The Quick and the Dead

Most marketing executives know that responding swiftly is critical to converting an Internet lead, especially when consumers are looking at multiple options. In fact, it's not merely advisable to quickly respond to an Internet lead — it's imperative if you want to make contact at all. Industry research shows that the ability to contact a lead increase by as much as a hundredfold if you reach out within five minutes versus waiting even 30 minutes.

In spite of this reality, a recent survey we conducted of more than 100 for-profit colleges found that the median phone response per school to respond to Internet leads came in at one hour, 36 minutes.

We submitted between four and six leads to 155 different schools for a total of 780 inquiries. Even though all the Internet inquiries we made were sent during normal business hours, only 66 percent of the inquiries we submitted received a phone response. Only 35 percent of the schools we surveyed responded to 100 percent of the leads they received. Think about that: Two out of every three schools we surveyed are letting some or all of their Internet inquiries go unanswered.

Although it's widely accepted that responding quickly is critical to improving enrollment rates, across almost every measure we looked at the numbers from 2009 to 2010 remained virtually unchanged. The one area of variation was in the percent of schools responding in less than 2 minutes. In 2009, we found only one school with a median phone response time of less than or equal to two minutes. In 2010, that figure rose to nine percent. Similarly, in 2009, only seven percent of schools had a median phone response time of 10 minutes or less; that figure grew to 13 percent in 2010. Beyond the 10-minute mark — up to and including 24 hours —the median phone response time in 2010 was essentially unchanged from 2009.

What we also learned was this: Many of the schools that are among the fastest in response time are turning to outside assistance to accomplish this feat.

The growth in the number of schools responding in two minutes or less seems to indicate some schools now see the competitive advantage in getting to a lead first. [See image, above right]

So why aren't more schools in our survey making progress in terms of responding quickly to leads when all the research indicates that lead conversion goes to the swift? For one thing, it's difficult to ramp up and carry out a "Rapid Response" program. And it's equally hard to measure such a program.

  • Most CRM systems don't accurately track the length of time it takes to actually call a lead (versus, say, taking ownership of the lead).
  • Enrollment advisors are skilled in helping students find the right programs, and don't enjoy acting as a part-time telemarketer.
  • Enrollment advisors get "burnt out" making hundreds of daily calls without reaching many prospective students.
  • Schools must overstaff enrollment departments in order to cover all shifts needed to respond to leads when they're actually generated.

In industries such as education, mortgage, and insurance, it's a given that no lead is exclusive on the Web. Our research shows that speed counts when a company is trying to enroll a potential student or sell a loan. But most organizations simply aren't equipped to boost their response time without outside support. Some people are learning it and adopting it, but in reality most organizations are going about it in the same way year after year.

What for-profit schools, in particular — and everyone in general — needs to ask themselves is this: What is my speed-of-response to Internet leads? It's a key metric, but few if any organizations are tracking it. Regardless of whether someone chooses to build an in-house team or hire a third party to expedite their Internet response rate, there's a payoff to putting effort behind it.


About the Author
Glenn Houck (glenn@leadqual.com) is cofounder of LeadQual, an Internet marketing firm specializing in converting Internet leads. Prior to LeadQual, Houck served as senior vice president at HomeGain.com, where he led sales, marketing, and product & technology development. Houck's experience includes analyzing conversion behaviors and training thousands of professionals to convert Internet leads into closed sales.


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For the rest of the October 2010 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

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