The Good, The Bad and The Unethical
As a B2B marketer you’re in the business of generating quality leads. It’s the all consuming holy grail that fuels your daily quest. Your mission is to find the ultimate wellspring of lead generation and bask in the glory of discovering the ultimate, reliable source. Over the years there have been a several options at your disposal for lead generation – some good, some not so good and some downright unethical.
With new artificial intelligence based prospect identification methods coming to the fore, it’s a perfect time to re-evaluate your lead generating methods and how they have served you to date. Are you following the best practices for effective and ethical B2B lead generation?
Your Ethical Checklist
Customers want to start a relationship based on trust and respect. Here are the hallmarks of an ethical business character:
- Honesty: Give the potential customer ALL of the information so they can make an informed choice. Lose the hard selling exaggeration and rather talk honestly about how your product is doing in the marketplace and how it would serve the clients needs.
- Know your target: You need to know your customer’s interests, goals, needs and personality. At what stage of the buying cycle are they operating?
- Know your product: Are you informed of up to the minute information on your product? Are you able to exude confidence when speaking about your company’s offering?
- Deliver Value: Customers are willing to work with sales people who can assist them with better understanding the industry. They don’t just want to be sold a product but are looking for knowledge or new business ideas. Your sales team must be able to deliver empathetic contribution.
- Connect for the long run: Know the right questions to ask so you can assess a client’s actual needs. Keep detailed records of previous interactions with the client so you can build the relationship. Always be polite.
- Ethical business culture: Company leaders need to model ethical behavior. Their conduct shows employees that they are upstanding, ethical people who are not out to exploit others. The business culture is then built on a firm foundation of ethical best practice. Leaders show their employees that ethical behavior in all dealings is the way “we” operate.
Toe the line
In the B2B lead generating arena there are clear SEO policies to follow. Rules put forward by the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) and American Bar Association (ABA) are there to ensure that companies are following the same code of ethics. They are the watchdogs ensuring that companies are not telling untruths in their advertising and are handling people’s information ethically. These rules are there to ensure that the user experience takes place in a safe and useful environment.
Recently the ABA changed a few ethics rules with specific regard to online marketing, including lead generation. The changes came about after the Commission on Ethics 20/20 was tasked with studying the impact of technology and globalization on the legal profession in 2009. For example, rule 7.2 says “lawyers may pay for “lead generation” services, including Internet-based client leads, as long as certain safeguards are followed.” (ABA Journal –Lead Generation Addressed) Comments pertaining to the change stated that the lead generator, “should not vouch for the lawyer’s credentials or abilities, nor should it create the impression that it is making the referral without payment, or has determined the appropriate lawyer based on an analysis of the possible client’s legal problems.”
At a recent FTC workshop, current lead generation practices were discussed across five panels. One of the biggest concerns was regarding the the collecting and later distribution of PII (personal identifiable information). There was a huge concern that lead generators were not handling sensitive customer information responsibly. The question was asked, “how is the industry working towards making a unified effort to regulate this?” (Follow The Lead Workshop)
(The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair practices in the marketplace.)
Potential customers of lead generation firms want to know if the the leads generated have been sourced ethically. This is why it is fundamental to your business that you are not engaging some fly by night company. B2B Marketers must follow state-by-state guidelines to ensure they are adhering to best practice in their lead generation efforts.
Mainstream Marketing Methods
You want to find new ways to connect to your prospect that they will not perceive as aggressive, “spammy” or irrelevant. Email blasting to millions of people does not work. It does not build quality leads or ongoing relationships.
You can use methods like:
- Inbound marketing to bring customers to you.
- Outbound marketing to draw them in through paid advertising
- Content marketing lead magnets to drive leads (eBooks, Webinars, Reports, Studies and How to-Guides, White Papers, Case Studies, Educational Resource lists, Video Training, Email courses, Free Software Trial, Free Shipping and Discounts etc.) i.e. giving away great free digital stuff!
- Email marketing: Cold emailing must be targeted with relevant information to avoid being relegated instantly to the trash bin. A spammy email uses tricks to get your attention, is not personalized and its content is unclear. Make sure yours are great to read, not intrusive and deliver relevant information linked to the subject line.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): use relevant keywords
- Social Media: use strategically. It’s important but is not a source of all leads. You must have a presence but it can be ineffective. Your social media must be able to take customers to your website with multiple links, newsletter sign up and even a call to action.
- Join a LinkedIn group: Find a large, active, members only group (in your target industry) and start a meaningful discussion and don’t be a pushy marketer. Get involved, track your contribution level, provide some great answers then connect with individuals
- Monitor mentions: set up an alert system (Google Alerts) for your brand and follow up on leads
- Join groups, join conversations, ask for help and pay for lead collection
Black Hats and White Fedoras
There are a range of unethical actions that are currently in play online – actions that risk the health and ranking of your website. Black Hat SEO describes aggressive tactics that focus on search engines and not humans online to drive leads to websites. Some of the familiar techniques incorporate spam comments, keyword stuffing, doorway pages, paid links, page swapping, cloaking and poorly written article spinning. These traffic guzzlers spammers break the rules and are very often associated with affiliate marketing. The risk? Getting your website banned or penalized.
Wearing a SEO marketing white fedora (hat) will see the following best practices observed:
- Prior and regular contribution
- Useful comment
- Useful link
- Useful anchors
- Links to good sites
- Informative and accurate articles, well written with authors name
- Placed on high DA (Domain Authority) site
The Ultimate Best Practice for B2B Prospecting
All of the methods mentioned above require a deep knowledge of the customers needs. You do not want to be putting irrelevant content in front of today’s prospects. You want to cater to their needs in real time. That is where fact-based marketing and analytics become your best friend in targeting quality prospect companies and people.
With this technology you can get your perfectly crafted content in front of a targeted prospect when they are in the pre-buying phase. You can send very specific personalized messaging in real time to solve their needs. Its automated and integrated so you do not have to invest action hours. When you send the right content to the most receptive prospect you will see impressive conversion rates while saving resources. It is an effective and ethical best practice as it is targeting people when they are researching so you can reach them in the buying phase.
Never forget the most critical question when assessing your B2B marketing ethical practice: “Would I be suspicious of this offer if it was sent to me?”
Be your own ethical barometer for your B2B marketing best practices.