Digital Marketing / Sales Model

There are a few key items from back then that are worth a little further explanation, and it has nothing to do with the higher-education industry itself. Digital marketing was still a relatively new concept when I worked there (it’s still relatively new in the grand scheme of things, even though 1999 was 20 YEARS AGO!), so there were a lot of things going on that were trial and error.

This may be no surprise, considering how the digital landscape is always shifting, and so there will probably always be a degree of trial and error with digital marketing. As an example, what worked well six months ago may not work well now because Google is always on the lookout for businesses that are trying to manipulate the system and do things unfairly (it’s why they have penalties that knock websites off of page 1).

The concept of having a qualifying center is not new, either. When a company grows to a large enough size, it makes sense to have a Two-Stage Sales Operation with a team that calls out to pre-qualify leads and handle the bulk of prospecting (top-of-the-funnel) efforts so that the account executives can focus more on presenting and closing deals (mid-to-lower-funnel activities).

But something that I think a lot of people (and companies) didn’t realize (and probably still don’t realize) is how direct website inquiries throw a (good) MONKEY WRENCH into this traditional machine. In the grand scheme of things, (legitimate) inbound, direct website inquiries are probably the hottest lead type ever.

Yes, anyone can find your website and submit a request to be contacted, so there’s a chance of junk coming come through on this channel, but when you set that aside for a moment, there are a few key characteristics of legitimate direct website inquiry leads:

  • They’re experiencing a problem that they don’t know how to solve on their own
  • They don’t know who to ask, so they turn to Google
  • They found your website because it ranks high for whatever it is that they searched for
  • They clicked around and liked what they saw enough to feel compelled to submit a request to be contacted
  • They probably clicked through other top-ranking sites, too, as everyone has competitors
  • They probably submitted requests to other providers
  • They are probably the most informed buyers ever, considering how much information we all have access to
  • A good portion of their buying journey has been completed BEFORE you even have a chance to actually speak with them
  • This empowers buyers to make even more informed decisions than ever
  • Under the surface, this empowerment, by default, shifts the relational power dynamic in favor of the buyers
  • These buyers feel empowered going into the initial interaction to the point where they can be quite demanding, hyper-critical and even a bit rude and disrespectful
  • It’s gotten to a point where buyers feel like it’s okay to be like this
  • Salespeople oftentimes will cave under the pressure of moody and demanding buyers
  • Salespeople oftentimes will fight back because no one likes to be pushed around
  • This causes lots of deals (in all industries) to go sideways before they even get started
  • Chaotic top-of-the-funnel behaviors cause a turbo-nuclear hornet’s nest at the middle-to-bottom-of-the-funnel
  • Yes, I just came up with “turbo-nuclear hornet’s nest
  • More strategic and disciplined and controlled top-of-the-funnel behaviors lead to a sense of order and predictability down at the middle-to-bottom-of-the-funnel


Now, that was a bit of a tangent, I know, but I think it’ll help you to see where I’m going with all this. When I worked at that university, I was part of the sales force, and I’ll admit: during those years, being in the mix of a sales-environment, I didn’t care where or how they got leads as long as I got enough to produce what I needed to produce (and keep management off my back).

From what I understand, the qualifying teams there would call out on lead lists that came from all kinds of different sources. I’m not sure where they came from, but I suspect there was a lot of internet voodoo and trickery going on throughout those years for everyone (in all industries) to get their hands on lead lists, and of course, some of us started paying attention to the leads’ source codes.

I won’t list them here because they won’t make sense (internal jargon), but we knew the codes for leads who were direct website inquiries, meaning “a potential student who went to the university’s website and submitted a request to be contacted,” and we all recognized a very distinct pattern with those leads:


And, organizationally speaking, those way hotter leads got mishandled on a regular basis by getting caught up in the mix with all the junk leads and bad communicative behaviors. Think of all the blown opportunities, right? Inbound, direct website inquiry leads are hotter for obvious reasons, but just in case, let me try to spell it out a little. As a salesperson, let’s say you had the choice between working with:

  1. a lead who just visited your company’s website and asked to be contacted, or:
  2. a lead who had been recycled through multiple contact lists that were bought and sold to multiple companies to pick through and call upon, repetitively …


I remember a common tactic that the university used for lead generation was pop-ups on job sites. Remember when you were doing a job search on many years ago, during that time period (somewhere around 2004 to 2009 or so)?

A screen would randomly pop-up and cover your whole screen that asked you a bunch of questions about different jobs and your qualifications. There was also a small “X” hidden somewhere to close out of the screen, but you couldn’t seem to find it, so you’d just fill out the information to make the pop-up go away so you could get back to your job search.

Well, that’s how we got a lot of our leads back then. I’m not saying it was right or wrong, either—I’m just illustrating the fact that direct website inquiries are the hottest leads in comparison to all other digital lead sources, and, really … I mean, think about it: what’s the goal of any company that uses a digital marketing / sales model like this? TO GET MORE DIRECT WEB INQUIRIES, RIGHT??!!

This should all really be a no-brainer up to this point, but I felt it was necessary to give a bit of background and context to help you understand the reasoning for the communication framework that I developed.

Published by Thomas Hurley

I am a father, husband, drummer, boater, marketer, communicator, animal-lover.

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