How Marketing Automation Boosted Lead Response Time by 94% and Quadrupled Sales [Case Study]

Cue the marketing robots. Image by Brad Montgomery via Flickr.

There’s been lots of talk about the benefits of marketing automation lately, but how do you sell the idea to your boss?

I recently wrote a post about justifying the expense of marketing automation software to your C-suite by showcasing the revenue-generating and cost-saving benefits of the software. But nothing really speaks to ROI like cold, hard numbers.

That’s why, in the interest of helping businesses find the right software I’m sharing the tremendous results we’ve seen over the past year since implementing our own marketing automation system to generate leads, save costs and, ultimately, drive conversions.

The Problem

Flashback to early 2012. Our two (wo)man marketing department was spending a ton of time trying to effectively use a once-awesome email marketing tool that we had since outgrown.

The functionality was great when we first adopted it, but now the batch-and-blast system couldn’t do what we needed, and we were spending too much time segmenting lists and manually sending A/B email tests to see what generated the best results.

We couldn’t automate any of our sales follow-up emails to incoming leads because it would require our marketing team to split up the list and deploy one-off emails for each rep’s respective prospects.

And by the time we could do that, a couple of days would have passed since the lead first came in.

So, we skipped automated email follow-up altogether, and we passed all leads over to sales to deal with on a one-off basis.

Not surprisingly, our reps were overwhelmed with manual follow up. Their goal was to get prospects on the phone so that they could verify the software buyer’s requirements and make sure that the person was truly in the market for software (what we’d call a “sales-qualified lead”).

But many prospects wouldn’t answer our reps’ calls when they reached out cold, so the sales team spent most of their time emailing questionnaires to try to get the details they needed.

Even if they could verify the lead on the phone, they then spent quite a bit of time emailing back and forth post-verification to try to close the deal.

With such a manual process in place and so many emails to send, it took our reps between 12-24 hours on average to reach out to a new, incoming lead.

We’d read studies that said you are 60x more likely to qualify a lead if you follow up within an hour than if you wait 24 hours—and we were even encouraging our own customers to follow this sage advice. We decided enough was enough – it was time for us to drink the marketing automation Kool Aid.

Unbounce Capterra Case Study Screenshot

The Hypothesis

When we pitched the idea around the office, we hypothesized how marketing automation could improve our team’s process and what would come from the investment. We planned to use the software to:

  • Create an API that would feed all incoming leads from our landing pages into our marketing automation system
  • Use the marketing automation system’s email capabilities to automate email follow up only with unresponsive leads who we could not get in touch with in the first 24 hours. That way, we’d still have the human outreach to fresher leads, and it would give the API feed enough time to update the lead information overnight before we started automating the questionnaire emails.
  • Eliminate more than 90% of the post-qualification check-ins and touch-base emails our reps were sending by creating a dynamic nurture track to all sales-qualified leads.
  • Free up reps to be able to respond within an hour to all incoming leads during business hours to boost our verification rates.

Marketing Automation - Results

The Results

After about 6 months of building the API, implementing the software, and creating our nurture tracks, we were finally able to go live with our vision (we went with Pardot and use their professional edition for $1,000/month). The results were better than we could have hoped for:

  • 94% Reduction in Average Response Time: Our reps’ average response time for new, incoming leads dropped to well under an hour. We experimented with different response times, and found that if we could call the person within 5 minutes of submitting the lead, we were most likely to get the buyer on the phone. Even though we couldn’t get all prospects on the phone within 5 minutes, if you compared the now 45-50 minute average to the nearly 18 hours it took on average before marketing automation, that’s a 94% decrease in response time!
  • Quadrupled the Qualification Rate: From Q1 to Q3 of 2012 (the period before we had fully implemented the marketing automation nurture emails), we averaged an 11% sales qualification rate on incoming leads. Looking over the same timeframe in 2013 to account for seasonality, we averaged a 40% sales qualification rate.
  • Maintained Close Rate to Create 4X in Sales: Despite automating many of our lead qualification tactics, the quality of our leads did not suffer. In fact, close rates remained exactly the same year over year. So despite the greater volume of leads we were able to qualify with the help of automation, it did not cause the purchase rate to decrease at all, thereby yielding a nearly 4x increase in lead sales.

Hopefully you can take this example and use it to make the case for what marketing automation could do for your bottom line.

