Dating is not easy. Sure, it can be fun to meet new people and go out, but the real challenge is when you actually like someone and don’t know what to do next. Should you call the person? If so, how many days should you wait? What happens if they don’t text you back, or your call goes straight to voicemail? Do you try again?

So. Many. Questions.

In the sales and marketing world, dating is a lot like lead management and follow up. It’s not always clear cut as to how you should proceed with someone who could end up being very good for your company.

On one hand, you don’t want to send the message that you don’t appreciate their business. According to a study done for Harvard Business Review, 71 percent of qualified leads are never followed up with. On the other hand, you don’t want to come off too strong and look desperate for a new customer.

So how should you be handling qualified leads? Is there an ideal time to follow up with them?

We’ll get down to the answers in this article.

First, let’s discuss what a service level agreement is and where it fits into the process.

Importance of a Service Level Agreement

A service level agreement, or SLA, is a contract between a service provider and the end user. In this case, it would be an agreement between your sales and marketing teams and your leads.

The reason why an SLA is important is because it details how sales and marketing should treat leads. Also, it ensures that all leads are followed up with and given the appropriate amount of attention.

Included in your SLA should be the following:

  • How leads should be treated

  • When leads should be followed up with

  • How often leads should be followed up with

  • How the sales and marketing teams will be held accountable

Assessing Lead Quality

Here’s the tricky part about leads. Not all of them are created equal. This means that you can’t treat them all the same. Some are qualified, meaning that they are more likely to buy your product or service. These are the ones you want to pay the most attention to.

The way that marketers determine which leads are qualified varies. Probably the most common is through lead scoring, which we’ll touch on in just a moment. But first, let’s talk about the various types of leads you may be dealing with.

Types of Leads

  • They called you. You’ve taken the time to optimize your web pages with your contact information, so when a lead calls and you’re not available, these efforts are wasted. Someone needs to be available to take your phone calls and capture important information. If your business is closed when the lead calls, return the person’s phone call ASAP.

  • They need you right now. If a customer has an immediate need for your product or service, you better be ready. These are great opportunities to secure, but it’s just as likely that your competitors can win the customer over if they have the goods and you don’t.

  • They ask for pricing. It’s common for people to ask about general pricing, but when they ask for detailed costs, payment plans, etc., you know that they are truly interested in doing business with you. If the customer requested a quote, you have even more reason to stay fresh in their mind as they make their decision.

Classifying Leads

As you generate leads from these various sources, keep a few things in mind. This will help you determine the quality of the leads. For example, where did the lead come from? Inbound leads typically require faster response times than offline ones.

Also, is the lead affiliated with a particular company? If so, qualify the company rather than the contact. The higher quality the company is, the faster you’ll want to respond to the lead.

Another consideration is where the lead is in the buying funnel. The closer they are to making a decision, the faster you’ll want to respond. When leads are at the top of the funnel, responding too quickly can scare them off.

Is Lead Scoring the Best Way?

Lead scoring is an effective way to separate your leads and determine which ones are the most valuable based on attributes and behaviors. However, some say that most companies are not equipped to practice lead scoring.

Generally, lead scoring works best for companies that have so many leads they can’t keep up, as well as companies that are confident that certain behaviors/actions will make leads more or less likely to buy.

In most other cases, though, lead prioritization is the better option. Lead prioritization is the process of reviewing each lead and then categorizing them to fit within the context of your service level agreement.

Essentially, each lead can be classified as “qualified,” “not qualified” or “not enough information.” Within your qualified leads, determine which ones are low, medium and high based on your own knowledge of your company.

How and When to Respond

In this last section, we discuss a few tips for determining how and when to respond to your leads. Keep your interactions simple, but remember to always respond.

Timing is Everything

The general rule of thumb is that the more qualified the lead is, the quicker you should reach out to them. However, use your best judgement. Not every qualified lead needs to be contacted right away. Many companies lack the resources to respond to every lead as soon as they reach out, and you probably have limitations too.

That said, some estimates show that the average time it takes for companies to contact a lead is 2-3 days. That’s far too long.

Frequency Matters, Too

Not only is the “when” important but also the “how often.” This Hubspot article recommends giving leads six outreaches over a sustained period of time. Remember that it’s fine to incorporate other means of communication such as email or telephone. In fact, trying another method should be done because you never know if the other contact method is not working. Landlines are disconnected, emails are changed, etc. It happens.

Always Practice Nurturing

For most companies, leads don’t convert on the first interaction. It takes lots of time, patience and nurturing. All leads should be nurtured, even those who don’t end up converting. You never know when that lead may come back to you in the future or recommend you to a friend.

Relationships are hard work, aren’t they? As with other relationships, the work you put into your leads will reward you in the long-term. Over time, you will build better connections and become more comfortable in the best ways to handle qualified leads for your company.