Sales & Marketing | 5 min read

From first touch to qualified lead: how to build a live chat sales funnel

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The promise of live chat for sales teams is being able to connect faster with high-quality leads. But for someone in Sales Operations, the first thing we think is: how well does live chat convert?

As Intercom’s Head of Global Sales Operations, my job is to obsess over how we can optimize our supply chain to deliver against our pipeline and revenue targets; in other words, figuring out how to make our sales organization run better and faster.

What we’ve found is that, although this is a new muscle you need to build, deploying and managing a live chat funnel can grow your pipeline and be done efficiently. While it’s true you may need to incrementally add capacity for this new channel, the impact we’ve seen on our conversion rates has more than paid for the additional headcount. Not only are the leads coming in through live chat of higher quality, they’re also 82% more likely to convert.

By betting on live chat for sales, we’ve increased our conversion rate from qualified leads to closed deals by over 20%, and our Sales Development Reps (SDRs) have been more productive than ever. Let’s look at how this came about.

Invest in sales conversations, not touches

For many years, B2B companies have executed their inbound sales funnel in a similar manner:

traditional sales funnel

Much like the word “funnel” suggests, it’s based on the idea to filter out the visitors and leads that aren’t ready to buy or aren’t qualified. Along the way, you’ll make multiple touches in an attempt to connect with a lead – calls, emails, various calls to action – through a structured manner of how your sales reps interact with prospects. By continuously making incremental improvements to the process, you’ll increase your conversion rates and grow your business.

The traditional approach takes time. Many sales teams aim for 12-18 touches over two to three weeks. Suffice it to say, the longer it takes to make that first connection, the less likely your SDRs are to ever connect with those leads.

Building a sales funnel for live chat

There’s one thing everyone wants to do but can’t with lead forms: engage website visitors when they are ready to connect.

With live chat, our sales reps can connect with and qualify inbound leads within a couple of minutes. That’s because they’re able to quickly find out things like:

  • Why are you interested in our solution?
  • How are you solving this problem today?
  • What are your goals and objectives?
  • What are your concerns and questions?
  • And other qualifying questions

As a result, your sales funnel starts to look a lot more like this:

live chat sales funnel

You may notice that several stages are now one. With live chat, you’re connecting with prospects when they want to connect and move through to qualification instantly. Your team is now talking to leads who previously would’ve had to fill out a form and sit in a queue.

Capacity planning for a real-time sales team

By now you’re probably wondering, “Okay, how do I staff up my team to respond to all these messages?” It sounds counterintuitive, but the truth is: all things being equal, fewer than through a traditional sales funnel. There’s one major efficiency gain with live chat that drives this. SDRs can handle at a minimum 20% more live chat leads per month than they can MQLs. Let’s walk through the math:

capacity planning for your live chat sales funnel

Let’s say in your traditional sales cycle you get 10,000 MQLs a month and each SDR can handle 350 new MQLs per month. You would need 29 SDRs to work the MQL volume.

Now let’s add live chat for sales to your page and you find, as we did, that about half of those same 10,000 MQLs come straight through live chat. For the 5,000 remaining traditional MQLs, you need 15 SDRs to work the MQL volume. But for live chat leads, each SDR can handle 500 new live chats per month which requires just 10 SDRs. This is because the total amount of time to manage a live chat lead is less than what’s required for a traditional MQL. Your SDRs aren’t spending time researching, deciding how to best reach out, personalizing an email template or even making a phone call; they are simply saying hello and having a conversation. Live chat leads typically take less than five minutes to execute. And just as important, we disqualify leads earlier and at a faster rate, usually within two minutes and using less capacity to do so.

Live chat makes the sales process – and your SDRs – more efficient

In this example, again all things being equal, it only takes 25 SDRs to run both the traditional and live chats funnels, 13% fewer than in the traditional sales funnel. In other words, live chat makes the sales process – and your SDRs – more efficient.

When you don’t connect with your leads instantly through live chat, your SDRs follow the same playbook as they do with traditional MQLs to qualify them. And here’s the thing: prospects are 10x times less likely to convert if you wait just five minutes to respond. Live chat increases connect rates which leads to more pipeline and revenue, further increasing SDR productivity and ROI.

With a few routing rules and a little help from a bot, your sales reps can easily handle more leads over live chat in the same amount of time. This allows you to cost effectively staff a live chat funnel while increasing conversion rates across your sales funnel.

Three ways live chat optimizes the sales funnel

  1. Live chat is more efficient: SDRs can handle at least 20% more live chat leads per month than they can MQLs.
  2. Higher conversion rates for live chat: website visitors are 82% more likely to convert to customers if they’ve chatted with you in real-time first. What’s more, they spend 13% more than those who don’t.
  3. You can control the flow: consider placing your live chat widget in areas other than the homepage wherever visitors show the highest intent or buying signals. You can opt to have your sales team only talk to visitors who are checking out your pricing page or a product page.

Letting humans be humans

Live chat is an essential part of any modern sales playbook and for good reason. It enables sales reps to do what humans are best at: having high-value, high-quality conversations.

While live chat doesn’t replace email, phone or in-person meetings, it complements these channels well. There’s no better tool for optimizing your connect rates and having the kind of personal conversations with prospects that lead to higher win rates and happier customers.


Want to capture and convert more leads on your website? Check out our free guide to learn how to use live chat for sales