Harper Grey: Are Your Online Leads Backfiring?


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

Business on the Internet is booming. According to Forrester Research, consumers in the United States will spend $327 billion per year online by the year 2016. That bit of news might make businesses happy, but I can guarantee that your customers aren’t always so excited about the sales opportunities you’re gaining from online leads.

Creepy Banner Ads

As a writer, I do a lot of research online. And I do appreciate the fact that I can go to a company’s eCommerce site to see the specs and prices of items I want to learn more about. In the good ‘ol days, I had to actually call a business, ask about a product and then wait on hold while an employee went to look at the thing on the shelf. Now it’s easy-breezy. But I pay a hefty price for that convenience.

I was checking out tents at my favorite outdoor co-op store a few weeks ago. I’m not really even in the market to buy a tent, but a girl can dream about a spacious, pretty, rain-resistant new tent, right? Well, now I have banner ads and pop-ups for tents all over the place. And not just for the co-op store. For dozens of tent-selling retailers. How do these businesses know that I was looking at tents? They purchased the lead. Perhaps they think that as I navigate to my email homepage and see their banner, I’ll suddenly get the wild urge to buy a tent from them. That probably works enough that it’s worth their money to buy my information. But to me, it’s just creepy.


Sales Calls

I don’t own a home telephone. Like many people, I’ve decided that a cell phone is enough. One thing I love about only having a cell phone is the fact that I rarely get telemarketing calls. Unless I unwittingly give my information to a business that sells it to every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to start calling me relentlessly to try and sell me his service.

I’m getting ready to move. Which is horrible enough (all that planning, packing and hauling stuff from one house to another . . . followed by unpacking). While I was planning the move, I got online to see how much it would cost to just hire a moving company to do all the work for me. Usually, my husband prefers the Haul-It-Yourself method, where he calls everyone he knows and coerces them into coming to help us haul all our worldly possessions around for the price of a pizza and a couple beers. I thought this time it might be nice to have some professionals come, instead. I figured both my poor, sore muscles and my more delicate furniture might benefit from a small expenditure, and I’d be supporting the economy to boot.

I got onto one company’s website and started looking at the services offered. A pop-up popped up, asking me if I’d like to chat online with a live agent (as opposed to a dead one? Or a robot?) I thought, sure . . . I could get a quote. So I proceeded to chat with a seemingly nice “woman” named “Kim.” I gave her my email, phone number and general info, and she gave me a quote. I told her I’d think it over and get back with her company.

Well, it turns out that “Kim” did not work for the company whose website I was on. Nope. She worked for a larger company that collected my data and then sold it to every moving company in the state. Who then called me. Three times per day. Each.

Guess how excited I was to have multiple voicemail messages from five different moving companies, left three times per day?

When I made the decision to get a quote from “Kim,” I assumed that her company would call and bug me. But I thought she worked for the moving company. Turned out that all those moving companies are paying “Kim’s” company to get my information so that they can all call me.

I kept getting fifteen voicemails per day from the moving companies until I finally just answered their calls and told them to leave me alone. None of the five local companies who paid for my lead got my business. Partially because my husband talked me into the Haul-It-Yourself method. And partially because I was so annoyed at getting multiple voicemail messages from those companies, that the last thing I wanted to do was reward them for their annoying behavior by giving them money.

Handle Internet Leads with Care

Consumers know that companies have been buying leads from many sources for years. And we know that it’s probably an effective way for companies to sell their stuff (otherwise we wouldn’t be so inundated with calls and emails, right?) But we hate being bugged over and over and over. There is a reason cell phone manufacturers put that little button on our phones that sends calls straight to voicemail. It’s because we don’t want to answer the phone and be bothered with sales calls.

So, if you’re buying Internet leads, here are a few tips to keep from annoying potential customers:

  1. Do not call leads three times per day. Once would suffice. Same applies to emails.
  2. Ask your lead provider to be upfront with potential customers that their data is being collected in order to be distributed to many companies. Some people might decline to provide information if they know this upfront, but those who don’t will be prepared for the onslaught of calls and emails, and won’t be as annoyed. Plus, your conversion rates might be higher because the people you contact might actually care about the product you are selling.
  3. Even better, stick to generating leads from your own website instead of using a large company who sells consumer information to both you and all of your competition. Find ways to engage potential customers directly through social media, a company blog, a newsletter and your website.
  4. Treat your current customers well and they’ll provide leads to you who will be ready and willing to do business with you without you having to pay a dime. Word of mouth leads are much better than blind Internet leads . . . and a lot less creepy.