This is part two in a five part series on “Five Problems with Sales and Marketing and How AI Can Solve Them.” Read part 1 here.

In her weekly column last month in the Chicago Tribune, small business expert and executive coach Leanne Hoagland-Smith provided some rather stark numbers about the frequency with which sales people follow up with their leads. This is an issue that both sales and marketing leaders need to address.

Clearly, salespeople want to work just the best leads, focusing their time and energy on the ones most likely to convert into revenue. However, Hoagland-Smith reported that nearly half (48%) of salespeople aren’t able to follow up with leads and only 10% make as many as three contacts. When you consider that 80% of all sales are made on the 5th to 12th contact with the lead, salespeople are missing out on significant potential revenue from leads that with whom they never connect. Sales needs help from Marketing to make sure the focus is on the best leads…the ones that want to have a conversation and are ready to take a call.

While the numbers Hoagland-Smith revealed are from a non-scientific study, they hold up when tested against other surveys. Among these was a 2013 study conducted by the Harvard Business Review that revealed the average response time for sales people who did reach out to Internet sales leads was 40 hours…and nearly one-fourth of salespeople weren’t able to respond to leads at all. Marketing leaders need to pay close attention to these numbers. All the lead generation in the world isn’t going move the revenue needle if Marketing can’t help Sales be more productive. But, many organizations are getting it right, bridging the divide between Marketing and Sales and building a productive lead development funnel. (This topic will be covered on next week’s webinar with BombBomb, a leader in video email marketing software. Check it out here.)

When salespeople can’t follow up with inbound leads consistently and persistently, we need to find a way to do it for them. Ideally, we could cultivate inbound leads with repeated follow ups, handing off the lead to Sales when ready (or, just as helpful, finding out the lead isn’t interested in what we offer.) That would allow salespeople to focus on the human aspects of selling: matching the product value to the customer pain, negotiating the win-win terms of the deal and closing.

Putting a sales lead follow up process in place is one way companies can achieve the level of lead nurturing that can lead to increased sales. The Sales Lead Management Association stated in the white paper it released a few weeks ago that inside salespeople at companies that closely monitor a lead follow-up process are more likely to exceed quota.

By contrast, today’s artificial intelligence (AI) lead engagement software maximizes the chances of success by contacting 100% of all inbound marketing leads and qualifying these leads for Sales. Today’s AI lead engagement systems are able to interact with leads in a seemingly individualized and personalized manner that can produce a much higher rate of lead engagement.

In order to provide Sales with the hottest leads, AI lead engagement solutions read replies to emails, and then interpret each lead’s intention and sentiment based on the email dialogue that ensues. The virtual sales assistant software can then nurture each lead for as long as it takes for that prospect to express an intention to buy or opt out. AI is doing the work that a great Sales Development Rep would do…if that SDR worked 24 hours a day and never took a lunch break or a vacation!

In addition to reaching out to all leads, AI lead engagement software identifies those leads most likely to buy. When the fully-vetted sales lead is passed along to a salesperson, there is a greater likelihood that not only will the deal get done, but also that it gets done in a timely fashion.

So if your sales team is leaving sales dollars behind because they aren’t being given enough time to follow up with leads, perhaps it’s time to turn to artificial intelligence to engage with those leads and close more sales. As we noted in the first blog in this series, companies need to take action quickly–many of their most successful competitors already have.

While waiting for part 3 of the series, feel free to share your comments below.