What's next for online lead generation?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

As companies scramble for new online lead-generation options, word-of-mouth and referral incentive programs are among those emerging ideas. Our experts assess strategies

CONTENDER
Brian Combs
Founder, SVP and chief futurist, Apogee Search
Engaged in online marketing since 1991

Some might be surprised to hear this from a partner in a search marketing agency, but I don't recommend search engines as either your first or second source of online leads. The best source of leads online is word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.

Encourage your customers to talk about you in their Internet communities, whether through social networking, online reviews, blog postings or forum threads. Prospects generated in this manner are often consider­ably warmer than those generated by other methods, and concordantly have higher close rates, shorter close times and larger order sizes.

The next-best source of leads is a well-run press and media campaign. Properly designed and managed, a press and media campaign can both generate leads directly, and significantly improve your company's reputation in the public's eye.

Bloggers should be considered in both WOM and PR strategies. Lesser-known bloggers can be reached via WOM from the marketer directly or through satisfied customers. As long as you are polite, hon­est and straightforward, these bloggers can generate material Web traffic and leads.

The so-called “A-List” bloggers are much more like the media, and should be treated as such. Without a personal connection and/or established reputation, they can be very hard to reach.

After WOM and PR, turn to the search engines. Start with a paid search campaign to generate results quickly and find out what works. Next, take the lessons learned in your paid search campaign to inform organic search engine optimization.


CONTENDER
John McKusick
EVP and director, Geary Interactive's Performance Marketing Group
Fourteen years of experience in digital marketing

As budgets get squeezed and the focus on ROI becomes an even higher priority than before, marketers must use the most effective ways to generate business online. No matter your definition of a conversion — whether it is a request for more infor­mation, a newsletter sign-up or an online purchase — this is going to be a crucial ele­ment to an organizations' sales efforts in the coming years.

One of the most cost-effective, but time-consuming, means to generate online leads is to establish your business and team as industry thought leaders. Commonly, this is accomplished by publishing relevant white­papers, hosting seminars or speaking at events. By offering a unique and informed perspective, a company can set itself apart from its competition and solidify a position as a leader in its specialties.

There's an added bonus to teaching oth­ers. By doing so, you're giving back to your industry and helping others become more proficient — thus furthering the advance­ment of your field.

Exploring referral incentive programs or forming strategic partnerships are two other avenues marketers can take to boost online lead generation efforts. These tactics help marketers forge mutually beneficial relation­ships with companies that can help produce qualified leads. Doing this will generate a higher number of more qualified leads because they pass through an extra filter before reaching a sales team.

Generating leads online ultimately boils down to giving back. Share with others and make it as easy as possible for people to find you, and your products and services.


DMNews' DECISION

McKusick contends that moves such as positioning your company as a thought leader or exploring referral incentive programs are good investments in building online lead generation. Combs is banking on word-of-mouth strategies and other PR efforts ahead of paid search campaigns.


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