Messaging a friend and getting ignored? Fine, life goes on. Messaging a potential customer for the first time and getting ignored? Your heart hurts, your head hurts, your bottom line hurts.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re excited about receiving a bunch of new leads for your business… Only for that excitement to turn into frustration when you realise that almost none of them are responding to your messages? Well, you’re not alone. Salespeople everywhere are asking themselves: Are all of these just plain bad leads?

In my experience, it’s better to ask whether the first message you send to your new leads actually prevents them from replying. This is where the 10-second rule of messaging comes in. Once you know it, you can start turning cold shoulders into meaningful conversations that eventually turn into more sales.

What is the 10-Second Rule?

The 10-second rule is simple. If your prospect can read and reply to your message within 10 seconds, they’ll respond now. If it takes longer than 10 seconds, they’ll reply “later” (which usually means never).

It’s crucial to stick to this rule in the first message you send because you’re still a stranger to the prospect at this point. Busy prospects are often mistaken for bad leads. But the truth is, most people aren’t going to prioritise responding to a text message from a stranger. You’ll be facing tough competition from their mom, their boss, and their friends.

However, what you can do is to make it extremely easy and convenient for them to respond to your first message. You just need them to reply “Ok” or give you a thumbs up 👍. Once you establish this initial connection, you’ll find it much easier to continue the conversation, share more about your products or services, and get acquainted with the lead.

Following the 10-second rule helps you connect with prospects who would otherwise forget about you because they have other things to do. They could be cooking for their families, waiting for the elevator, or standing in line for coffee. They often check their text messages in short pockets of time, so make it easy for them to reply to you right away. Only then will they engage with you immediately.

Common mistakes that break the 10-Second Rule

When reaching out to your leads for the first time, you should avoid these common mistakes that break the 10-second rule and ruin your chances of getting a response.

  1. Sending a first message that’s too long. If you send a wall of text that requires lots of focus and attention to even comprehend, your leads aren’t going to bother reading it – especially if they’re busy (which is always). You should keep your first message short. How short? It should take up less than half of your phone’s screen. 
  1. Asking difficult questions or too many questions. Thinking takes time, and questions that require thinking take even more time… time that your leads probably don’t want to spend right now. The more they need to think to answer your question(s), the more likely they’ll be to give up and reply “later”, aka never. The solution? Ask a simple yes/no question that’s so easy to answer, you already know they’ll say “yes” (or give a 👍).  
  1. Including links and attachments in your first outreach. Your leads have no idea what they’ll see once they click – it could be a 25-page brochure, a 10-minute video, or a website with tons of details. Not only will they need more than 10 seconds to go through everything, they might also be paralysed by all the information given. Moreover, in popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and iMessage, your links may not even be clickable if you’re texting them and haven’t received a response yet.

But what if you need to send all of this information to your lead?

I mean, why leave out any important information that will encourage your leads to convert, right? Shouldn’t you send  them all the brochures and details as soon as possible? Of course, it’s completely fine to share further details on your products or services. However, it’s not something you should do in the first message.

Remember that the 10-second rule is not about making a sale in your first interaction with a prospect. It’s about increasing your chances of getting a reply the first time you reach out to them. Once they respond, you’ll have a conversation going and can then proceed to your tried-and-tested sales pitch.

By keeping your outreach simple and easy to respond to, you’ll realise that you don’t have bad leads after all. Just busy people who will still take 10 seconds out of their hectic day to engage with you, if you make it easy enough.

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Shuni spent way too much time on Yahoo Answers as a child. Now she writes content to help people make better use of software and marketing tools.