The Fatal Attraction of Lead Measurement

I get a lot of sales calls. Some of them are pretty horrible. For a while, I blamed this on the sales function — poor training, poor hiring, poor management, etc.

I don’t believe that anymore. At least, not completely.

Let me describe to you a very common circumstance (happened to me today, in fact): you provide your contact information in order to participate in a webinar containing content that you believe might be useful. The webinar is given by a smart person/author/consultant, and is sponsored by, say, some kind of marketing automation company.

Now, I think these webinars are great. They provide value, and utility, and certainly foster a sense of “good will” amongst attendees towards the sponsoring company. The sponsor gets to draft off of the audience of the presenter, and the presenter gets some kind of value in return, either in terms of promotion or hard dollars.

I suppose the best thing that can happen for the sponsoring company is that, someday, when I might actually need the services that company provides, that this good will then translates into increased consideration, awareness, brand fit, and other measures of my likeliness to convert. The problem with that approach is that a company might be waiting a VERY long time between the webinar, and even the CHANCE that the attendee might be in the market for its services. After all, my desire to see a webinar on, say, someone’s new book on social marketing does not necessarily mean I am in the market for a new CRM, right?

And this would all be well and good, except modern digital companies hate uncertainty. Everything can be measured, so everything MUST be measured. And waiting for me to contact a company months or even years after I saw a webinar they sponsored isn’t very measurable.

So — they called me. And it was a terrible call, both for me and for the poor salesperson, because I was about one-degree-warmer than a cold call. I wasn’t in the market for their services — not in the least. But, because I exchanged my contact information for the content in that webinar, I was a lead. And I was a lead that was easily traceable to the webinar and easily measurable because I was in their sales automation from the get-go as a hot prospect!

This behavior is natural, and understandable, because companies have to see which efforts work and which ones don’t, and need to justify the expense and effort behind putting these webinars on. So, I became a “lead,” and the calling began. Some attendees might convert, some might dip at least one more toe into the murky waters of the funnel. But many, many more will not.

Here’s what you don’t know, when you satiate the lust for lead measurement: what if you would have just left me alone? This is a difficult proposition. There is a bedrock concept of particle physics called “Observer Effect,” which states simply that the act of measuring something changes that thing. In order to “see” an electron, you have to shine a photon on it, and that alters the path of the electron.

This is what happens when you harangue these “leads” after they download a useful white paper or watch a helpful webinar. The human leaves the content interaction with good will, and then, in a lust for measurement, the company shatters that good will with a highly unwanted phone call. The webinar worked, in the same way that I feel good about the companies that underwrite my favorite public media programming — it created a halo effect. But if those underwriting companies then proceeded to harangue me with marketing and promotions, I’d feel quite differently about them (and possibly about the media they support.) The halo of good will created by the webinar gets blasted to shreds by treating me as a lead, when I was no such thing.

The confusion of sales and marketing here, and marketing’s blood lust to DRIVE LEADS, is having the oppositeeffect, and these poor salespeople are generating a LOT of calls and emails that are considerably colder than they might have thought. Which is why, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I no longer blame the sales team. I blame the process that made me a “lead” in the first place. I blame the process, and it’s a marketing process.

So does this mean that companies should stop using webinars or white papers or any other gated content designed to produce “leads?” No, but here are some common sense things:

  • When I sign up for the gated content, give me the option to NOT be contacted. It’s often not there.
  • If I am reading/viewing digital content, don’t call me. Period. It’s not the channel I used to contact you. You need to get to second base with me before I’ll give you that. I haven’t even let you kiss me.
  • After the webinar, it’s totally acceptable to send me a link to download the slides, and THEN ask for my permission to be added to your email database. If I agree to that, well — I’m a LEAD, baby. If I don’t, then perhaps we’ll meet again.
  • Measurement doesn’t have to be so ham-handed. The effectiveness of things like webinars and white papers shouldn’t be measured by “sales,” because I’m not really a lead. But you can measure things like my attitude towards the company, or Net Promoter Score, or other measures of perception. Those have immense value for Capital-M-Marketing.
  • If you don’t think you can derive value from gated content without immediately sending registrants to your boiler room, maybe gated content isn’t going to be your best option.

In short, let’s take this slow, shall we? I admit I was nice to you in a bar, but I wasn’t really in the market for another relationship. I admit there might be an attraction, but I’m not ready for a commitment. And if you show up in my kitchen, cooking my rabbit, it’s not going to end well for you.

SVP, Edison Research. Co-author of The Infinite Dial, The Podcast Consumer, The Social Habit, and other widely cited studies. Newsletter http://ihearthin.gs