6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Inbound Lead Follow-Up

When inbound sales and marketing works, it’s great. It’s easy, it scales well, but by definition it puts a lot of the process out of your hands.

That can lead to a lot of opportunities for things to break down and for buyers to fall through the cracks.

I’ve worked with many companies throughout my career, and there tends to be six common, tactical mistakes when it comes to inbound process:

  1. They don’t have sales and marketing alignment and accountability documented in a comprehensive SLA.
  2. There isn’t a continual feedback loop between teams.
  3. Speed-to-lead isn’t considered a top priority.
  4. They don’t offer an omnichannel experience in terms of the lead follow-up process.
  5. They may or may not have developed a follow-up schedule but are not continually testing.
  6. Reps are giving up too early/don’t know when to move on.

How can we patch these gaps?

We’re going to look at each of these problems in detail, but to spoil it a bit… alignment with marketing and a quick, effective, personalized, inbound follow-up process is what’s going to fix the major leaks in your inbound sales engine.

Related: How I Closed 50% More by Systematizing My Sales Follow-Up Process

What is inbound sales?

Inbound sales and marketing is a strategy that attracts buyers to your business. You may create some piece of valuable content — an article, a guide, a webinar, etc. — to entice the prospect, but the prospect makes the first move.

Although an inbound lead generation strategy isn’t new news (Hubspot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan, coined the term over a decade ago in 2006), this prospect-initiated approach has blurred the lines between sales and marketing.

Inbound is a more integrated approach, but giving more power to buyers to make decisions does make things more complicated. When Sales and Marketing aren’t working well together and when follow up falls short, this leads to the problems I mentioned above.

So without further ado, let’s get into how you can patch the holes in your inbound process and get your inbound leads ready to buy.

Start with a sales & marketing SLA

A Sales & Marketing SLA (service-level agreement) is a formal agreement that defines clear, agreed-upon expectations that align both teams under a unified goal. It should align the teams on the macro (generating revenue) and the micro (lead qualification and follow-up responsibilities).

A clear, concise, and documented SLA will not only improve your inbound sales process, but it will ensure an enjoyable buyer experience. It does this by making sure every eventuality and potential problem has been thought of, from lead generation to handoff to follow-up, and a plan has been put in place for Sales and Marketing to work together to solve it.

If your customers are sitting around waiting to be contacted, or if you’re contacting them before they’re ready to be engaged, you’re not providing your buyers a great experience.

When building your SLA, there are 8 things that you absolutely need.

Summary of Agreement: This is a summary of the main goals of your company as they pertain to sales and marketing.

Goals of Marketing: These should be outlined in a way that makes sense for Sales, shows how these goals will support Sales’ goals, and identifies how they will be measured.

Goals of Sales: These are Sales’ goals for inbound that Marketing can, and should, be helping with. If it doesn’t pertain to marketing, it shouldn’t be in the SLA. For instance, don’t include outbound sales goals.

Defined ICP, buyer personas, and qualification rules: If both teams aren’t on the same page about who the company’s target buyers are, and what qualifies them as MQL, SQL, or SAL, then it doesn’t matter how many leads are generated by Marketing, Sales won’t be able to close them.

Needs of Marketing to reach their goals: This is a list of what Marketing needs to achieve the goals stated above. This includes their own technology, reporting, and headcount as well as what Marketing needs from Sales in terms of feedback and accountability.

Needs of Sales to teach their goals: This is a list of what Sales needs to achieve the goals stated above. This includes their own technology, reporting, and headcount as well as what Sales needs from Marketing in terms of feedback and accountability.

Consequences if goals are not met: This section should establish accountability, but also put a Plan B in place. It should also leave room to pivot the strategy to meet monthly, quarterly, and annual goals.

Conditions of cancelation: These are conditions that identify when the SLA needs to be abandoned in pursuit of something better or updated to match your company’s new goals.

This may sound like a lot of tedious work, but clearly defining this in a document closes gaps and prevents finger pointing if something goes wrong. It changes the conversation from Sales vs Marketing to Sales and Marketing vs the problem.

Build in feedback loops

Feedback loops and consistent team stand-ups are needed to keep Sales and Marketing on the same page. They provide a platform to identify when something is not working and ask for help.

