Why You Should Respond Like Lightning to Potential Clients

Vol. 2, No. 8

Josh King is Vice President, Business Development & General Counsel, Avvo, Inc., in Seattle, WA.


Have you ever needed to hire a professional to fix a leaky drain, replace a furnace, or add a circuit? While we may sometimes have personal referrals, and while we are sometimes willing to wait for those folks to get back to us, consider the far more common process—calling around to a series of potentially good choices until we get someone who can fix a household problem.

Now think about what happens as we make these calls. What do we do when we get voicemail or no answer at all? Odds are, we move on to the next name on the list. The first person we end up talking to is likely to be the one who gets the job—or at a minimum strong consideration, if it’s a multiple-bid process.

Notice any similarities to your law practice? Because if you have a consumer-facing practice, and you think that your potential clients don’t engage in exactly this type of behavior, I’ve got news for you: you are almost certainly wrong.

Attorneys, like those in the building trades, are in the service business. Potential clients calling you are looking for a service—just as you are if you call for a plumber. If you don’t reach the first plumber you call, you’re going to call the next one on your list, right?

Do you really think your potential clients are going to wait any longer to hear back from you before calling your competitor down the street?

Now, it is true that if your practice is highly referral-based, those who are referred will typically wait a little longer before calling someone else, or at least engaging them. Or they may not, depending on their level of patience and the urgency of the matter.

And consider: while many attorneys build thriving businesses on personal referrals, the same can also be said of plenty of plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. But there’s a reason the tradespeople working in your home will always answer the phone, even when they’re under your kitchen sink. They know that each of those phone calls is a potential new client. And if the call goes unanswered, odds are that caller isn’t going to leave a message and passively wait for a ring back. They’re simply going to call the next name on their list. Thus, it’s critical to any such tradeperson’s business that they minimize—preferably to zero—the time it takes to follow up with a potential client.

And in the absence of a receptionist or intake person, that means they’re going to slide out from under your sink to answer the phone—every time. Now ask yourself: do you slide out from under your metaphoric sink to respond to inquiries from potential clients?

And this dynamic isn’t limited to the phone. In the past several years, researchers have looked into the effectiveness of various response times in making contact with potential clients seeking more information about goods and services online (typically through a “lead capture” contact form). The results illustrate in stark terms the benefits of immediately following up on contacts.

In auditing the contact management results of companies generating online leads, the researchers found a very strong correlation between speed of response to online inquiries and the business making contact with the potential client. How strong of a correlation? Those who responded within one hour of the inquiry were seven times more likely to make contact than those who waited two hours to respond. And when compared to those who waited over a day to get back? The within-one-hour responders were sixty times more likely to make contact.

But it gets even worse for those who like to procrastinate when responding to messages. As it turns out, the lion’s share of the value in a one-hour response is loaded into the first five minutes. Those responding within this golden window were four times more likely to make contact than those waiting a mere 10 minutes—and 21 times more likely than those hapless souls who decided to finish lunch up first and respond in 30 minutes. In fact, virtually all of the opportunity to make contact with an online contact is loaded within the first 16 minutes after the potential client reaches out. Although it’s certainly possible to make contact later than that, the chances of doing so start to erode from minute one, and diminish to nearly nothing within a quarter-hour of the message being left.

So what’s the takeaway for attorneys? It’s simple, really: those who serve consumers would be wise to emulate the plumbers and electricians and immediately follow up on inquiries from potential clients. With virtually all successful follow-up being made within minutes of an inquiry coming in, the impact of consistently speedy responses cannot be understated. For attorneys willing to adopt the mindset and systems to respond right away, there is the potential for orders-of-magnitude-improvement in business development.

(Read more detail about these studies here and here.)


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