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The Science of Converting Cold Leads: How Many Touches Are Necessary?

By Todd M. Zielinski and Lisa Benson

September 13, 2023

Prospecting is one of the most challenging components of sales, even for the best hunters. There is one often misunderstood and seldom tracked metric that holds the potential to redefine the success of a business. This often underappreciated metric we are referring to is the number of touch points required to transform a prospect from a new name on your target list to a qualified prospect that says, “Let’s have a chat.” Qualified, of course, means that the lead meets your criteria for product mix, annual spending, etc.

Success doesn’t necessarily come with speed. It requires a blend of endurance, strategic planning, and patience. In the fast-paced, immediate-gratification world we live in, patience may seem antiquated, but this virtue must be embraced when selling industrial custom packaging or retail point-of-purchase (POP) displays, which can take months to close. The journey from cold prospect to scheduled appointment requires communication, process adherence, and astute timing. Understanding this and nailing down these data points will allow you to better predict and plan for future revenue growth.

Why Is This Important?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were trending away from road warriors making in-person cold calls. Travel is expensive and time-consuming. Every trip, even a few hours away, is 100% cost if the sale doesn’t materialize. Face-to-face meetings can play a significant role in the sales process, but they must be more strategic and follow initial contact and qualification through phone calls or digital interactions.

Today, many companies have held onto elements of virtual sales, but a lot of them lack a process, consistency, and tracking. Sending out occasional emails isn’t enough to convert a prospect. Multiple touches at regular intervals are required. Touch points include all phone calls, voicemails, video calls, text messages, email communications (e.g., personal and bulk emails), social media interactions, and even direct mail.

It is crucial to understand how many touches are required for conversion because the data is helpful for multiple purposes:

  • Sales forecasting: These data points can help with sales forecasting and pipeline management, leading to more accurate predictions for future sales performance, which can guide decision-making.
  • Resource allocation: Having an accurate picture of the work involved in converting a lead allows companies to better allocate time, effort, and resources to lead-generation activities.
  • Sales strategy refinement: Under-
    standing the conversion timing can assist with refining your sales strategy by making sure each touch is meaningful and helps to move the lead closer to conversion. It can also allow communication to be tailored to the customer’s buying journey.
  • Performance metrics: With data showing the number of touches to conversion, these performance metrics can be used to assess the effectiveness of sales and marketing efforts. If the number of touch points grows, it may indicate a change in contacts or process is required.

How Many Touches Does the Paper-Based Packaging Industry Require?

Understanding the sales process and the time and effort it takes to convert a cold lead into a qualified relationship is essential for anyone selling paper-based packaging products. A salesperson may need to invest hours of activity with multiple touch points before a lead becomes sales-ready. The time and number of touches required for conversion can vary depending on the product or service offered.

Although everyone’s experience may be different, our customer data shows the following differences per company based on what they are purchasing (see table below).

We should note that these are averages; some outliers convert in days, and some may take a year or more. Also, this involves three to seven contacts per company. Additionally, it is outbound phone call-heavy (65%) and uses direct line and cellphone numbers. Phone calls allow open-ended questions to be asked and useful information to be uncovered when one listens more than speaks. To succeed, the sales team must be consistent with its outreach over time, not just make a touch or two a month via email.

The following data from Crunchbase supports phone-heavy outreach:

  • Organizations that don’t cold call experienced 42% less growth than those that do.
  • Voicemails eventually lead to a callback (11% after the first, 22% after the second, and 33% after the third).
  • The majority (57%) of C-level buyers prefer to be contacted via phone.

Notably, our data finds that the size of the company being approached can play a crucial role in the conversion process. Smaller companies with less bureaucracy tend to be easier and quicker to convert, while larger corporations with more layers may require more time and effort. Additionally, the higher the contact person’s position in the company, the harder it is to convert them.

Sales of POP displays are cyclical and tend to be more project-based—this is where astute timing matters. Getting to the right person when they have a project can move the process along faster. If they don’t have a project when you speak with someone, nurturing the lead consistently will be key to converting them.

When looking at inbound leads, these numbers drop significantly, averaging around two to three touches and less than a week for conversion. When someone has come to your website and filled out a form, they are looking for a packaging vendor. This indicates the importance of a balanced approach using outbound and inbound strategies.

One caveat is that other variables may not have been considered here, and results can vary from company to company, region to region. The sales team’s approach and varying skill levels can impact these numbers. Some industries may be harder to penetrate than others. The packager’s messaging, value proposition, and delivery will also influence the number of touches required to secure an appointment with a qualified opportunity.

Ultimately, the key to a successful sales process is understanding the number of touches and time commitment required for your approach and adapting strategies accordingly. Sales teams not currently measuring touches can gauge their pro-
specting performance against the above averages. If they find themselves falling short, it’s an indication their strategy may need to be reassessed. These insights provide an invaluable road map to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their lead-conversion process.


Todd M. Zielinski is managing director and CEO at Athena SWC LLC. He can be reached at 716-250-5547 or tzielinski@athenaswc.com.

Lisa Benson is senior marketing content consultant at Athena SWC LLC. She can be reached at lbenson@athenaswc.com.

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