By Bill Smith
BBB Trade Practice Investigator
Clients of a Granite City, Ill., lead-generation firm say they paid the company hundreds of dollars for lists of potential customers that turned out to have little, if any, value.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises businesses that sell insurance, money management and mortgage services to consider alternatives before buying lead prospects from Select Marketing Solution
, owned by Paula Caveny
and Ronnie Henderson
. The 15-month-old firm operates out of a business strip mall at 3701 Nameoki Road.
A salesman from Hillsboro, Mo., told the BBB he paid $400 for a list of 561 “warm leads” -- people who reportedly were interested in having a salesperson contact them about insurance coverage. He called 75 names on the list, but none was interested in insurance. More than half “were very upset that I called,” he said.
The BBB has received 15 complaints and reports about the company in the past seven months, 11 in 2010.
Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the complaints indicate that Select Marketing Solution may be promising more than it delivers. “In many cases, businesses are telling us that the leads are no better than what they could get by taking names straight out of a phone directory.”
A financial advisor from O’Fallon, Mo., said he spent $400 for a list of 900 names and called everyone on the list. Of those he was able to reach, he said, none had ever requested to be contacted by a financial advisor. “Four hundred bucks; that is like taking food out of my kid’s mouth,” he said.
Businesses said Select Marketing Solution first contacted them by phone or e-mail. A solicitation sent to a financial planner in Minnetonka, Minn., introduced Select Marketing as a “leads generation and marketing company” that develops and generates “investment leads and prospecting information for financial advisors and insurance agents all across the United States.” The e-mail offered three separate lists of prospects “within a 20-mile radius of your office.” The price of each list was between $300 and $350, or all three for $800. It also offered a “2 to 1 replacement on any bad lead” and a “full money-back guarantee.”
The Minnetonka financial advisor said he bought all three lists from Select Marketing earlier this year. His company sent letters to 400 prospects on the lists, then contacted many of them by phone. Not one, he said, said he or she remembered filling out any survey or answering any question indicating a desire to be contacted by a financial planner. “It was rather embarrassing, and a huge waste of time,” the financial advisor said.
Johniece Gully, a manager for Select Marketing, said the company sells “lists,” not “leads.” However, the company’s website and contracts refer to the company’s products as “state-of-the-art leads,” “sales leads,” “lead generation program” and “lead packages.” A business profile questionnaire sent by Select Marketing to the BBB in February 2009 says, “we are a lead lists company.”
Gully said her company makes it clear that the lists of prospects are not developed by Select Marketing, but rather by third-party suppliers. She said she doesn’t know exactly how the suppliers obtain the names, but said often they are generated through online or mail questionnaires or surveys.
Businesses filing complaints with the BBB said Select Marketing salespersons made it sound as if those on the lists had asked specifically to be contacted by a salesperson.
“I was misled up and down,” said a financial planner from Appleton, Wis., who said he paid $275 for a lead list of 400 names. He acknowledged that while he picked up a “few small clients,” the list was no better than calling people at random. A businessman from Towson, Md., who bought a list for $300, said he was promised that all of the prospects had specifically asked to be contacted by a salesperson. Instead, he said, the 200 to 300 people the company called from the list “had no idea what we were talking about.”
Each of those interviewed by a BBB investigator said he requested a refund from the company, but was turned down. Gully said it is company policy to issue full refunds if a client offers proof that he or she tried to contact everyone on a list and received no business from the contacts. She said Select Marketing has issued about 100 refunds. “We do our best to make everyone happy,” she said.
The company’s website includes testimonials from several clients around the U. S., all identified with their first names and first initials of their last names. Despite a BBB request, Gully did not provide contact information for the clients.
The BBB offers the following tips for businesses considering buying lead lists:
- Deal only with reputable companies that provide these services. Ask for the names of satisfied customers and call or write them before signing a contract.
- Be wary of promises from salespeople that are not part of a written contract.
- Try to find out how the lead list was compiled. Did a consumer respond to an online questionnaire? Was he or she screened in a prior phone call? If you are not satisfied with the responses, it might be best to walk away from the deal.
- In many cases, you get what you pay for. Offers to provide lead lists for what seems like a very low cost may not prove productive.
- Pay by credit card in the event you may want to challenge the purchase at a future date.
- Contact the BBB for a Reliability Report by visiting www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.