Always follow-up promptly. In the B2B world 3-8 percent of responders may be in an active buying cycle. You need to engage with these people quickly – otherwise your competition will surely do so.
  • Don’t let your “busyness” stop you from following-up. The prospect doesn’t care how busy you are; he or she only cares about what they need and when they need it.
  • Quickly acknowledge the contact even when busy. If you are extremely busy, at least acknowledge the inquiry and set an appointment to talk in more depth at a later date. This may buy you some time while letting the prospect know you are not ignoring them.
  • Don’t prejudge prospects. I’ve seen sales managers tell their reps not to follow up on leads from an industry trade show because “those leads are always lousy”. This type of negative assumption is harmful because you never know about the quality lead you never bother to contact. This is also one of the reasons that I recommend that my clients put the lead qualification function in the marketing, not sales, department.
  • E-mail is an okay first contact. While a phone call is preferable, sometimes a quick personalized email is a good first step, even if that email is generated via auto-response.
  • Be consistent. Don’t practice optional behavior when it comes to sales lead management. Your follow-up strategy should be consistent and never subject to whatever else is happening in your business.

Fix Your FTFU Quickly!

I have seen companies as small as the auto shop I mentioned and as large as a billion dollar software company, waste lots of money spent on inbound lead campaigns due to a failure to follow-up promptly. Not all sales leads are precious but unless you know for sure that a particular lead is unqualified, you need to follow-up promptly. FTFU is a disease that can be deadly to the B2B marketer. Don’t catch it and if you do, re-read this post and cure your FTFU immediately.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Ryan
Christopher Ryan is CEO of Fusion Marketing Partners, a B2B marketing consulting firm and interim/fractional CMO. He blogs at Great B2B Marketing and you can follow him at Google+. Chris has 25 years of marketing, technology, and senior management experience. As a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.


  1. HI Chris- thanks for posting this. I agree: when vendors respond to prospect interest, timeliness is important. Equally important, however, is being deliberate and strategic with that timeliness. In the example you cited, 48 hours is a woefully long time to respond to a sales inquiry, because for most car repair/maintenance consumers, there’s urgency. Something has malfunctioned, an amber dashboard indicator has lit up, or a caring person has said, “wow! You’ve gone that long? You better get that done right away . . .”

    But the optimum timeframe for response depends on the product. Ideally, same-day for car care and unexplained gastrointestinal pain. But probably longer for vacation property, luxury cruises, and capital goods like commercial aircraft. Hyper-responsiveness is never cost-neutral, because it requires staff and infrastructure to pull it off. Anecdotally, I’ve observed there’s ‘way-too-soon,’ responsiveness as well. Such as when I get a phone call within minutes of expressing interest online for something I was beginning to gather information, but didn’t have a burning need for at the time. That turned me off. Perhaps there’s research that explores this matter. As marketers, we often assume that faster is better, but I’ve observed a point of diminishing – even negative – returns. That can happen when a vendor’s “responsiveness” comes across as getting pounced on to the customer.

    On your point about trade show leads, I demur. Marketing should be responsible for performing coarse lead vetting. For example, does the lead have a company name, a working email address at a corporate (not gmail domain), has the lead provided the minimum information necessary about application and need? When I was a B2B salesperson, I did not want any “prospect” , “suspect”, or otherwise that wasn’t in minimum compliance. Beyond that, leave the finer lead qualification to the sales force. Why? Because the sales force carries more substantial risks of shepherding prospects from interest to revenue. Marketing can’t do that – not because they’re incapable, but because they’re looking for different attributes, they’re compensated differently, and they are pursuing different goals.

    For commission-driven salespeople, trade show leads are often (not always) notoriously weak because marketing’s goal is to drive high amounts of booth traffic, which has the consistent, but unfortunate, result of decreasing the percentage of qualified leads while possibly improving their overall number. Most sales reps will readily share that they don’t care to waste time contacting prospects whose interest in the company didn’t extend beyond getting the hot gee-gaw that marketing was giving away at the show. And in my experience, trade shows frequently produce a ton of that. The good news is that when it comes to qualification, veteran salespeople learn how to quickly scan a lead list, and perform a first-stage qualification of who to call on. That’s as it should be. They’re carrying the quota, and will have to make a decision whether to invest the time.

  2. Andy, thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. You have obviously been there..done that! I agree that 48 hours is way too long for follow-up. If you have insufficient staff to get back to inquiries quickly (not instantly), do this with an auto-response email, acknowledging the prospect’s interest and promising to be back in touch shortly. Agree also that sales reps don’t want to contact non-interested prospects, and this is why marketing should qualify prior to handing off the leads to sales reps. As to leaving it to sales reps to scan the inquiry list and decide who to follow up with, or not, I disagree. I’ve seen many deals come from a lead that looked unqualified on the surface (e.g. CEO using a Gmail address to do research) . Failure to follow up can be costly in these instances.


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