B2B Marketers Beware: Do you know where your leads are coming from?

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Maybe you don’t want to know.
We know that businesses that want to enable their sales team or boost online commerce will need to find ways to obtain quality leads. If you’re going to feed leads to your sales team, then there will always be a debate on what they consider to be of “good” lead. When running NetLine’s Sales team, I believed giving a rep the name of the right person, from the appropriate company, who purchases products like ours, should just be called by them! Why does the lead need to score high on website activity, have to download our white papers, or interact with us at an event? Isn’t that why we pay all that money for LinkedIn sales accelerator business subscriptions so our Reps can qualify they are reaching out to the right person?

As the CEO and Founder of NetLine Corporation, I have been fortunate to observe over the past 20 years the many changes and advancements in the online B2B lead generation space. The good, the bad and the ugly.

So, what are the right B2B leads for you? Do you regularly review your conversion data to know what channels bring the most value to your business? We are far away from the days of generating B2B leads where we solely rely on cold calling and print and off-line advertising. The internet has drastically changed the way businesses market to and generate B2B leads. And these methods continue to evolve quickly.

Display and search started to be the go-to for driving traffic to your website where you were left capturing the user yourself. Yet, display has come a long way with many technological advancements, but there is a balance the vendor has to negotiate between privacy laws and precise targeting. Display and search are both still facing issues around visibility, unpredictability, and fraudulent clicks. The results are usually mixed. I often tell our Marketing team that the only thing that matters is ROI. Find the best method to generate the best ROI at the scale needed (with scale usually being the killer) and we will be good.

These days, the hot new flavor of the month has shifted to generating leads with Account Based Marketing (ABM). Having a target account list is key for most sales departments, and it’s nice to have scalable lead generation methods that have the ability to efficiently acquire the right leads from the desired companies. But with the added restrictions of ABM campaigns are your vendors making concessions on how they are generating your leads?

To bring this diatribe back to “Do you know where your leads are coming from”, let me talk about the problems and solutions that should make you ask “what’s up with these leads?”
Typical web publishers—and even print publishers—have an audience that is traditionally semi-static. That’s not to say that they can’t grow or attract new users, but driving traffic to a website is based on having content—and the awareness that there is available content—and paying for it. And I use the word ‘semi’ to acknowledge the changes in audience that take place over time. In today’s competitive high cost-per-click world it can be tough for a web publisher to justify paying for search and display to drive traffic to their website. When the publisher generates great web content, others will often scrape and aggregate it. Even when they include the appropriate back-links to the web publisher, today’s ADHD-multitasking-audience who predominately skims short headlines and abstracts will never make it back to the original content source, losing the person who actually was interested in the first place.

When it comes time for you to buy leads from a web publisher, you want the best lead you can get. You therefore specify targets that systematically pair down the publisher’s audience with your lead requirements. Geography, Industry, Company Size, and Job Function are standard profile sets, but sometimes getting so specific can cause the publisher to only be able to deliver a handful of relevant names. If you choose an ABM based campaign, then you don’t need to specify the industry and company size because you will only provide a finite list of acceptable company names. But, if you can’t come up with a list of tens of thousands of companies, then there is a good chance that you have limited the publisher’s relevant audience to less than 5%. But this may work well for you if you only want to run a few small lead generation campaigns. The bottom line is that the publisher can only do a finite number of emails—if they can target at the required level—and limit display placements to generate enough of the right leads for you before exhausting their entire audience. And, if you are paying based on cost-per-lead (CPL), then this is definitely a diminishing return for the publisher and eventually you.

These days many of NetLine’s clients want us to filter out duplicates as part of their campaign requirements, which means we won’t send them a lead we have already sent in the past. So, if a publisher’s audience is only growing or changing by a few percentage points over the course of a live campaign, then they can’t provide the clients with a significant amount of new leads since their audience will quickly become exhausted. With no new names to reach, what’s a publisher to do?

Well, they can rent an email list or buy the names. But then couldn’t you just rent your own list and get the same mediocre results? Publishers that do this are just acting as lead brokers, who end up selling these leads with very thin margins. This approach almost always blows up in their face.

The real savior for publishers today is the use of 3rd party offshore call centers in a foreign country that have access to huge databases with very inexpensive labor for calling as many names needed to deliver the leads you want. In general, there is nothing wrong with using a call center, and there are pluses and minuses to employing these offshore teams. But don’t you want to be told about it? Today many publishers are telling their clients that they generate all their leads from their website, mailing list, newsletter, etc. But are they really?

If you want to know the truth about where your leads come from you could ask, but I have heard that not all vendors are being honest and upfront with their clients. Of course, if your sales team is getting the leads they need and the ROI is decent, then why do you, the marketer, really care? Well, if you care about your brand’s image or capturing true intent of your leads, then you need to ask your vendor these questions, and maybe even for some additional data.

Start with, “Are you going to use a call center to generate the leads for my campaign?” “Where are you getting my leads from?” “What technology differentiates you from your competitors?” Anyone with a website and who sends emails has access to every audience interaction including their IP address, the type of device used for browsing, and a host of other audience specific information. If you can’t get this information, then you need to question the tactics for generating your leads. Maybe they are just buying some names for ten to fifty cents each and selling them to you at $25 or more per lead. But if you don’t care and it gets you the right person, then what’s the issue? But then you might as well look for vendors that can just sell you the names directly and avoid the middle man all together. If you have an inside call center, then this becomes even more feasible if you can acquire a quality list (which shouldn’t be a problem in today’s age of big data).

As someone who believes that unethical behavior typically comes back to bite you in the butt, I would hope all lead vendors would be honest if not transparent about how they’re getting you the leads they’re selling you. Knowing the truth and getting the required results is a win-win for all.