The other day I was having a conversation with a few fellow entrepreneurs, and we were talking about lead generation. These guys were all bragging about how they were getting leads at a very low cost, so I asked them this question...

How long does it take for you to get back to your leads?

All I got were blank stares.

As I expected, that was not at the top of their priorities. And trust me, they're not alone. One lead response study published in Harvard Business Review in 2011 shows that the average first response time of B2B companies was 42 hours.

You might think that things have changed since then, but according to another study done in 2017, 55 percent of companies do not respond to inquiries within five business days.

What most people don't realize is that this has a tremendous impact on their bottom line: by responding to your leads in ten minutes rather than five, you decrease your chances of qualifying them by 400 percent. How crazy is that?

It's not that hard to understand why that happens. Just imagine this: you need to buy a new television, so you head to the mall, and enter the first home appliance store you see. You explain that you're looking for a new TV, and the response you get is: "Okay, we'll get back to you in five business days". How frustrating would that be?

If you're serious about building a business, you can't afford to let your leads wait to hear from you. And with all the technology we have today, you really have no excuse.

So how do you make sure that you're not losing your leads to your competitors? Here are my three tips:

1. Make getting back to your leads a priority.

People will always think that they can get back to their leads later. Your job is to change that mindset.
If your team doesn't understand the importance of getting back to leads quickly, you won't see much improvement in response time regardless of what technology you implement. So sit them down, and explain to them that even five minutes of delay is costing your company dearly. You can also incentivize them by providing rewards for the employees who take the least time getting back to leads.

2. Implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep your team on top of things.

You need a simple and easy-to-use system to help your team to manage queries, and keep track of leads.

For teams who are delaying with a large number of queries everyday, a CRM system will help them stay on top of everything, and address queries on time. Notifications act as helpful reminders, and reduce the possibility of queries slipping through the cracks!

3. Consider adding live chat to your website

Consumers are getting increasingly savvy these days, and 9 out of 10 of them expect to be able to use messaging apps to communicate with businesses, according to a survey by Twilio.

The good news? Today setting up a live chat on your website is a piece of cake. For best results, have someone manning the chat at all times -- remember, if you reply your lead's inquiry within five minutes or less, they're 400 percent more likely to convert to a paying user.

Most entrepreneurs I know put all their efforts into optimizing the bottom of their funnel. They do regular role plays, they brainstorm closing tactics, and they basically train their reps to be sales machines. But the top of your funnel -- where your leads come in -- is equally important. To ensure that you're making the most out of your leads, make it a priority to always improve your response times!

Published on: Jun 1, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.