Generating leads online is a major goal of most marketing campaigns. In fact, a survey published by GlobalSpec in November 2008 notes that 78 percent of online marketers consider this their top priority.
To generate leads online, there are several marketing tactics that can be employed. However, as with any marketing tactics that hinge on the collection of user data, there have been calls for rules and regulations that would standardize the process and safeguard users from unwarranted data collection. In an effort to govern these techniques, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) published a set of guidelines to ensure that leads are gathered in an ethical and transparent manner. Just briefly, the following themes (taken verbatim from the IAB Lead Generation Guidance) are reinforced throughout the guidelines:
- Complete, accessible, and straightforward disclosure of all parties' intent regarding data collection and usage is essential.
- Data should not be brokered or sold without consent (or notice and choice) of all parties involved, including the consumer and the advertiser.
- Both the consumer and the advertiser should be made aware, through clear notices, of all parties involved in data collection and sharing.
- All parties should be educated and aware of current regulations regarding consumer protection and privacy.
These guidelines are a direct reflection of the importance of proper lead generation practices to both consumers and marketers. To execute an effective lead generation campaign, it is pivotal that companies take these guidelines, their company's objectives, and their sales forces into consideration. Disregarding one of these components could results in unqualified leads, disgruntled customers, or low lead-to-close ratios.
In instances in which the people who generate leads and the people tasked with closing sales are two separate forces, integration can prove challenging. Lead generators could easily just bundle and pass along their leads without providing any additional contextual information. Conversely, sales teams could neglect to share valuable customer feedback and insights that could boost a lead generation campaign. However, if these departments work in unison, the cooperative sharing of information will significantly boost their results and total output.
When engaging in online lead generation, there are a number of strategies to help integrate a sales force with a lead generation team, creating a full-circle approach to closing leads. Here are a few ideas that will arm a sales team with the information it needs to acquire and close leads.
1. Provide context
Knowledge is power. The more information and context sales teams have before reaching out to contacts, the more likely they are to forge connections and subsequently convert leads into sales. If business developers have concrete information about how and where a lead is captured, they can use these particulars to craft unique pitches more specific to each lead. Especially if online leads are contacted by an offline sales person via phone, direct mail, or some other alternative means, it is crucial to connect the current outreach to the initial lead-acquiring action.
Ad creative, ad location, and messaging can also help provide insights into the mind frame of potential customers. These data points can offer sales personnel an idea of the motivators behind a lead -- possibly even their affinities or online behavior. Provide your sales force with screen shots of the sites where leads are gathered and an idea of the surrounding advertising inventory. This will ensure that they have an idea of the marketing efforts driving their leads.
2. Not all leads are created equal
Especially if dealing with a large quantity of leads, sales teams should be privy to lead sources and have a system to identify where leads are in a conversion funnel. Of course, priority should be given to those who are actively hunting for information and closer to converting. No matter what is considered a conversion -- whether it is enrolling in a school, making a purchase, or signing up for a newsletter -- it's essential to capitalize on "quick wins."
3. Sourcing data and short-term goals
Make sure sales teams are sourcing data thoroughly and correctly. Using a CRM system, make sure any notes about how and where a source is generated are tracked so reliable comparisons can be made about the success of each source. If a source is not up to performance standards or converting as well as others, reallocations can be made to get the most out of every placement and/or outreach effort.
Establishing a combination of short- and long-term goals will also help lead generation and sales teams gain increased traction. By reevaluating campaigns in shorter intervals, media teams are better equipped to adjust campaigns regularly to ensure they are generating the desired threshold of qualified leads.
4. Continually get more information
During any subsequent follow-ups, use your sales team to gather additional user information that can be relayed back to lead generation teams and implemented into their campaigns. Ask if they have contacted any other companies or what research they conducted before completing your form, clicked on your ad, or contacted you. This can provide insights into competitors' tactics and illustrate the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of advertisement placements and messaging.
This feedback will highlight a campaign's strengths and make any flaws more obvious. Especially when every dollar counts, it is important to have regular updates about the progress of a campaign in order to make any necessary changes.
5. Keep everyone in the loop
As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. By providing information to all parties involved in a given campaign -- from media planners to call center staffers and sales personnel to prospectors -- companies will be able to approach their campaigns from a holistic perspective to make sure that each component is contributing to the overall business objectives. This can be accomplished by providing sales call tapes to media planners or supplying a call center staff with links to all active ad placements.
This year, performance is going to reign supreme. Marketers are going to have to deliver -- and not just promise -- results. With limited experimental budgets, clients no longer have the luxury of letting campaigns sit too long without reevaluation and optimization. This trend will certainly not be restricted to lead generation; accountability will be expected across the board. That being said, I do predict that direct response practices will be expected to bear the brunt of the current economic downturn. In times of uncertainty, we return to what we know works. And direct response works.