Stop Leads Falling Through the Cracks With a Lead Response SLA That Works

One of the biggest headaches for companies are qualified leads falling through the cracks – either ignored completely or with slow response times from sales reps. Every hour or day a lead sits idle significantly lowers the chance to convert that lead into revenue – and plummets to zero if they never get worked by sales. You waste marketing dollars, risk your forecast, and tarnish your prospect experience.

Service-level agreements (SLAs) prevent those headaches by establishing clear deliverables that keep everyone accountable. For lead response, SLAs hold sales reps accountable over their activities and how they are working leads coming into the top of the funnel.

SLAs come into play wherever you have a handoff in your process. Some are more complex than others, but they are there to drive accountability.

Here’s Varicent's quick guide to creating a lead response SLA that will work for your team:

Creating your lead response SLA

Ask yourself the question: what should sales reps be held accountable for when it comes to lead response? Every company is a little different, but three areas that should be in every business’s SLA are:

1. Pick-up rate

Pick-up rate is measured as the percentage of leads worked out of the number of leads assigned in a given time period. It’s important to understand if reps are working all of the leads that are assigned to them.

We recommend using a target pickup rate of 95% within 24 hours.

2. Response time

Response time is how many minutes, hours, or days have passed from when the lead is assigned to the rep to when they log their first touchpoint. This is the biggest area companies are trying to improve by implementing an SLA.

In terms of response time SLAs, it varies completely by the organization. 5 minutes is a great target, but we see 2 hours more often in practice. Benchmarks from data: actual performance is closer to 2 days to achieve a 95+% pick-up rate.

Business hours:

One of the biggest questions businesses have here is whether or not to use business hours or not. The problem with using business hours is that you can create a false performance narrative. If the goal of an SLA is that responding to all prospect as fast as possible increases revenue outcomes, only measuring within business hours can ruin it.

Let’s say you have a 2h target response time and business hours of 9-5. A lead can come in at 3:15 pm on Friday, be worked by 9:14 am on Monday, and still be in compliance – that’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s possible if your systems are built around business hours.

There are a lot of arguments about how after-hour leads can skew your numbers, but what is the total percentage of leads coming in off hours? If your off-hours lead flow is that substantial that it is skewing your performance, you might consider having off-hour reps to handle that lead flow.

3. Cadence completion

Pickup rate and response time will tell you if leads are falling through the cracks, cadence completion will let you know if leads are being worked to their fullest.

  • How many leads are being abandoned after no initial response?
  • Are cadences being completed before a lead gets sent to nurture?
  • What percent of leads are sent to nurture or disqualified without a single touchpoint?
  • What percent of leads are being dispositioned (marked as qualified, unqualified, or nurture) vs. being left open?

A consideration to make is excluding automated touches from your SLAs – these are great, but they don’t tell you if a rep is actually working the lead after that touch – which can lead to a lot of leads that have one-touch then get abandoned.

For SLA purposes, we recommend that a lead has to complete a full cadence or reach a certain amount of touchpoints without response before being abandoned and sent to nurture.

How to enforce your SLA

It’s important to create enforcement rules that are fair to your reps but optimize the experience of the prospect. Here’s what we’ve seen be successful:

Have two SLAs:

  1. Target response time (i.e. 2h)

  2. Max response time (i.e. 24h)

Target response time

This is the number that sales reps should be looking to achieve. Some companies set up rewards or bonuses for reps that achieve this number, but we don’t recommend implementing enforcement rules for reps that fall short of the target time – but it should be made visible to both reps and managers.

We recommend having a daily roundup email sent to managers each morning that shows any leads that are in violation of the target response time but are still within the max time. In order to keep that list to a minimum, reps should be alerted when one of their leads has exceeded that target time. That way they have a fair opportunity to take action before their manager sees it.  

Max response time

When the max response time has been exceeded, that’s when enforcement rules should be triggered. We recommend re-routing the lead to another rep and sending an alert to the sales manager that the max time has been exceeded. These alerts can be done on a one-by-one basis, or summary alerts sent out daily/weekly.