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Lead generation: Are we entering a golden age?

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If direct marketing means anything, it's that its increasingly sophisticated ability to personalize messages should provide for better lead-generation and lead-management results. Add social media to the mix, as well as the accelerating ability to parse big data for better segmentation, and we may be entering a golden age of lead generation.

"Buyers have more tools than ever to evaluate products and services, and more are turning to social as part of the due diligence process," said Doug Sechrist, VP-demand marketing with marketing automation company Eloqua. "Social media offers an opportunity to extend marketing's reach, optimize the value of existing marketing efforts and increase the return of marketing programs."

The integration of various marketing functions also is creating an opportunity for demand marketers, Sechrist said. By bringing functions like content marketing closer to the demand-gen process, marketers can better align content—typically used to generate awareness and thought leadership—to the buyer's journey.

"We have become a 'trusted publisher' to buyers by producing the right content and delivering it to the prospect at the right time, helping them make informed decisions," Sechrist said. "This enables us to drive higher conversion rates and increase the velocity of leads and opportunities."

With social media and content marketing firmly in the driver's seat, the most fruitful next step in lead generation may be centered around the digital channel augmenting the sales channel, according to Yuchun Lee, VP and general manager of IBM's Enterprise Marketing Management Group.

"In the b-to-b space, the two major channels in business are the sales force plus the online channel, such as a website," Lee said. "Other than making sure your site works for ordering and research, we see that the insight and behavior from site visitors is extremely valuable and informative for direct sales."

Lee said the long-awaited convergence of the marketing and sales functions may finally be at hand.

"In the old days, meaning five years ago, I saw plenty of cases where companies spent millions of dollars to generate leads," Lee said. "By the time you actually got the leads back to the organization, half of them drop on the floor, meaning no one followed up."

A lot of that had to do with the inability of companies to pull leads from all the different channels, making sure the leads flowed effectively to the sales managers and ensuring follow-up takes place, Lee said. But he sees this changing.

"Organizations are starting to pull together their lead management optimization, as part of a system engagement that allows for a holistic way of interacting with the customer," he said.

What is the future of lead generation? Sometimes, even with new technologies and communications channels, a back-to-the-future approach may be surprisingly productive.

“It may be surprising, but we find old-fashioned telesales to be effective when coupled with good database analysis and the right offer," said Ken Fredman, head-digital programs & operations, with J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

"We use digital lead-gen strategies, like co-registration and white paper syndication to feed our list," he said. "These 'digital leads' are then vetted against our database and third-party sources. The primed contacts are more receptive on the phone and convert at a higher rate."

Fredman said that, for his division of J.P. Morgan, telesales outreach focuses on its market-insights program, rather than pushing specific products to develop potential leads for follow-up.

Sometimes, even with all of today's sophisticated tools and resources, subtlety has to lead the way toward better lead-gen.

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