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Rethinking Lead Gen in a GDPR World

James Gerber

James Gerber

May 25 is when it all changes. If that date isn’t circled on your calendar a little over two weeks from now, it should be, because that’s when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will kick into effect. As my colleague Alex Jafarzadeh recently wrote, it’s imperative to communicate honestly with stakeholders about the change. But, marketers must also look inwardly to adapt their processes and adjust to their new reality.

Marketers must not only ensure that all of their systems used internally to capture and handle customer and lead data are compliant, they also need to worry about third-party providers. Your website, landing pages, forms, etc. will all potentially need to be updated. However, if, for example, you work with a publisher on a lead gen program, you will now need to ensure that they too are compliant with GDPR, as the rules apply to both owned lead sources and external vendors acting on behalf of your organization.

The costs of non-compliance are crushing for any organization that sells to customers in the European Union, particularly for smaller businesses, with fines up to €20 million or 4 percent of global revenues – whichever is greater.

Is GDPR detrimental to lead gen?

With the potentially disastrous consequences of non-compliance and the extra regulations imposed on the methods used to capture and communicate with leads, does this mean that your lead gen efforts will suffer?

For far too many businesses, the answer to that question may be yes because many organizations have been careless with customer data. However, if your organization already has a thoughtful data management process in place and it has implemented an inbound, audience-centric approach to lead generation and nurturing, GDPR may only result in minor changes for you.

Marketers have been playing fast and loose with leads for too long. As one example, email volume increased by 17 percent last year and that shows no signs of stopping. Just because a lead signed up to download one specific piece of content doesn’t mean that they want to receive daily email updates that may not be relevant to them, or that it’s an open invitation for your sales team to relentlessly hound them. While that should have been obvious all along, GDPR will help further ensure that that customer information isn’t abused.

How to adapt

First, ensure that you have permission for all marketing activities. You can’t assume that people who request to receive a promotional piece of content, such as a gated lead gen asset, want to be signed up for other communications. You must now have them opt-in (and preferably double opt-in) to every type of communication that they want to receive. Data permission must be made a priority. There’s an upside beyond GDPR compliance, too, as this also enables you to more deeply segment customers or prospects by their interests.

Second, you must ensure that you’re not collecting any more data than is necessary, because GDPR requires a legally justifiable reason to collect personal data. For most B2B brands, this won’t entail any major adjustments, but it’s worth considering whether anything other than a lead’s name and email is necessary in many cases to receive content. A smart demand gen program should be set up to progressively capture more information about a lead as their interest grows, and GDPR will force marketers to innovate on that approach by offering real value in exchange for personal data.

Lastly, as the right to be forgotten has entered the mainstream, it is no longer advisable to keep data in perpetuity. It is our responsibility as marketers to ensure that any time someone asks to access or remove their data from a database, that they can do so promptly. Regular cleansing should take place to eliminate leads that haven’t engaged with a company in a while to focus marketing efforts on leads that have the most potential. By keeping up-to-date lists and allowing leads to cleanse themselves or revise their information, it will not only save marketers time, it will shift the focus toward the best opportunities.

Be the change

GDPR may or may not require a major shift in your organization, but it’s going to force marketing innovation to rapidly accelerate. Creating interest in your company via PR activities and developing creative content to captivate your audience will become even more important. Promoting the fruits of those activities on social and using those channels to engage directly with target audiences will be critical to gain influence. Over time, new tactics will emerge that will rebuild trust between organizations and individuals, revolving around personalization, branding and influencer engagement.

Your audience’s attention is worth its weight in gold and it has been long overdue for the scales to tip in their favor.