When everything is going great we assume Sales and Marketing are in sync. If someone asks, we say with confidence, “We’re aligned.” However, as things start to break in the process, when we’re no longer hitting our goals, this is when Marketing starts to point the finger at Sales and Sales starts to point the finger at Marketing.

Consistent communication eliminates that “he-said, she-said” because, even if Sales and Marketing are behind target, they knew they would be before it happened because they were communicating. And likely they’re already working on a strategy to get back on track.

Decrease speed-to-lead

Follow-up speed is probably the number one driver of conversions and deal closing, and it’s also the number one area in which sales teams fail.

  • Chances of connecting with a buyer decrease by 10X if you don’t follow up within five minutes of their request to be contacted.
  • 35–50% of sales go to the vendor who responds first.
  • Calling a lead within one minute, instead of waiting an hour, can result in an 89% increase in first qualification.

The stats around speed-to-lead go on and on. If you want to succeed at Inbound, you have to be fast at responding to buyer requests. It’s that simple.

With the amount of available technology designed to help Sales and Marketing follow up inbound leads quickly and efficiently, there is no excuse for your sales teams not to be successful at this.

Provide an omnichannel experience

You’ll find a lot of contradictory stats and opinions on what medium is best for lead follow-ups and how effective each one is.

One recommendation remains consistent: Never put all your eggs in one basket, or even two, baskets.

Email and phone were table stakes in inbound lead follow-up for the longest time. Now, email, phone, and LinkedIn are table stakes. But what about chat, text, or video? Every buyer is different, and you need to be ready to meet them where they prefer to be.

Limiting the channels of your follow-up cadence limits your ability to communicate to buyers through the medium of their choice.

The only way your team will be able to increase contact and qualification rates is by providing the best omnichannel experience possible.

Continually test your follow-up cadence

Always be testing. That should be your follow-up motto.

For inbound, the number of optimal touchpoints is much lower than outbound, with the sweet spot being 7–10. However, every industry and ICP is different, and you need to know yours.

If you’re adding in LinkedIn touchpoints (and you should be), your touchpoint sequence is going to be a lot more involved as you engage with buyers on their feeds and send them content without making an ask.

You can’t rest on your laurels when it comes to inbound lead follow-up. The market, your buyer, and technology are continually changing, and your approach has to change with them.

The messaging and cadence that was killing it two months ago may stop resonating with your buyers. That’s why you need to be constantly testing to find out what works best for your audience.

Balance giving up too early vs. not moving on

Like almost everything in sales, lead follow-up is a balancing act.

A lack of persistence and confident follow-up on leads will pretty much guarantee your team won’t hit quota. But spending too much time on leads that aren’t going to convert is a time-suck that will also get in the way of you hitting quota.

44% of reps give up after just one follow-up attempt, but there is a reason there are 7+ touchpoints baked into follow-up sequences. 7+ touchpoints just work better than one. Even inbound leads need convincing at times.

However, on the other hand, building a follow-up process with a specific number of touchpoints sets the expectation that Sales should move on and prioritize leads who have responded and have a higher likelihood of converting into new business.

A standard follow-up cadence ensures teams don’t give up too early, and it teaches them when to move on.

Find what’s broken in your inbound follow-up process

Your follow-up process may need revisiting in some or all of these common problem areas.

Start your search for weak points at the beginning of your buyer’s journey.

You may be in charge of Sales, but your buyer goes through Marketing’s hands first, so you want to ensure a smooth Marketing-to-Sales handoff before you do anything else.

Then dive into all the stages of your own process from speed-to-lead, to how you’re following-up, messaging, number of touchpoints, and so on.

Finally, make sure to always be testing, and continually communicate successes and failures to Marketing. Following up with leads and prospects is not a set-it-and-forget-it process. As technology, trends, and as your company message changes, so should your process.

Now it’s time for you to fix your inbound system and start selling!

Jake Dunlap designs repeatable, sustainable sales models and processes that outperform industry standards. As the Founder and CEO of Skaled, Jake helps executives around the world accelerate business growth with data-backed sales solutions. Before building Skaled, he held the roles of VP of Sales at Nowait (acquired by Yelp), Head of Sales + Customer Success at Chartbeat, and VP of Sales at Glassdoor (acquired by Recruit Holdings for $1.2 billion dollars in 2018).

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