Do any other marketers have similar results to share from implementing marketing automation software?

— Katie Hollar

About Katie Hollar
Katie Hollar is the Marketing Manager at Capterra, a free service that helps people find and compare business software. She writes about sales and marketing technology on Capterra’s blog, with a particular focus on marketing automation software. Follow Katie on Twitter @CapterraMktAuto.
» More blog posts by Katie Hollar


  1. Mark H


    Thanks for sharing this with us. But I must request for you to enhance a statement of yours with more details:

    Eliminate more than 90% of the post-qualification check-ins and touch-base emails our reps were sending by creating a dynamic nurture track to all sales-qualified leads.

    What do you mean by “creating a dynamic nurture track to all”?

  2. Katie Hollar

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your question! I apologize- I’ve gotten too accustomed to using marketing automation buzz words now that we’ve been using the software for a while :)

    A nurture track is basically a series of emails that aims to nurture a lead into a customer. In this particular case, we would automate emails after a lead had been qualified by our sales team asking if the person had heard from the software vendors we’d connected them with, whether they’d bought software yet, asking them to rate our service, etc. It’s called “dynamic” because the list of who we send those nurture emails to refreshes every day based on all the new leads in our CRM. So when a lead is qualified by sales, they change the status of the lead in our CRM system, and that signaled to the marketing automation system to put that lead on the nurture track. So new people are always being added to the track and it’s constantly changing.

    Hope that answers your question, and thanks again for your comment!

    • Mark H

      Thanks Katie for such a detailed answer. Sorry, but your answer raises another question. These nurturing emails that go out, would they be going out on behalf of the sales agent of the CRM, or a “noreply” or a regular email?

      I’d think it needs to be sales agent email address, am I right?
      Thanks again!

      • Katie Hollar

        You’re correct- the emails are sent from the appropriate sales agent’s email address. Fortunately, with Pardot, we could sync who “owns” each lead and then have the emails sent out automatically from the appropriate rep.

  3. Ashley

    Hi Katie – Thanks for sharing this – the results are impressive!

    Could you give us a little more detail on the email content that you would send in the first email of the nurturing track? Also, how much time went by before the 2nd email in the nurturing track was sent out?


  4. Katie Hollar

    Hi Ashley,

    We actually put together two nurture tracks: one for leads that we couldn’t get a hold of on the phone and verify, and then the one I explained above where we followed up after sales had verified the lead.

    The first email in the unverified nurture track goes out 2 days after the lead comes in because we want our sales team to be able to reach out by phone within minutes, and then try to get an email response themselves with personalized outreach. If they can’t get in touch in those first 48 hours, then the first automated email would say, we’ve tried reaching out a few times and haven’t been able to get in touch. When would be a good time to connect? If they don’t respond to that email, we email again 3 business days later with a link to a questionnaire where they can answer some more questions electronically so we can qualify them.

    As for the post-verification nurture track, we would send the first email the next business day outlining next steps of when they can expect to hear from software vendors (pretty specific to our business model), and then the 2nd email in that track goes out a week later with more follow-up questions from our sales team about how the process of finding software is going.

    We found that sending a couple emails within the first week worked well, and then spacing them out weekly after that, and then monthly after the first month.

    Hope that helps!

    • Ashley

      Thanks for clarifying, Katie!

    • Mark H

      Any advice on the questionnaire? I mean, when the questionnaire is filled out, does it go straight into your CRM?

      Please tell us a little more about the questionnaire.
      Thanks once again!

      • Katie Hollar

        If we had a CRM like that allowed us to automatically sync fields from the marketing automation system, we likely would have sent the responses to our CRM automatically. However, we have an in-house CRM that we built ourselves, so that would have required a more complicated sync that our Tech team would have to build out.

        As a workaround, Pardot allows us to instantly notify the assigned sales rep via email whenever a questionnaire is completed, and then they translate the details from the email into the notes of our CRM system.

  5. Greg

    Marketing automation has definitely boosted response time for us. We found a program that sends email follow-ups automatically and it saves us a lot of time. The emails are sent without having to remember to do it ourselves. They look personally typed and response rates have definitely improved. Forgetting to follow-up is a major mistake many people in marketing make.

  6. Samuel Bienemy

    Marketing Automation will be the death of most businesses.

  7. boberdoo

    This information is really amazing and informative .thanks a lot for sharing it I m desperately looking forward for the next post from you