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Join Our Research Team at DMA 2014
Jul 18, 2001
Best Practice

Online Sales Lead Generation

SUMMARY: The Internet has profoundly changed the lead generation marketing. Business marketers, who had focused on direct mail and trade shows, now have to learn new tactics. Luckily, it's well worth it in terms of ROI. Web-based lead gen campaigns can lower your cost per lead substantially, while extending your marketplace reach with less outlay.  Click here for our quick tutorial on Online Sales Lead Generation:
The Internet has profoundly changed the lead generation marketing. Business marketers, who had focused on direct mail and trade shows, now have to learn new tactics. Luckily, it's well worth it in terms of ROI. Web-based lead gen campaigns can lower your cost per lead substantially, while extending your marketplace reach with less outlay.

We contacted Russell Kern, whose agency Kern Direct has created lead gen campaigns for Hewlett Packard, Lucent, NASA and Well Fargo Bank, to help us create this practical tutorial on what works online:


- "Educational" offers pull the best sales prospects

Kern says the biggest mistake most B-to-B marketers make is, "trying to sell their product instead of trying to make an offer that engages the potential buyer." So, product pitches are out (especially salesy ones.) Instead, "to get people to respond you need to offer them useful help or education that allows them to come to you in a way they don't feel at risk."

What works? Educational microsites are the "most powerful" offers now. These are Web sites featuring educational articles, and interactive features such as polls and Q&A with experts, on a topic relevant to your target audience. As visitors interact with the site, you can collect more information about them, convince them your company is the smart leader, and pass the warmed leads on to sales. Kern cites Avaya's Now microsite as a great example of this tactic. (See link below.)

Good old-fashioned white paper offers are also still powerful. Kern says, "There's never too many. Don't worry about saturation." The key is authorship. Your white paper must feature truly useful information, written by an expert. Marketing collateral thinly disguised as a white paper doesn't work. If your company isn't very well known in the marketplace, you definitely should test hiring an outside name-brand expert, such as a Gartner Group analyst or a trade journal editor, to create your paper for you. It gives your paper third party credibility, and your response rates may be much higher. The cost should run $1000-$5000.

- Add email lists and email newsletter ads to your media mix

While Kern heartily recommends you continue postal mailing campaigns to top performing lists (with an offer directing them online), he recommends you test both email lists and email newsletter ads at the same time to reduce cost per lead and to more fully penetrate your market.

Kern notes the B-to-B email list rental market is expanding with new lists constantly, but many are rented so frequently that response rates are starting to decline. He says, "Even with this negativity, we've seen them deliver a five-to-one lower cost of return for clients." For one recent campaign using rented lists postal mailing cost $30-50 per lead while emailing cost $5-9 per lead generated. Kern cautions marketers to "check opt-in approval at the source" before renting a list. Don't just take the owner's word for it. Opt-in perform substantially better than opt-out, and email lists from trade magazines work better than compiled lists from third parties such as YesMail.

In terms of email creative, Kern says, "it's not about the sex appeal of your HTML but about the fundamentals of credibility and curiosity." Focus your efforts on writing a subject line that your prospects will be compelled to open instead of deleting (and no, your company name is not usually enough to make them open); and then make sure your offer and click through line are contained in the very first sentence or two of the message. Don't start with an introduction and make them scroll. Many won't bother to.

"I love them!" says Kern about email newsletter sponsorships. They are a great, low-cost/high-return method of generating sales leads. Your challenge is in making the very brief copy space work for you. His advice, "Don't do the whole sales job. It's like writing an envelope teaser. All you're trying to do is give them enough curiosity to click. Less is more. It's not a matter of filling up the space -- if a single word is going to compel someone to action, then that's all you need."

- Landing page design is critical (don't use your home page)

The second biggest mistake many marketers make is to have click throughs go to their company home page, instead of a specially created landing page. Kern says, "Your regular site is not specifically designed for the function of lead capture." Think of it this way: You wouldn't have sales leads call your main company phone number, you would use a special phone number with trained in-bound reps. The same should be the case with your Web campaigns.

Kern suggests your landing page include a quick two-paragraph summary with bulleted reasons explaining why the prospect should take the next action (download the white paper, sign up for a webinar, register as a member at an educational site, whatever....) Stress exclusivity, uniqueness and value. Again, you're focusing on the educational offer -- not your product sales pitch.

And by the way, no your regular site navigation should not be part of this page design. You need to focus visitor's attention on the offer at hand. You can tell them all about yourself later on. (Example -- would you include an annual report in a direct mail campaign?)

- Registration forms, dynamic sites and filtration systems

Next, prospects enter a registration form. Kern says, "Forget long forms! You need no more than 5-7 questions, the traditional money, budget, authority. Don't make address mandatory. Getting permission on email is critical! You can always collect the other information later once you find out if they are truly interested."

New online marketing technologies are making it easier and easier to learn more about prospects, while serving them information that makes them more interested in your products. These include dynamically generated Web sites and email newsletters. Dynamic systems can watch what each prospect clicks on within your educational microsite or email newsletter. You can use that information to begin serving them a site or newsletter more personalized to their needs. You can also use it to recognize
who your best sales prospects really are and how to approach them.

For example, a prospect might repeatedly click on a particular topic -- such as how to save money on widgets. Your site and/or newsletter could then start featuring widget savings tips prominently when that prospect visits. Plus, your sales team would know to mention the topic when contacting the prospect.

New technologies have also made filtering your leads much more efficient. Kern says, "In the old days you'd have data entry entering information and scoring leads. Now you can direct prospects to respond on the Web and filter prospects faster and cheaper."

These cost savings allow you to widen your net. Where before you had to concentrate on only the very top performing lists, now you can broaden your reach without increasing your cost per lead. Kern explains enthusiastically, "You're not bearing high inbound costs, so you can fish with sweeps and soft offers to attract more respondents. The Web is one giant lead database when you use automatic filtration."

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