The email is from a company that serves as a lead gathering source for ERP VARS ( and probably software publishers too ). They’re certainly not the only company offering this service but since I happen to be on their email distribution list I’ll use them as an example.
This lead they’re offering is a person looking to be better trained for future job opportunities. A noble request – but not exactly the type of lead most VARS would be looking for.
Which started me thinking. Are “pay leads” something VARS should be chasing? Maybe there was a time in the past that they worked. Are they still a valid marketing tool?
Services like the one that sent the email work by having end users submit contact information online – usually doing so in exchange for some type of free white paper or other assistance with finding an ERP solution.
These prospects are then matched with one of several consulting firms who’ve paid to receive the names of companies looking for help in their area of expertise.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Disclaimer: Various regions of the country have different types of lead results. If, for example, you’re in a remote area with no competition then a lead generation service probably works great because you just might be the only VAR chasing that lead.
However if you are in New York City or San Diego then I bet your experiences will be a lot different.
From what I’ve seen the leads fall into one of these overly broad categories:
- Consultants looking for free help finding a program for a client (The consultant usually has been paid to conduct a search. You however won’t see a nickle of that. In the unlikely chance you win the bid expect to bill everything through this third party consultant at the same rate you were using in 1986. The consultant invariably doesn’t pay you and second guesses everything despite having zero experience with ERP turns out to be a thorn in your side for the entire engagement),
- End users who already have a quote and are looking for second, third, fourth and fifth bids. They’ll always say they’re looking to close very quickly – and they are – just not with you,
- Dreamers with low budgets that don’t cover the cost of a single on-site visit (Tip: If the budget range provided is $500 to $25,000 guess which number the prospect’s thinking of),
- People who enjoy filling out online lead request forms and have no authority/budget/motivation to buy. Recognize them when they hang up on you or repeatedly ask “why are you calling?” or “where did you get my name”,
- A seemingly never ending pool of companies that will “buy immediately if it can do what we need” , the problem being they don’t know what they need and/or their needs are so hopelessly unique and complex that even $100,000 of the world’s best programming won’t solve a problem that they’ve budgeted $2,500 for. These companies are easily identified because they’re still using the same computer they purchased on August 12, 1981 when the IBM PC was released.
VARS subscribe to these services (I never have). The amount charged varies depending upon the number of leads the VAR wants to receive.
Is there a return on investment for these services? Certainly. Is it worth the hassle and overhead? I guess if you love chasing the same lead that’s probably been distributed to multiple competitors. I’ve sometimes heard this described as a “race to the bottom line” . The winner’s often the one with the biggest discount.
Anyone like chasing that type of lead?
Based on informal non-scientific discussions with people who’ve bought leads from various sources it seems most do so because of the “I only need one big sale to make it worthwhile”.
Problem is that these big sales seem elusive yet perpetually just within arms reach. VARS use paid leads as the lazy man’s way to marketing. It’s a “feel good” marketing because the VAR is “at least doing something” with a side order of “I’m doing it because my competitor is”.
My opinion is chasing these leads are poor uses of time, resources and marketing money. When you close one of these leads they often produce disloyal and price sensitive customers that never become profitable long term clients.
When the initial sale is heavily discounted the way to make money is by keeping the client happy and loyal for several years so you’ll have a chance to earn back the initial discount. This is the cell phone carrier model where the phone is given away but the customer agrees to stay for two years so the company can earn back the phone discount.
My experience is that most (but not all) clients arriving via lead services won’t stay. So you never have a chance to make back in year two through five all that money you discounted in year one. See the problem?
Cattle call lead generation sucks as a reliable way of producing loyal profitable clients
Everyone’s familiar with Google Adwords.
It’s the simplest form of advertising and you can get started quickly with almost no effort or planning (which is how 98% of VARS do it).
Create a three line ad that displays when a Google search is performed on your select keyword(s). Set a monthly budget and sit back while your competitors and tire kickers Internet searchers click away at your link and are delivered right to your web doorstep.
The theory of Adwords is great — for businesses that sell commodity type goods based predominantly on price.
