Twelve Months of Lead Gen

The holidays are sneaking up on us again. You’re responsible for driving sales of your product, service, or organization and before you know it, it’s the all-important holiday season. I get a little freaked out because I have a lot of plans yet to make and gifts to buy (personal and professional); add to that one of the biggest pieces of online strategy for my employer.

By the time you read this, Black Friday will have come and gone and early results will be flowing in. Online stats will most likely lag behind the numbers posted by the big-box brick-and-mortar retailers — but not for long. (Each year, online purchases take an increasingly large percentage of the overall holiday retail pie.) Someone said to me recently, “Why would you deal with all those stores and lines and crowds if you could just go online and buy the same stuff?” Very good question.

At this time of year, marketers that I regularly laud in this column start to reap the rewards of their foresight, patience, and hard work.

Many marketers, however, are scrambling for more volume. Most high-quality lead generation is done organically on sites that users visit for reasons other than receiving a free “newsletter” from a retailer. And during the holidays, those sites are forced to pull back their media buys because all the major e-commerce organizations are buying as much media as possible and pricing content sites out of the market. So they simply pull back their media buying until after the New Year, when things come back to earth.

See, lead generation takes a lot more foresight than search or other types of online advertising. You can’t just decide one day to start a lead-gen campaign, throw more money at it than the next guy, and reach all your target consumers overnight with the relative ease offered by search advertising. You have to target your consumer, know your source, build that list, and communicate with that consumer over the course of the year. When the holidays roll around and you’ve been creating a dialogue all year, consumers will click on those specials in your newsletter from their trusted source. You’ve been initiating this conversation with those consumers all year, and now’s the time when they start to respond and you monetize all your prior activities.

Those marketers who were good little boys and girls all year will reap the rewards of their well-planned lead-gen campaigns. And to those procrastinating marketers who are expecting a big lump of coal in their stockings, it’s not too late to outspend the competition on keywords.

But all isn’t lost for lead-generation laggards. Spend between now and January 1 scoping out quality lead-gen providers, doing your due diligence while others are filling orders or out partying. Figure out your target consumers and what kind of offers you want to make them. Then create a plan for communicating throughout ’07 — casual communications on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day — so this time next year, when people are opening their wallets to the utmost, you’ll be on their radar screens big time.

Not that you can’t roll out a lead-gen plan between now and New Year’s. Just think of it as list building and test marketing rather than a 100 percent gauge of how things will ultimately work. Above all, you’ll fill the pipeline with new prospects, which is a critical component of any sales effort.

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