Perfect Timing – When to Call a Prospect



Don't waste reps time or frustrate potential buyers by calling before they are ready

When do you call your prospect for the first time?  Within minutes of getting their contact details?  Twenty-four hours after getting their details?  After you’ve nurtured them a bit?

I recently spoke with a Marketo prospect about this exact topic.  We both agreed that if someone fills out a contact me form, free trial request, or other high interest trigger, then right away is appropriate.  But most of our discussion was about the earlier stage, lower interest level prospect.

We traded ideas around timing based on a number of factors like the average size of your deal and average sales cycle.  Marketo has one customer with a lower cost, transactional product who has seen a 350% increase in likelihood to buy if they connect with the sales lead within 24 minutes of hitting their website.  Using Marketo, their sales reps get real time updates of form fill-outs and the prospect behavior, enabling them to reach out with a precise story and achieve the 24 minute SLA.

Another Marketo customer, whose product sells over 6 month cycles and has an average sales price north of $100K, felt that too early reach out interrupted the process and confused the cycle.  They chose instead to restrict what leads the sales reps could see until they had gestated or ripened to a specific level based on prospect behavior.  Leads would be sent to sales after observing specific behavior through a lead nurturing cycle, and once certain behaviors paths were identified, the leads were passed to sales.

This process is important for two reasons: it engages the prospect when they are ready and it helps the sales person spend their time with the right people at the right time.  This is important for sales, as your reps only have so many hours they can sell, so making the best of this time will drive success.

I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything… at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything.
-Dan Millman, world champion athlete, university coach, author, and college professor.

A couple tips I have for deciding when to reach out include:

  • Don’t always assume sooner is better. Reaching out early can cause frustration, and even get you eliminated from a deal.
  • Create a process. Don’t assume the entire sales team knows best.  Develop SLAs for the team, making sure they understand what works best based on previous wins.
  • Let automation notify the reps it might be time. Look for an increase in email opens or web activity to increase a lead score and indicate a prospect is ready to buy.  Create alerts for the sales reps to reach out at this time.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s okay to ask a prospect when a better time would be to discuss your services.  Allow the sales reps to pass these unripened leads back to marketing for nurturing.  Simplify this process for them by letting the rep decide when these leads should come back to them in one easy click.

There are a couple ways to skin this cat, so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on when you engage your prospects and what triggers the outreach.