Accounting ERP software is fortunately not one of those types of businesses. Most ERP software must be sold bundled with some consulting, setup and training time as well as an often lengthy initial discovery process to ensure that the expensive software is a good fit for the business.
Google Adwords for ERP Software in my experience is a crap shoot
What I’ve found is that you quickly blow through $200 (or whatever your monthly budget is) with few leads. I’ve always been suspicious about exactly who was clicking my name. Is it mainly competitors?
I’ve never been a believer that it’s a great idea for me to invest in a service that essentially provides my company name along with (pick a number — 1, 2,3 or more) competitors to those searching the web.
Am I wrong here in believing that I’d then be chasing the weakest form of client?
Essentially I’d be dealing with predominately companies searching based on price. Then when those companies found ME – they would also have a handy list of several of my competitors.
Anyone enjoy completing an RFP (request for proposal)?
That’s what online leads essentially are. The online lead is the Y2K version of an RFP.
And you know what – RPP’s suck because it’s a crap shoot (sound familiar) where you are at a cattle call (familiar?) with several competitors (ding ding – are bells going off yet?).
Notice that I said predominately because I’m sure there are some companies that will find you online that in turn become valued long term clients.
There are also homeless people who walk into the casino, insert their last quarter and walk out a millionaire.
But not many do. And there’s a reason that Casino’s can afford to give you $5 buffet steak dinners and free drinks. Hint: It’s because the house has the advantage EVERY time.
It’s the same theory with online leads.
The customer or the person selling the lead has the advantage EVERY time.
I’m sure there are companies that spend the money on daily lead reports and who win business from those services.
Average out the cost of chasing the duds from the lead sheets and Google ads. Are you making money after factoring in the cost of obtaining the lead. Assuming that leads found this way are less loyal — leaving after a they buy their bundle of discounted software and services — then you probably aren’t making recurring revenues from them.
Which is why I question the wisdom of buying these leads in the first place.
And it’s not just the examples that I’ve used. There are plenty of other sites that have been around offering similar services.
I sometimes receive email solicitations to buy their lead updates – which are good for a laugh.
- “Nigerian companies looking for software”
- “Budget range $100 to $20,000” (Two guesses which number the prospects thinking of)
- “Using Great Plains Dynamics but seeking a General Ledger replacement – not open to switching from GP”
- “Consultant looking for a client” (My all time favorite because 95% of these are pleas for some free consulting help)
- “Company located in XXX where physical geography of the consultant is unimportant” (It’s only unimportant until the consultant tries to sell or bill them for anything – then watch how the story changes!)
I see far too many Sage VARS “investing” in marketing programs that they seem to rely on to do all the work for them (listings, paid links) when in fact there’s no better marketing than keeping clients happy.
In my experience companies searching the web for accounting software and clicking paid links are the weakest form of customer. They’re invariably looking for cheap price and instant gratification. Of the customers that I’ve found this way – I cannot remember a single one that has stayed with me. I can’t remember a single one that bought on anything other than price.
Thankfully I stopped using paid lead sources years and years ago. I’ve found no substitute for good old fashioned hard work.
What do we use instead?
- A monthly newsletter sent to 2,000+ customers, vars, prospects, CPA firms
- Timely updated information on ERP software and specifically our specialty – MAS90
- Referrals from happy customers
- Prepaid unlimited support that benefits the client by allowing them to know their annual support costs
- Retaining existing customers – if we’re not constantly churning disloyal customers that we’ve acquired from paid sources then we have more time to nurture (and earn fees from) our existing loyal customer base who return year after year after year.
- Internet marketing – but only for those who come to us after having been on our newsletter list or read an online article we wrote
What don’t we use?
Tired sales tactics that over-emphasize price and promotions over consulting.
Are we winning sales awards this way?
Are we more profitable than most? That’s hard to say.
Most of our clients return to us year after year for advice and support on their accounting systems (specifically MAS90). We don’t churn clients at a rate that forces us to take on the more expensive lead generation sources. I suggest that focusing more on client service and retention. might be a good goal for 2010.