Generating Leads With a Click of the Mouse

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When's the last time you did a cost-benefit analysis of your lead generation program? How much did you spend on postage and printing? You don't even want to think about the added costs of following up each piece of mail with a telephone call.


Kind of scary, especially when you consider you're spending $45 an hour for 20 calls, and maybe, just maybe, your callers are getting through to 25 percent of the prospects. That's a lot of expensive voice mail messages your people are leaving -- messages that are rarely answered.


The economics of traditional prospecting and qualifying leads can be depressing.


The good news is that the Internet is opening new, less costly avenues to accomplish what every company must do to grow -- generate leads. Moreover, done properly the use of interactive tools will let your company build a powerful database of potential customers, and prospect to them in a highly personalized, one-to-one manner.


Suppose your company decided to capture the e-mail addresses (as part of the contact information) of all prospects who stopped by your booth at a trade show? And you ask them for permission to contact them by e-mail (ethical e-mail marketing). And suppose that within a day of the show, you send an e-mail message to all of your attendees thanking them for stopping by and asking if they'd like additional information. You include a URL for those prospects ready to take the next step and visit your Web site.


Think of the savings. Proper database management at this point is crucial. Imagine the database of prospects you could have at your fingertips, hopefully with rich demographic information for future marketing efforts. More importantly, consider what happens when a "suspect" takes the first step in the sales process by going on the Web and filling out a form to request more information about your product. He becomes an incredibly low cost prospect.


You're getting qualified prospects who can turn into leads without spending anything on printing or putting an army of telemarketers to work. You don't even need to worry about whether or not your phone reps are getting all the information right; the prospect is doing all the work.


Interactive tools such as e-mail are changing the lead-generation process for the better. These tools have implications for every business that relies on direct mail and/or telemarketing to identify, qualify and close prospects.


Internet-savvy marketers are creating powerful databases that offer the highest levels of one-to-one personalized marketing at a fraction of the typical costs associated with established direct marketing programs. Imagine for a moment how publishers of controlled circulation magazines can benefit from using e-mail -- instead of print mailings -- to re-qualify subscribers. The savings alone would justify the investment in e-mail technology.


For an example of the power of e-mail marketing, 3Com Corp. recently ran an online sweepstakes that started as an afterthought to a standard direct marketing campaign. The company used a satellite Web site to drive traffic from banner ads that were placed on 20 different Web sites, according to a recent report in <I>DM News.<I> 3Com also promoted the contest heavily on its own site and rented e-mail subscriber lists from IDG Publishing's e-mail newsletters Network World, JavaWorld and SunWorld. In just nine weeks, 3Com generated 93 sales worth nearly $4 million. 3Com's experience offers valuable lessons to all of us in the direct marketing industry.


Those lessons should be obvious: E-mail and other interactive solutions offer a low-cost, highly targeted way of generating and qualifying leads. The technology requirements of an e-mail direct marketing campaign are quite simple. What's critical is developing a set of qualifying questions and using some filtering processes to screen the first round of mail.


Remember that you are communicating with customers and potential customers who already know who you are and who may have an existing business relationship with your company. That's critical because it avoids any questions about sending spam. You can qualify leads through e-mail or through a Web interface. Then you can communicate additionally via e-mail or transfer the hot prospects to live callers who can close the sale.


And all the time, you are building a database of customers and prospects who know your products and services and are likely targets for future mailings. In effect, you are creating a "lead cycle" that you can use again and again, each time adding additional demographic and buying information.


A lead program then becomes something more -- an interactive, one-to-one post-sales program that unites customer and product through the product's entire life cycle.


We hear talk all the time of how the Internet is creating online communities of people with similar interests. But business-to-business e-mail is doing something far more; it is creating a positive, continuing relationship between buyer and seller -- a relationship that may very well last a life time.
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