Last year the the Council of the European Union approved new legislation that would require web users to consent to internet cookies, including the first-party cookies that are often deployed by the demand and marketing automation software vendors such as SalesFUSION, as part of their website visitor tracking software. This type of software is designed to profile the behavior of visitors, both known and anonymous, to your website. Marketing software applications use the data gathered from website visits to trigger nurture campaigns, enable lead scoring and profile the interest level of leads on the site. While this type of data and information has been used in retail for some time to assist in the rendering of relevant advertisements, the b2b community has only recently (last 3 years) begun to adopt this type of technology en masse. With the EU legislation going live and similar legislation being proposed in the US, one must ask, will it be over before it even begins?
Here's the background on the legislation...
The legislation proposed and approved by the EU is set to begin taking effect in May 2011. Similar legislation is on the books in the US. Cookies, small programs that can be used to track Web movements, have come under fire as consumer groups, including the Federal Trade Commission, have sought to regulate companies that engage in targeted behavioral advertising. While the current EU telecom law states that cookies are allowed if Internet users are notified of them and have an opt-out option, in practice, the law has been interpreted more loosely. In the United Kingdom, for example, the information commissioner’s office issued a directive emphasizing that sites should clearly direct users to a page where they can opt out.
But once the law goes into effect, users must provide consent to cookies being stored on their computers, meaning that they could be bombarded with annoying pop-ups or pages asking for permission. The new legislation does offer an exception for when a cookie is “strictly necessary” — for example, if a user is shopping online, a cookie can go from a product page to the checkout page without the need for consent.
As is often the case, governments tend to overreact and overreach with legislation while industry tends to under self-regulate. That is clearly the case with these type of legislative efforts. By and large, web browsing history is used to improve browsing experience, present more relevant content and help b2b companies engage more directly with their prospective buyers who are evaluating their solutions on the web. Separating the b2c from the b2b industries, we have yet to identify one single case wherein a company using website visitor tracking software as part of their marketing automation solution has actually abused this information in any way, shape, or form. In fact, the strict privacy policies that are put in place by leading demand generation software applications like SalesFUSION, provide all the necessary coverage for privacy of website browsing data. That being said, we as b2b marketers must face the fact that the rules of cookies and website visitor tracking will be changing and we must begin to think about our campaigns, lead processes and lead scoring models to keep pace with the changing legislation.
Taking a step back, we can examine the processes by which we can identify visitors to our website. Primarily, there are 3 types of website visitors we can track and report data back to CRM on. They are as follows:
Known visitors - are individuals with a known email address. Typically, these type of visitors are known because they have received an email campaign and clicked through to the website. In doing so, the script in the email places a cookie on that person's machine and matches the IP address to the email address. Most often, these are individuals who are already in your CRM database. The information that is most valuable is post-email browsing history that is captured and reported back to their record in CRM. This data is considered to be very valuable to a b2b marketer and sales person because it indicates interest level by showing that someone has clicked through an email campaign and then returned to the site, independent of the actual email. We tend to interpret this as high-interest because the person is coming to the site and looking deeper into your solutions. Known visitors can also be identified when they fill out a form on the site. This blog will discuss the forms issue later in this discussion.
Anonymous Visitors/Known Companies - in these cases solutions like Web Forensics, from SalesFUSION automatically submit a visitor's IP address to a global, proprietary database that facilitates what is known as a reverse IP append. This process can identify a company who has a dedicated IP range. This information provides great value to sales teams in that they can see which companies are visiting their site. from there, they can use SaaS data appending tools such as Jigsaw to find contacts at these companies to market and sell into.
Anonymous Visitors - these are completely unknown visitors coming in from a public domain such as Comcast. The only information of value that can be garnered from these visitors is referring domain, geo-location and key words. Information gathered from an anonymous visit is similar in nature to Google analytics reports.
The information provided by tools such as SalesFUSION are directly appended to the lead, contact and account entities in CRM. Over the last several years, as CRM users have begun adopting web visitor tracking solutions, Sales has come to rely heavily on this information to assist them in thier prospecting efforts. This data has also been instrumental in creating lead scoring models that dramtaically improve the flow of leads from marketing to sales. It has helped countless marketers improve the performance of their website, SEO initiatives and PPC spend. Just as we have come to truly understand the value of this data, will it all be going away?
Rather than fret over legislation, ridiculous as it may be, I believe marketers must stay focused on the basic principles of direct marketing while applying the available technology to maximize lead capture while facilitating lead to sales processes.
In direct marketing when we create a campaign, we begin with the "offer". The offer is the call to action of an email campaign or an advertisement. In marketing automation and emarketing, the offer is typically contained within a web form or landing page. The web form/landing page is designed to present the offer and entice the responder to enter their information into the form. Once captured, marketing can make further decisions about how we want to continue to market to the lead or pass directly to sales. Forms on websites are used to front-end high-value collateral such as white papers, presentations, case studies or webinars.
With opt-in cookie legislation, we may not be able to rely on implicit lead capture as much as we have been. This means we must work to create compelling content and offers that pull individuals onto our websites and make them want to provide their information to us. With respect to opt-in cookie legislation, SalesFUSION is working with lawyers in the EU and we are already preparing for the possibility that the US/CA will adopt similar legislation. One of the key ways we can combat the legislation is to offer an privacy link on our dialogs. This opt-in methodology will inform the person at the dialog level that by entering their information, they will be opting-in to cookies on that site. It will also provide a direct link the privacy and data collection policies of the website in general. We believe this will be one of the best methods for securing known visitor opt-in on cookies.
Dialogs are SalesFUSION's version of a Microsoft web form/internet lead capture form. The advanced dialogs contain the tagging scripts that enable us to track the behavior of a person who has accessed the form page. SalesFUSION is unique in that our forms are capable of tagging a person whether they actually fill out a form or not. This tagging is in addition to the tagging that exists in the email marketing tool as well. Having tagging on both forms as well as the email marketing platform provides and improved ration of tagged prospects from both inbound and outbound campaigns.
So regardless of where the boundries extend on anti-cookie legislation, good ole fashioned direct marketing planning and campaign design never fail in ensuring you get a high rate of lead capture. Providing good content in exchange for a person entering their lead information will become more than just good marketing sense, it will become the foundation of b2b marketing efforts post-cookie legislation.
It is important to note that forms generated using Dynamics lead capture forms DO NOT contain the necessary tagging scripts that SalesFUSION dialogs provide out of the box. These tagging scripts are what places a cookie on a user's machine for tracking purposes. Be wary of marketing vendors that leverage the native Microsoft Dynamics forms as well because they will potentially not offer the tagging scripts on these forms either. Aside from outbound email campaigns, tagging scripts on forms are the primary methodology for enabling website visitor tracking.