How It All Started
The internet solidified its role as the premier destination for information in the early 2000’s as hundreds of thousands of people began using search engines to find free information about products and services. While all this was going on, many organizations began to realize that optimizing their web presence and providing this information in an easily accessible format was not enough truly drive sales.
Instead, many companies began to use the internet to generate leads that their salesforce could later call or email and try to convert into customers. The concept was simple: rather than give all of the information away for free, they offered a “teaser”, which ended up being nothing more than well written web copy that enticed the customer to fill out a form to get more in-depth information. Case studies, free guides and brochures, you name it, it was offered for the small, one-time price of your contact information (which you were assured was to be kept confidential).
And it worked. Organizations all of the world were able to drive revenue to their bottom line by creating lead lists from these interested visitors. However, only the largest companies with the strongest marketing budget were able to keep up with trends and marketing techniques and truly maximize their revenue potential. Other, smaller organizations did well, but as new technologies emerged, and more effective online lead generation tactics were developed, many companies were unable to keep up with the ever-changing climate on the world wide web. Some abandoned their efforts, while others maintained a sub-par web presence generating only a fraction of the leads they could have produced.
The Birth of the Aggregator
The concept of a lead aggregator is not a new one, but the birth of the internet and online lead generation really took the game to a whole different level. What started out at first as companies generating legitimate leads and reselling them to multiple customers quickly became a process of generating leads with no implied interest in a particular product or service, their only legitimacy being an accurate phone number or email address.
Flashing links with offers touting a chance to win free MP3 players and laptops. Free “insider secrets” on how to make tons of money or lose tons of weight. The ads were everywhere, on every website, intimidatingly hovering over to the right side of the page, or in some instances popping over the whole page preventing you from reading the content you were after in the first place. Try to hit the back button to escape the barrage of ridiculous advertisements and suddenly…. “Wait! Don’t go! There’s a representative online available to chat with you about your free iPad now!”
Then that awful premonition hits you… if you click the “OK” button your computer will likely be infected with a Trojan Virus of some sort, the sky will come crashing down and your bank accounts will be depleted instantly by a hacker in Nigeria.
So, We Just Won’t Use Them
Sure, they’re annoying and we don’t have to patronize them. It’s not a numbers game for us and we’ll settle with more traditional lead generation guaranteeing a higher quality lead. No harm, no foul, right? Not quite.
Deciding as an organization that you are not going to patronize lead aggregators is a good start, but the damage they do doesn’t stop when you decide not to purchase leads from them. Chances are, if you have competitors then they will continue to generate leads in hopes of selling them elsewhere, and those leads could also be potential customers of yours. How these lead aggregators handle your potential customers could end up damaging your ability to convert them later down the road if you were able to reach them in a more traditional fashion.
Let’s take a potential student named John. John wants to go to school to become an electrician. John goes to the internet to search for information on local electrician programs in his area.
John may choose to click on enticing sponsored ad at the top of the listings. Or he may choose the next link down, an organic listing but still a well ranked aggregator page. In either case John fills out the contact form with hopes of learning more about the cost, length and course information of the electrician programs in his area.
What John doesn’t know is that as soon as he submits his information, it will be sent to the admissions teams at not only several of the local trade schools in his area, but more than likely to a list of five or more online schools offering totally unrelated programs.
John gets an email. Then another. And another. Then his phone rings. Again, and again, and again.
John gets so many phone calls and emails that he decides he’s fed up with the whole process and doesn’t want to talk to anyone anymore. He adds his number to the do not call list and changes his email address.
8 months later, John begins growing weary of his job again, and remembers how fond he was of the idea of becoming an electrician. This time, though, he’s smart about it. He looks for local schools specifically, and peruses their sites looking for information. After looking around several different websites, he decides to fill out the contact form on the most professional looking site he visited. Except he doesn’t really fill out the form in sincerity, instead he puts a bogus first and last name, a non-working phone number and a special email address he only uses for contact forms and other places he’s required to “sign up for a free account”.
Now, you don’t know John’s real name, and can’t call him so any real chances of building rapport with John area gone, or at least for the time being. So you decide to email John with some basic information about the program he was interested in and invite him to call you, but he only checks his SPAM email address once a week so he doesn’t go into to check it for several days. By then, your email is buried at the bottom of an inbox filled with offers for cheap, Canadian drugs and male enhancement products.
Even if John does find your email and read it, it would only be under the mindset of “let me check my SPAM folder” and you’d be disadvantaged in the very mentality he was in while reading it.
The truth is, you will never speak with John, much less enroll him.
Isn’t That A Bit Extreme?
Yeah, you could call that example extreme, but it’s not far off from the reality of what kind of damage lead aggregators can do to potential customers. If they reach them first and sell their information to multiple vendors, you could find someone very apprehensive about discussing their info with you in the future, and that’s even if they ever decide to request information online again. For many, a frustrating enough experience with a lead aggregator can lead to such a strong distaste that they will rarely if ever offer up their contact information online.
It’s not enough to “choose” not to use an aggregator, much like one might “choose” not to eat meat. It’s a very serious issue when it comes to online lead generation and you should not only refuse to do business with them, but you should also make it a point to express your distaste with using them to anyone you know who patronizes them. So long as companies find the margins even somewhat profitable and continue to purchase leads from these vendors, your own chances at generating legitimate online leads will continue to dwindle dramatically.