The Web as Lead Generator

Marketers often mistakenly ask for the sale on the first communication with a prospect without knowing anything about the person. The need to hit aggressive revenue numbers leads them to forget about how people like to be communicated with, says Sarah Barber, senior broker at the Walter Karl Interactive division of Pearl River, NY-based Walter Karl, a Donnelley Marketing Co. Online, that has led some marketers to forget that a prospect may need to visit a Website two, three, or four times before he is comfortable enough to place his first order.

Instead of looking for the quick fix or killer app, some marketers are going back to old-fashioned lead generation to boost the bottom line, adapting the strategy for even the new medium of the Internet. Barber defines lead generation as introducing your firm to the prospect and letting him grant you permission to contact him in the future.

“Hundreds of high-traffic Websites are partnering with marketers, letting them put their offer in front of the sites’ 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,” Barber says. “If you handle lead generation correctly, it’s your company that a customer thinks of when the need arises for the product.”

Before you embark on an online lead generation program, be sure to have your affiliate, partner, or service provider answer the following questions:

• Where will my logo and offer be on the particular Websites? 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 prechecked 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 the 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.

Although lead generation is not a vehicle for immediate sales, the proper offer is vital nonetheless. “You want to show prospects how important their business is to you,” Barber says. Common offers from merchants participating in affiliate market and other online tactics 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,” she says.

Getting overly aggressive on what information you want to gather is a common pitfall. “Start with the basics, as you would any other relationship,” Barber suggests—name, e-mail address, postal address, and the like. Most Websites allow only you to collect about eight fields of information from visitors. Barber recommends that you don’t ask for more than four from first-time visitors.

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