Lead generation is the generation of consumer interest or inquiry into products or services of a business. That’s what Wikipedia tells me. Since my days at Countrywide Financial, where I spent 4 years of my career reporting and analyzing marketing data, lead generation has become synonymous with specific verticals like home and student loans, education, car buying, and insurances of all kinds. Lead generation covers other categories from business-to-business leads and vacation rentals. At LeadROI, a lead management software company that I cofounded, we focused on mortgage because that’s where the money was. But Velocify, then Leads360, now includes solar and technology sales in their industry coverage.
But with so much activity around closing the loop – as we in the lead generation industry call it – it feels as though lead generation is on the verge of becoming the most important marketing currency no matter the industry, product, or service. In an almost synchronized dance, Google acquired Adometry after its $44m in total fundraising and AOL acquired Converto for $101m, putting the spotlight on attribution. Attributing what? Traditionally, attribution was focused on which affiliate partner gets the credit for a lead generation or conversion. But, these acquisitions touch on the much larger scope of attribution – from advertising spending to the sale of product. In fact, with the acquisition of LiveRamp for $310m, Axciom can arguably tell you if the person behind that browser is already or has become a customer. But, it isn’t simply about how much you spend and how much in sales that spending leads to. It’s about the attributes that made up the spending, such as the publishers, networks, exchanges, and agencies used to buy media, the creative and the individual elements of the creative, the offer or message used in the conversation with the prospect. And how did each of those elements, in all their permutated glory, lead to a sale. I remember when we at Countrywide would change the color, size, and typeface of the 800 number on the envelope of direct mail, to see how the customers reacted differently. Now that’s going to happen at massive scale.
Now, if I were an advertiser that was selling a product or service, I could only judge a lead seller on if the person was initially interested. After all, it was up to me to convert them to buy something. Right? I would argue not. I think there are ways to correlate the permutations of the attributes making up the advertising to the sales agent, product catalog, and more. You can, and should, be able to identify if you have the right person selling the product or service on a phone call, if you even have the right products and services to offer, or if the customer even understood your pitch in the first place. Back at Countrywide and LeadROI, we enabled the routing of leads down to the individual attributes of the lead and enabled companies to utilize reports to adjust those filters accordingly. But, imagine when that stuff is automatic. You can adjust your advertising at a moment’s notice based on what you are capable of closing.
But, how does this all come back to lead generation? Think about this for a moment. At what touch point could you return something if it didn’t work? If you buy an impression of display advertising, you couldn’t “return it” and get your money back. If you paid for a click on search advertising, you couldn’t say nevermind, the user wasn’t interested. Yet, all along, the lead generation industry was held to that level of standard, where if it didn’t work for a variety of reasons, you could return it. I remember working on automating that process at LeadROI (after our acquisition by Root Markets). You can now draw very clear parallels between returning leads to concepts such as viewability, attribution, and whatever else comes next. The concept of returning what you buy with advertising dollars will manifest itself into paying only for what was a “real”. LeadiD, a company led by Ross Shanken which I helped start, is addressing the touchpoint between lead sellers and buyers, but some of its recent news shows signs that it will expand its transparency and attribution capabilities up and downstream.
What’s for certain is that the days of huge margin arbitrage plays in lead generation are over given that each of these stages – from impression to click to lead to close – are beginning to collapse into one another. (I haven’t seen one of those jumping skeletons covered with state abbreviations in a while!) Lead generation has evolved over the past 10 years, but I believe all the learnings we have gained will now apply to the entire advertising stack.