This is the first post in a two-part series.

Running a Cost Per Lead Advertising campaign seems simple. Pay a fair price for the leads of people who requested to be contacted, contact your leads, and let the sales roll in. Yet in reality, achieving success is a complicated endeavor. Without a good methodology for processing leads, most lead buyers who attempt to run a Cost Per Lead Advertising campaign are doomed for failure.

The challenge is there are many things that can go wrong, and typically do. There is potential for wasted resources (time and money), damage to your brand, regulatory risks, and lawsuits. You may assume your worst case scenario is that you simply don’t get any sales from the leads you purchased. However, you might be opening yourself up to consumer complaints, as well as legal trouble. The challenge is creating a process that increases your chances of success while protecting you from the various risks.

Fortunately, if you have a solid process in place, CPL advertising can be a highly effective and scalable channel for new customer acquisition.

The following 10 steps will ensure success when buying and processing internet leads:

  1. Real-time data capture
  2. De-duplication
  3. Lead validation
  4. Lead certification
  5. Lead verification
  6. Lead enhancement
  7. Confirmation emails
  8. Lead distribution/delivery
  9. Lead returns (negative feedback loop)
  10. Conversion tracking (positive feedback loop)

These steps are often overlooked or lumped together as general practices. Careful attention must be paid to understanding and implementing each specific step to maximize success with internet leads.

In this post we’ll go over the first five steps in the process.

1. Capture leads in real-time
If you are buying Internet leads, you must receive the lead data in real-time. This cannot be stressed enough. Sales success and cost management are both dependent on a real time capture.

  • Sales success- Each lead represents someone who completed a web form online and is waiting to be contacted. Studies such as the InsideSales MIT study prove the quicker consumers are contacted, the higher percentage of success.
  • Cost management- Giving your lead providers a real-time response indicating if you will accept the lead will save you money. Generally speaking, lead vendors will not charge you for leads if you can tell them in real-time that you don’t want them. An immediate response is like a virtual receipt. This allows your vendor to confirm that you received the lead properly and know whether or not you will pay for it. You can’t do this if you are receiving your leads via email or FTP. The real-time response must come from the system you are using to accept the lead. This may be your server or a 3rd party lead management system. Needless to say this has a major impact on your media cost. We’ll go into detail later about defining and blocking the leads you don’t want.

2. De-duplication of leads
Why risk paying for the same lead twice? It is possible to receive the same lead multiple times from a single vendor. It is also possible to receive the same lead from multiple vendors. Or maybe this lead is an existing customer in your database. Whatever the case, you don’t have to pay for leads you already own.

The way to avoid paying for the same lead twice is to check the lead in real-time and provide a real-time reject response to the lead vendor. In your response, you should tell them that you are rejecting because it is a duplicate. By doing this in real-time you are giving your lead vendor the opportunity to provide an alternative offer to the consumer.

3. Lead Validation: Reject leads that don’t meet your acceptance criteria
CPL advertising allows the lead buyer to define acceptable leads. As a buyer, you specify required fields and acceptable data values. Obviously, you don’t want to pay for a lead with false information so it is important to reject leads with missing required fields or bad data.

For example, phone numbers with less than 10 digits or email addresses that aren’t formatted as legitimate addresses should be rejected. Checking phone numbers and zip codes against national databases of legitimate data will ensure the accuracy of this information. Typically, these types of checks are included with lead management systems but can be licensed if you are using a custom built solution.

In addition to validating basic contact information, responses to additional questions should be checked to make sure they match your acceptance criteria. For example, a home security lead buyer may want to only accept leads where the consumer indicates they are a homeowner. Other common types of acceptance criteria are volume caps (limit the number of leads received), day of week (leads collected on specific business days), time of day (leads collected during business hours) or consumer age (18 and up only). Any leads that don’t meet your basic criteria should be rejected in real time with a detailed response provided to the lead vendor. Lead vendors typically don’t charge for leads when they receive a real-time reject response, but confirm this with your vendors.

4. Lead Certification: Verify consumer intent and consent
There is a great deal of fraud with Internet leads. Ideally, you will be buying real-time opt-in leads. However, lead vendors may try to pass off aged leads as real-time, or purchased lists as opt-in data. To ensure you are buying real-time opt-in leads, you must require your vendors provide certified leads.

Lead certification means the authenticity of a lead has been verified by an independent third party, such as TrustedForm. A lead certification service, such as TrustedForm, will also verify where the lead was collected so you can ensure the consumer was signing up for the appropriate offer. Example: if you are buying a mortgage lead, you want to be able to verify that the consumer filled out a form for a mortgage offer and that the proper ad copy and legal disclosures were provided to that consumer.

While it’s obviously beneficial to verify what you are buying, there are also lots of other benefits. If your brand is being used to collect the leads, you want to be sure that the methodology being used in consistent with how you want your brand represented.

There are a wide range of legal regulations governing contacting consumers such as the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) and the Do Not Call Registry. Responsibility for compliance rests with the lead buyer contacting the lead. Therefore you should maintain an audit trail of express written consent for every lead you contact.

5. Lead Verification: Verify the lead contact information
At this point, you have verified the lead meets your basic acceptance criteria and confirmed it is an opt-in lead. However, it is still possible the lead data isn’t real (the consumer can input a fake phone number or email address).

There are a variety of real-time web services available to provide advanced lead verification services. For example, it is possible to verify if an email address, phone number, and postal address is real. Some services will verify a phone number belongs to a particular individual. There are also fraud detection services that will determine if the lead was likely submitted by a bot or other fraudulent source.If the lead data is proven to be fictitious, it should be rejected in real-time.

Stay Tuned

In the next post we’ll cover steps 6-10 in our model CPL advertising process, including critical performance metrics like lead returns and conversion tracking.