Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of "inbound marketing"–the concept that you should attract prospective customers by offering useful  (on a website, for instance).

Inbound marketing is contrasted with outbound (or traditional) marketing, in which you "buy, beg, or bug your way in" via paid advertisements, press releases, and cold calling.  While inbound marketing can be more effective than outbound marketing, most companies implement it in a way that it doesn't work well.

The biggest issue: bad timing.

Problem 1: Waiting Too Long to Call

Unless your product can be purchased over the Web (like consumer electronics, for example), you'll need to follow up on any leads generated on your website. That's why you offer "white papers" and so forth–to get the contact info for follow-up.

Unfortunately, it turns out that most companies are really, really bad at this, and let way too much time lapse before calling the leads back. In fact, I was recently pointed at a Harvard Business Review study indicating that the average response time to a sales lead is 42 hours.

If you're waiting that long, you're probably wasting your time.

About five years ago, Dr. James Oldroyd, a professor at the Sung Kyun Kwan Graduate School of Business who was then at MIT, worked with the sales technology company InsideSales.com to analyze three years of cold calling data, including 15,000 leads and more than 100,000 call attempts.

The purpose of this study (available online here) was to answer the question:

When should companies call Web-generated leads for optimal contact and qualification ratios?

The answer: Inbound marketing leads have an extremely short useful life.

It turns out that the best time to call is within five minutes of the time that that person was viewing your website.  In fact, you are four times more likely to successfully qualify a lead and move the opportunity forward if you call within five minutes than if you call between five and 10 minutes.

You are 21 times more likely to qualify a lead and move the opportunity forward if you call within five minutes than if you wait for 30 minutes.

And after 30 minutes, most inbound marketing leads are pretty much dead.

Problem 2: Calling at the Wrong Time

There's plenty of "lore" floating around about the best time to call. Conventional wisdom says that you're most likely to reach somebody by calling during regular working hours, especially right after lunch, when the customer will be relaxed.

Turns out that conventional wisdom is dead wrong.

Oldroyd's study revealed that the best times to call are between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.,  and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.  By contrast, the worst time to call is from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. In fact, a call placed between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. is 164 percent better than calling between 1 and 2 p.m.

Conventional wisdom also says that the best day to call is Friday, since that's when customers are already winding down for the weekend and thus have some free time to take a call.  Wrong again.

Statistically speaking, the best day to call is Thursday and the worst day to call is Friday, with Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday somewhere in the middle.

According to a conversation that I had with Dr. Oldroyd, there are some exceptions for some industries, but in most cases, inbound marketing doesn't work very well (or at all) because the company receiving the leads are dropping the ball by calling back too late or calling at the wrong time.

The Takeaways

The lessons are clear:

  • If you're going to do inbound marketing, jump on your leads the very minute they come in. 
  • And, if you can't do that, try to call on a Thursday between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. 

That way you'll be increasing your likelihood of success, and making your inbound marketing more effective.

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