New generation in data

Online leads may be hot, but they also need to perform well. Getting good quality is a case of ‘buyer beware’.

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Recency has become the most desirable variable in data. As long as a lead is hot, it can command tens of pounds from a data user. With volume going out of the data market, the explosion of demand for lead generation has been a blessing for suppliers.

Except that what should have been an Eldorado for data owners risks becoming the Wild West for clients. Lured by the budgets being spent in the sector, a whole new generation of companies has sprung up entirely focused on producing hot leads and without any track record in data.

Unless data users are careful about the data they buy – and who they buy it from – they could find their leads are as valuable as hot air. “You need to do some checking to find out what you are getting and where it came from,” says Lynn Stevens, managing director of Lloyd James Group. “You can not take hot lead data at face value, especially if you are sourcing it from a new entrant.”

She recommends that clients undertake a process of due dilligence. If the leads are being captured via outbound telemarketing, then visiting the call centre and listening in pays dividends. Where lead generation is happening online, due dilligence is harder. Most lead generation businesses, whether long-established or new entrants, work with a network of co-registration and affiliates in addition to their directly operated collection sites.

“It is a question of asking, looking at the sites and how information is gathered, but it is quite hard to keep a check on,” admits Stevens. One technique she has adopted has been to ask data owners to flag records acquired through affiliates on the files they supply. That way any sources that are generating poor response rates for the data user can be tracked back and dropped from the schedule.

So concerned have leading players in the data industry become about the variability of leads being generated that they have come together within the IAB Lead Generation Taskforce. Initially focused on educating users through the creation of white papers, it eventually wants to look at best practice and standardisation.

Amit Kotecha, IAB’s co-ordinator of the taskforce, says/ “Online lead generation has quietly grown up in the background to become a large industry and a channel that delivers accountable results. This taskforce has been established at the perfect time to create a common language and to provide a source of guidance for the industry.”

This rapid growth – estimated by Econsultancy as 91 per cent in 2008 alone – risks leaving basic data quality standards behind in the rush to turn leads into cash. Among many of the new, purely online lead generation companies, only a handful are applying verification and validation techniques.

“As more people recognise the Web as an efficient lead generation channel, more people have come to market and more brand owners are using them,” notes Nick Martin, managing director of Acxiom UK. “That has attracted new entrants into the market that make it harder to discriminate between those who are supply quality leads and those who are not.”

Trading of leads between providers only serves to muddy the waters. Martin argues that clients need to remember core data principles before they get carried away with the velocity and dynamism of lead generation.

“In this world, it is important to fall back on simple direct marketing principles of testing and targeting, so you can filter out the wheat from the chaff to find those sources that really work,” he says.

As a data owner, Acxiom probably has the highest level of investment into generating data across all channels. This spread of sources is important since it provides a robust underpinning for any data it puts onto the market. Leads generated online can be identified and validated against its InfoBase, for example, giving clients a high degree of confidence that the person is a genuine opportunity, not just a recent piece of data whose characteristics are essentially unknown.

At digital marketing agency and lead generation company Attinger Jack Interactive, managing director Alex Attinger sees the issue from both sides, as both a data supplier and a buyer. “There are questions that need to be asked, such as asking for case studies and testimonials to give peace of mind,” he says.

His own lead generation business gets agreement from its clients to act as references to new prospects, for example. Attinger also advocates small-scale testing, typically of several thousand records, to check the quality and performance of data.

Ultimately, there is nowhere for suppliers to hide once data gets put to work. As Attinger notes, “there are cowboys out there. But that will change as budgets are being squeezed.” To keep a share of the action, data owners need not only to provide recency, but also decency.

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