article By Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett Sales professionals long ago realized the value of developing approaches that helped them identify potential customers (leads) as a way to improve the productivity of their sales process. Today, the art of lead generation has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. In nearly every developed nation around the globe, businesses can purchase leads targeted to almost any conceivable audience, including lists specifically generated for recruiters. (Before you cry out that such services are not available in your country, take a look into it; we have yet to find a country where sales lead services are not available!) If you had an unlimited budget, purchasing sales leads is a quick and easy way to rapidly source candidates. However, if like many other recruiters you have yet to prove your value and improve your budget, chances are you may need to look at developing your own lead generation function. Numerous world-class recruiting departments have developed some degree of centralized sourcing. Often such functions can be staffed with college students, interns, and other low cost forms of labor. What follows is a listing of the most common online approaches lead generation firms use to build up their databases. All lead generation approaches share a common goal: to identify and to some degree prescreen potential customers, or in your case potential recruits. To ensure that your approach accomplishes this goal, it is important to craft a strategy that clearly articulates your target lead profile. Who exactly is it you are attempting to identify? What are their most likely interests? Who or what is capable of influencing them? The answers to these questions will help you determine what tools to use in populating your database. Lead Generation Is Not Advertising If you have any friends or colleagues in the marketing function, ask them if they consider lead generation approaches as advertising. What you will most likely hear is that the two accomplish something very similar, but that each is often budgeted separately. There are many reasons that drive this perspective, the most common of which include:
- Lead generation is often owned by the sales function, but occasionally relies upon marketing for insight and execution.
- Lead generation and advertising both reach the potential customer base, but lead generation produces a tangible output, where advertising relies on a customer initiated response.
With all of that in mind, lets look at the most common online lead generation approaches or tools:
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- Online newsletters. Online newsletters are the most common tool used to rapidly develop a list of targeted leads. In 2003, more than 64% of organizations that indicated they had some form of online lead generation strategy reported publishing one or more newsletters. Newsletters, often made available free of charge to subscribers who complete a short profile, produce targeted leads by design. No one subscribes to a newsletter on a topic not of interest to them. They are also very easy to implement. A subscription process and related content management system can often be installed on a corporate domain in less than 48 hours. For content, consider tapping the key players, experts, and opinion leaders in your industry. They often write articles and will allow you to republish them in exchange for the visibility.
- Webcasts. Webcasts were the second most utilized tool in 2003, but were forecasted to become the number one approach used in 2004. By year end, it is estimated that more than 70% of the organizations that have some form of online lead generation strategy will produce or sponsor one or more webcast. Webcasts are relatively basic. They often couple a print presentation with an audio broadcast and deliver it via a streaming Internet environment. Many companies that have utilized this tool have done so by partnering with industry publications and professional groups, offering to sponsor such an offering in exchange for some say into what registration data is collected and a copy of the registration database.
- Single document downloads. Another common tool that more and more organizations are using is single document downloads. Under this approach, your organizations would make available white papers, case studies, analyst reports, product literature, etc. after online visitors complete a short request form that collects the information you need. Many organizations use their internal experts to produce such documents, but some have also been known to license content from others, subsidizing access to it.
- Search keyword purchase. Professional marketers use this approach to drive leads to the companies website all the time, but relatively few recruiters have tapped into this approach to drive potential candidates into other lead generation tools such as those mentioned earlier, or direct to the careers section of their website. The major players offering these services (Overture [owned by Yahoo!], Google, and MSN) can often help in crafting a strategy and provide robust metrics on the effectiveness of your efforts.
- Email blasting. This one is a little sneaky and probably is not what you were thinking about when you first read the word “approaches” in the title off this article. Email blasting is not about spamming, which is an evil, detestable practice. Email blasting is about intentionally broadcasting an email of questionable relevance to an already developed list of subscribers who have opted to receive communications from either your organization or a strategic partner. Embedded within the email is a statement that reads: “If you would like to be removed from future distributions of this nature, please send an email with the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject line to this email address.” The entire objective here is not to irritate people, but rather to harvest the signature block from the return email. Most studies show that more than 66% of professional email users have a signature that identifies their full name, email address, direct dial telephone, company name, and job title.
Blueprinting Your Industry When used in conjunction with each other, these approaches can help any organization blueprint the talent that exists in its industry. Approaches that utilize ongoing communication, such as newsletters, can also help keep your database current by providing bounce-back messages that might indicate movement of an individual. A blueprint or talent inventory for your industry can be a tool capable of delivering a sustained competitive advantage through talent. Pre-identifying the location of relevant talent shortens the recruiting cycle, making it possible for your organization to rapidly fill replacement and newly created requisitions. Online lead generation is a practice that is here to stay for the foreseeable future. When leveraged appropriately, it is an approach that can deliver phenomenal value. Regardless what structure your recruiting function is organized under, centralized sourcing can bring both quality and cost efficiency. Follow the lead of the most aggressive sales organizations and craft your lead generation strategy today.