You Want The Truth? Web Leads Suck.

Just today on LinkedIn someone was asking (for what seems like the millionth time) …

Why is [redacted] still allowed to cold call OTHER VAR’s clients?

It’s as if there’s some magic wand a publisher should wave which automatically prevents any consultant,  or company,  from contacting or influencing another VAR’S client base.

Hello. Wake up — the 1960’s called and they want their thinking back.

It’s not the early days of computing any longer and the truth is that customers don’t need you to research basic things like pricing and quotes. They can (and will) do this on their own via the Internet.

And therein lies the client’s problem. They  just don’t realize it.

Web leads suck — sometimes more for the client than the consultant who gets suckered into a bid.

I’ve been the lucky (or unlucky) recipient of many of these inquires. The volume rises depending on many factors, and I’ve received so many inquiries that I actually handle most of them by having the inquirer complete a form (copy here) as a way to gauge their true interest in solving their issue.

In the 1980s the way I’d gauge true interest would be to insist that a lead came to MY office for the demo. In 2011 the way I’ve found to handle this is to insist that web leads “put some skin in the game” by providing a list of what their system setup includes (or we prepare the list for them as an option — and a fee of $500).

Why do I shove web visitors off to a form instead of personally embracing them with a phone call and two hour free consultation?

The three word answer – Web Leads Suck.

Those who aren’t in a position to receive many leads from the web (usually because their own web presence is minimal and they prefer to rely on leads from the software publisher or more traditional dying methods) often look upon web leads as some miracle of nature where everyone who makes an inquiry is a profitable purchaser of consulting services.

Let me break the sad news. Most web leads these days who are asking about ERP consulting services (upgrades, new implementations, troubleshooting) are masking hidden problems and looking mostly for a third bid to present to their preferred provider of consulting services.

Most of these web leads have what they think is a quote —-  (aka – “we think it will take 20 to 60 hours — but if the time is less you pay less and if it’s more you pay more“) —-  from which they are seeking some comfort (for free) from another independent consultant that the decision they’re about to make is the correct one.

The reality is their quote stating a number of hours is nothing more than a wild ass guess. They won’t learn that however until their preferred provider presents them with a surprise hourly bill at the end of the engagement.

When the provider suggests that the hours will be between 20 and 60 — guess what number of hours the provider is thinking? And guess how many hours the client is thinking. Assume a rate of $100 — that’s a disparity of  $4,000 (the $2,000 that the client infers and the $6,000 the consultant assumes the client was expecting). And this is even before cost overruns.

The Seedy Side Of Web Leads

  • Any lead asking about ERP software which is not from an accounting person (CFO, CEO, Controller) – is almost certainly guaranteed to be fishing for a third bid. If you enjoy those types of bidding activities — by all means pursue them. Just don’t expect to win very many — if any.
  • Leads seldom know what they own, how it was setup, why it was setup, whether there are enhancements. All they’ll know is they want you to fix it, warrantee it and make it keep working the same way that it always has — even if that way is broken and not producing results that are usable. These leads usually want you to live connect to their system to “see what they have”. Expect to spend about 2 hours on a (free) conference call with up to half a dozen of the accounting staff. Because you’ll usually spot (and fix) several things right away — you’ll usually never hear back from these folks. Not even a thanks.
  • Web leads lie. They also like to sandbag you with problems they’re aware of but want to see if you can detect (or better yet — solve for them on the first free call).  They don’t think of it that way but the problem is so prevalent I never even bother asking who the company uses as a consultant now. I also will no longer suggest cures for web leads on the first call. We’re good enough to spot most of the issues pretty quickly – however after being taken advantage of in the past (leads who take the free info and run) we no longer will provide suggestions for improving a system unless the lead is a client.

Leads that arrive via alternate sources — such as the web — will likely always continue to be looked upon by many as the golden ticket to increasing revenues and client count.

The problem, is that these leads have evolved. Back in the late 1980’s the leads were largely people with great intentions who were looking for help for a problem that they were willing to pay for.

In the year 2010 my experience is that most web leads have quote in hand (from preferred provider) and want a free second opinion with a helping of “quick questions” on the side. All in the guise of “getting a quote”.

Web leads aren’t all bad. The ones you need  the most care with are those that your company has no prior relationship (for example the lead is not a referral, is not on your email newsletter). Those types of leads are often looking for a one night stand – leaving the VAR with the feeling that they’ve been cheapened overall by the experience.