This is how your name ends up on a list of sales leads

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This is how your name ends up on a list of sales leads

Here's a scenario that after 12 years in insurance, I know you've experienced: You're looking for some product, say auto insurance. You see a site that asks for your phone number or email address to get a quote. You type it in.

Now, your phone won't stop ringing, your email box is unusable, you just realized you still have a home phone because the answering machine won't stop beeping (that means it's full). You're thinking to yourself: "I just wanted to know how much the insurance costs. Why is this happening to me?"

You're a sales lead now, part of an online industry that generated $1.9 billion in revenue in 2014. You've decided you might want to buy some insurance, and agents have decided they want to sell it to you.

PolicyGenius doesn’t buy or sell leads, but that’s how the system has traditionally worked, and how most companies still work today.

It’s how most insurance agents still work, too. After their personal networks of friends, family, friends of friend and family of family, have been tapped out in selling plans and getting referrals, agents have to figure out how to keep that commission coming in. Some will market - like Medicare insurance agents standing in front of pharmacies and senior centers; some will advertise on buses or softball teams (provided they have the money). Some will hand out flyers; some will trade leads with mortgage brokers and other agents. But almost all will buy leads at some point. I did. The agents I worked with did. The agent who ran the agency even gave us money to buy them.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

A big lead gen company like NetQuote or SalesGenie will help build sites catered toward the product information you’re looking for, and put you in contact with people or businesses who sell those products. So when you went on that website and put your email and phone number in, that data was taken and sold to insurance agents. It costs a lot, but it's more efficient than calling every number on a page of the white pages. (White pages are these books the phone company put out that listed every name and phone number in an area.)

It works. You may only talk to the first person that calls, or the last person who emailed you, but you'll get the product you're looking for (in most cases), and the agent will get the commission s/he needs to not lose the house and feed the family. Plus, the website you clicked on complied with the spirit of the California Online Privacy Protection Act, the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Rules [PDF], and the CAN-SPAM Act by telling you what it was going to do with your information.

This is done in other industries as well, both online and offline. You know when you "Enter to win" a car or a trip at the mall? Lead generation. Change your address at the post office? Lead Generation. Being able to connect to customers that are potentially ready to buy is a huge thing - especially in today's age of targeted marketing and analytics.

So how do you minimize that happening - the incessant calls, the unusable email address? When it comes to insurance, look for sites that don't take your contact information until you are ready to sign up (like PolicyGenius), so you can get a quote before you give your phone number. You can also add your name to the government’s Opt Out list and Do Not Call list, but keep in mind that if you freely give your contact information, the rules for these lists don’t apply.

As for me? I just give a disconnected phone number and an email address I set up for spam. Unless they're giving away a BMW, then I give my real email address.

Photo: Thomas Hawk