I read in a recent article from the American Marketing Association’s The Buzz that 70% of leads generated through marketing are never followed-up on, even though 65% of marketing budgets are spent on generating leads.

Ouch! That’s like applying for a job and 70% of the time never following up on it. If you were job hunting and that was your approach, chances for success, or even getting noticed by a company for future considerations, would be slim to none.

Like most things in life, personal or professional—from making promises and studying for exams, to working on a project or committing to a cause—following up is crucial to success.

When it comes to marketing and sales, then, who is responsible for follow up once there are leads in the pipeline?

Depending on the size of your company, from the very small to the very large, follow up could be the purview of just one person, the small business owner/entrepreneur (aka jack-of-all-trades), or the responsibility of an entire sales force.

Regardless of who or how many, without SOMEONE responsible for follow up, sales won’t happen on their own. When’s the last time you applied for a job and got a call-back without first following up with the hiring team to ensure your resume had been received? It’s probably been awhile, especially in this job market. The same goes for sales, especially in this economy.

It’s simple: while there will always be a few who will buy without prompting, most leads need to be followed-up on to make a sale. No follow up usually means “No sale.”

What can companies do to generate greater follow up?

  • While many companies have programs that motivate their sales forces to follow up on leads (such as bonus programs or other financial incentives tied to compensation), one of the keys to encouraging more follow up is to make sure that your sales team—and in fact everyone in your organization—recognizes how important follow up is to bottom line success. Employees also need to know how important bottom line success is to keeping the company growing and everyone working.
  • No company should ever hear the complaint, “I called a few days ago for information on your product or service, but no one got back to me” . . . but they do. Is follow up on that sort of request, the sales team’s job? It is if the call came into sales, but such calls are just as likely to originate with front-end staff/customer support. Do your frontline people know what to do with such calls? Do they know how to triage them? If not, they need to be trained.
  • Additionally, beleaguered sales reps tend to be more motivated and energized to follow up when they feel confident that the leads are bona fide and not just warm bodies drawn into the fold through aggressive marketing techniques. Thus, part of Marketing’s job is to keep the sales team “in the loop” as to the type of marketing activities going on and the individuals/audiences targeted. This way sales will feel the leads represent true potential and not just busy work/wasted effort.

What can small businesses/entrepreneurs do to ensure greater follow up?

  • The number one thing small business owners and entrepreneurs can do is simply recognize how important follow up is and emphasize follow up in the way they conduct themselves with staff, vendors, customers, and leads. It should become a natural way of doing business, just like breathing.
  • As for day-to-day activities, small business owners and entrepreneurs need to make either more time in their days for follow up activities (scheduling times for calls, emails, shaking hands and kissing babies, etc.) or they need to hire someone else who can do the follow up work for them. This could be in the form of a staff person (part- or full-time) or even an outsourced resource.

Here are some follow up “rules of thumb” for you and your business that hold up regardless of company size or product/service niche:

  • Every lead matters. Follow up with all leads, even if you have to prioritize due to your resources and staffing levels. You never know which leads will result in sales, referrals, repeat business, or even delayed sales (the lead might not buy right now, but they might later).
  • Time is of the essence. The faster you follow up with a lead, the higher the likelihood of a sale. Take too long, and the prospect may go elsewhere or assume you don’t care (which is never good for business or word of mouth).
  • Be sincere in your responses to leads. Don’t mislead or oversell just to make the sale. Making a “bad” sale is often worse than making no sale at all. Dissatisfied customers are much more likely to badmouth you to their friends, family, and even strangers on the street than are your happy customers. If you can sense that you’re not the right match for the customer, go so far as to recommend alternatives. You might just find the lead will remember the gesture and return to you when he or she does need the product or service you’re selling. It always pays to be genuine . . . always.

What is your process for following up on leads? What works? What hasn’t worked?

Share your experiences here.