Lead Generation: A Hand-Raising Tale

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How many marriage proposals have you had on the first date? Yeah, me too ... thank goodness. It's funny to think about, though - breaking out in a cold sweat, looking for all of the exits so you can make a dash to the nearest phone to call 911 and have this person picked up because, clearly, he's escaped from the nearest asylum.


A parallel to this is something I see in direct marketing every day - marketers asking for the sale on the first communication with a prospect without knowing anything about the person. Most are driven to this by the need to hit aggressive revenue numbers, and they forget about how people like to be communicated with. When the program fails to meet the return on investment, many marketers mistakenly abandon what could be a profitable medium for them.


Instead of looking for the quick fix or killer app, some smart DMers are going back to old-fashioned lead generation to boost the bottom line. That is, introducing your firm and letting the customer give permission to contact her in the future. If done correctly, it's that company a customer thinks of when the need arises for the product. Many marketers are rediscovering that building their database with high-quality prospects will affect your company in a fiscally positive way.


That idea is gaining new steam on the Web. Hundreds of high-traffic Web sites are partnering with marketers, letting them put their offer in front of the site's members and other traffic. The marketer pays only for the people who opt in to the offer; all of the advertising and exposure is essentially free.


Let me reiterate, however, that this is lead generation, not sales. It is strictly an opportunity to gather people who are interested in your brand or a particular product. This is not a vehicle for immediate sales, though, if done correctly, a sale soon can follow.


Is that your best offer? The offer is vital because you want to show new prospects how important their business is to you. Common offers are coupons, free newsletters, free shipping, free subscriptions to printed publications, white papers, free Webinars -- essentially, anything that a person sees as more valuable than the information he is giving up.


Marketers have tried this without any kind of offer. But the process is much slower, and the price per registrant rises because the site has to monetize the space it is giving up to what could be a better, more profitable offer for it.


Name, rank and serial number. Getting overly aggressive on what information you want to gather is a common pitfall. Start with the basics, as you would any other relationship: name, e-mail address, postal address, home phone, date of birth, gender and a few others. Most sites allow only about eight fields of information to be collected. However, it's highly recommended that you don't ask for more than four to start.


Bottom line it for me. The budget you give a program like this depends on several variables - your offer, your brand recognition, how many fields you want to gather, how many leads you order at once, your time frame, the number of sites you want the offer on, or whether it's business or consumer leads. The pricing is on a cost-per-lead basis and can range from 20 cents per lead to $20 per lead. It is recommended that you use a broker familiar with this solution to contact the sites and figure out the cost per lead for your business model.


Quality is Job One. Getting answers to the following questions, whether through your broker or through a manager of a network of sites, helps ensure the quality of your program:


· Where will my logo and offer be on the particular Web sites? You want it where it will be seen.


· Are all of the pages that my offer will be on 100 percent opt-in? You don't want any opt-out or pre-checked sites.


· Do you automatically send an e-mail to the person who opts into my offer to validate the e-mail address for me?


· Can you time- and date-stamp everyone who opts in to my offer? This protects you if someone doesn't remember opting in when they receive a communication from you.


· Will any of my competitors be on the site at the same time my offer is up? Work with sites that won't serve up your offer with your competitor's.


· What is your hygiene process for this data? You don't want any profanity or null-value records shipped to you.


· How will the data be shipped to me? Ensure it's easy to integrate into your current database.


Gathering leads on the Web has been driven out of necessity. With all of the legislation targeting telemarketing and e-mail marketing, marketers had to take an active approach to get in touch with customers and prospects. Gathering leads is how e-mail marketing companies grew their databases of opt-in addresses. Today, it's a practice that can help marketers:


· Decrease cost, as this is a fast, cost-effective way to gather quality leads.


· Increase revenue by expanding the base of interested, qualified hand raisers. Research has shown that customers contacted in this way have a higher lifetime value than those attained through the immediate sale communication.


· Stay ahead of government regulations.


· Quickly and cost-effectively create a prospect database from scratch. Collect further data points on current customers.


· Keep current customers happy. Knowing how they want to be contacted opens the road to an easier, long-term relationship.


This is a tried and true solution for direct marketers. Hundreds of companies already are deep into yearlong programs. Go on your favorite Web sites and you'll notice some of the same brands popping up. These marketers are finding that prospects are becoming customers, and they are enjoying the branding and awareness that come with their program.


The biggest mistake marketers make is to collect the data, then mishandle it on the back end. They let it age without using it right away or they lack a strong CRM system in place before they start.


Lead generation is a solid, proven way for marketers to build their database of prospects to help the growth of their current customer relationship program. Treating these prospects in the rough with the right care will net some sparkling long-term customers. Serious direct marketers should join the ranks of top marketers who already do this with great success and give this solution a test on this year's budget.


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