A standard Internet lead is pretty inefficient. The consumer has no control and usually isn’t sure where their information is going. As a way of finding a provider of a mortgage, degree, insurance policy, debt settlement company however, it is better than the stone age method of finding providers in the yellow pages. As a consumer, being a “lead” requires less effort and thought from the consumer’s perspective than thumbing through a telephone directory and then making multiple calls to providers. The concept of filling in a form with a bit of personal info and then letting the Internet take care of matching you up with companies who want your business and who are prepared to call you multiple times until you decide you have a spare moment to talk to them is appealing. That’s why the Internet lead industry is large and growing. It’s a valuable service… but it’s also an inefficient and highly imperfect one.
I believe that leads are inefficient because they take control out of the hands of the consumer and as a consequence the chances of matching consumers up with companies that are not of interest to the consumer is high. I believe the providers that will succeed in the lead industry are those that allow consumers to do extra qualification steps before being put in touch with a company.
An obvious example of this type of service is Zillow. Zillow allows you to see a bunch of quotes from mortgage lenders before you hand over your personal information to the ones that you, the consumer, want to do business with. The same model would work in education by matching prospective students with courses they are qualified for and meet the criteria they are looking for such as on-campus facilities, availability of tuition scholarships etc. It also works in insurance where most people who complete a lead form only want comparative quotes.
I am convinced that providing a consumer with a set of options and letting them decide who will contact them is the way the Internet lead industry will go. This is plainly a much better consumer experience as well as getting over the issue that people don’t like providing detailed personal information if they don’t feel they have a great deal of control over who gets it.
I am also convinced that consumers want to choose who contacts who. Most consumers would like both the option to call the advertiser and the option to be called by the advertiser. And regardless of whether they contact the lead provider they want the data that they entered on the form to be magically in the hands of the person who answers the phone when they call.
This new model is one based on Consumer Initiated Contacts versus Leads. I believe that it won’t be long before people think of buying CPCICs alongside, and in many cases in preference to, CPCs and CPLs. The technology has evolved to the point where everything I describe above is easy, the consumer demand for this appears to be there, all we need now is for existing lead generators to innovate. If they don’t I believe that new entrants will disrupt the market. My bet is that the latter is much closer than most people think.