Transparency is more important than ever for the lead generation industry and partnerships are an extension of a business’s story to the outside world. However, while partnerships can lend credibility and open up new opportunities, they also present a risk.
For the Higher Ed industry, in particular, this risk can be seen in recent for-profit university closings and the news stories that have circulated as a result. Those associated with such businesses are often pulled into the negative narrative.
But how can a business be sure that a prospective partner shares the same goals and values? It’s important to do some research. We’ve always been quite selective with our partnership opportunities. Here are some of the ways to research prospective partners and assess risk prior to beginning a business relationship.

The Basics
At the very minimum, businesses should have a high-level understanding of how the partner presents itself to the public. The basic channels to consider? A company’s website and social media. Those in lead generation can determine whether a business is established and has built trust in the community. Its channels can reveal whether it is an industry leader or if it might tiptoe too close to industry standards or regulations.
Questions to ask: How long have they been in business? Who are their current partners? Is there a section for press releases? If so, what kinds of announcements have they made? Have they won awards? Any signs that the entity has ever changed its name? Are the postings on social media regular or lacking for months at a time? Is the messaging appropriate on these channels or is it salesy? Are there comments from the public on its social channels, and if so, are they largely negative?

It is important to also look at the prospective partner through the eyes of a neutral third party, and the media can certainly offer a different perspective. There are many ways to find information in the press, but to start: Do a simple Google search with the business name in parenthesis (“name”). Then, select the “News” option on the main Google navigation. This will bring up everything that is currently published about a business. Next, set up Google Alerts to be notified of any future news articles about the business. It’s also possible to monitor on social media, too.
It’s worth noting that some results may be contributed articles from the company’s executive leadership. And that’s a good thing. It is a sign that the business has built some trust and credibility within the industry.
Questions to ask: Are the articles recent? Are they fair? Were the articles featured in major publications? Is it largely negative coverage? Are there a lot of comments below the articles or on social media from the public? Is it mostly negative?
Governing Bodies
Compliance is one of the biggest concerns for the lead generation industry, and it’s one of the biggest risk areas when considering partnerships. It’s important to determine whether a prospective partner has ever had any issues with compliance or if the partner could create a conflict with their own compliance needs. The good news is there many resources to find out this critical information and help determine a right fit. Here are a few websites to consider.

• LeadsCouncil: The news section provides information about recent FTC settlements, upcoming workshops and more. In addition, check whether a potential partner is a member of LeadsCouncil; it shows leadership and a commitment to following industry best practices.

• Federal Communications Commission: Get information direct from the source: proceedings and actions, licensing, reports and research, news and events, and more.

• Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: The CFPB activity log offers all the latest speeches from key board meetings, monthly complaint reports, studies, changes on the horizon, and more.

• Leadscon: There is a community section to find out more about participating companies and read its content. In all, the industry publication provides an overarching view of the lead gen landscape and features the voices of many leaders in the community.

• Career Education Colleges and Universities: The CECU is a helpful resource for lead buyers and sellers in the Higher Education industry. The community section, for example, provides information about more than 600 institutions and other leaders in the industry.

• LinkedIn Regulatory Groups
LinkedIn Groups are a way to not only connect with other industry leaders but to learn from one another.

Questions to ask: What is the industry saying about this business? Have they ever had TCPA violations or consumers accusing them of violating “do not call lists”? Any new regulations on the horizon that would make said, partner, a poor choice? Does the business actively participate in important industry organizations or are they affiliated in any way?
In all, business relationships can provide endless benefits and spark growth, but it’s important to choose partners wisely and calculate risk in advance. Ask questions. Do research. Remember, a business’s reputation takes a long time to build, so be sure to safeguard it.

About Joe Laskowski
Joe Laskowski is the Managing Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of Higher Ed Growth, a full-service agency and technology provider that specializes in the post-secondary education industry. Joe is also on the Board of Directors for LeadsCouncil.