StopwatchWe all know about first responders in public safety: the police, firefighter and EMT personnel who are trained to be the first to respond to an emergency.

Now, you’re not going to save lives, but sales first responders can create tremendous value for themselves and their companies.

I first heard of this when the agency that I then owned, Magic Hour Communications, was doing work for Newmarket,  a company that makes software to serve the hospitality industry. They mentioned that the hotel or other facility that responded first to an RFP (to host a convention, for example) had a 50+ percent chance of winning the deal.

My practice when an inbound opportunity arrives is to qualify it immediately. I quickly check the website for their business and any insights into the state of their digital marketing, look in LinkedIn for possible connections, if they’re public look at Yahoo! Finance for how the company is doing, and I might use a tool like SpyFu to see how much online advertising they’re doing. And then I call. Right away. Within 10 minutes, ideally within five. (According to Inside Sales, responding within five minutes makes you 9 times more likely to win the sales.)

This gives tremendous advantages because you’re just way more memorable than if you’re the fourth or fifth company to respond, perhaps several days later. In one case a VP of Marketing filled out a “contact us” form on the company’s website and it came to me. Since I was familiar with the company, my research was even faster than usual and I called in under five minutes. Her reaction was, “Either you have nothing to do, or you’re incredibly responsive.” I assured her that it was the latter. And that really stuck with her. Whenever she introduced me to others at her company during the sales process she invariably said, “He’s the guy who called me back in less than five minutes.” It was a very smooth process that closed unusually swiftly.

Not all companies do this. I’ve talked with people working in marketing in mid-sized companies where it takes  1-2 weeks to qualify an inbound lead and have sales respond. If you’re not calling a hot prospect back for a week or more – I’m not talking about someone who downloaded a white paper or infographic, I’m talking about a person who filled out a “contact me” form begging you to sell them something – then it’s hardly worth doing at all. By then they may not even remember that they contacted you.

And this is different from being the first company to pitch. Of course, if you’re the first responder and can quickly get an in-person meeting, take it. But if I’m in a competitive bidding situation where the prospect is inviting several vendors in one-by-one, then I want to go last because in the process of talking to several companies the prospect will learn and will become more focused on what they really need. That’s when I want to talk to them, not in one of the first meetings that they might not even remember a few weeks later.

I think of being the first responder as kind of like “imprinting”, the psychological process where people and animals quickly learn something in a critical phase of development. And once learned, it’s hard to change. Zoologist Konrad Lorenz famously demonstrated that baby geese would attach themselves emotionally to him if he was the first being that they saw after hatching, never to transfer their affection to a real mother goose.

So be a sales first responder and bond your prospects to you.

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