The other day I overheard a conversation between my wife (who heads up fundraising efforts at a regional medical center) and a potential donor. What captured my attention was the phrase she used to summarize her philosophy.

It's a pretty nifty unique selling proposition and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it can apply to us capitalists selling products and services.

"We do fundraising and friendraising" pretty much says it all, and it presents both opportunities equally and succinctly. People she talks with can either give money or become friends of the hospital and see where that goes. Two good choices, ideal for someone ready to give or someone ready to learn more.

Seems like there's a great parallel for marketers as we head into 2012. How about "We do selling and friending?" Isn't that exactly what we've been doing for decades, selling stuff to those ready to buy, and providing more information for those who are researching?

Isn't "friending" the same as lead generation? Aren't people friending companies on Facebook and other sites? Aren't they raising their collective hands and asking for more information? Yes to all.

It used to be that lead generation was pretty straight-forward. You send out emails, direct mail pieces and catalogs when consumers asked for more info. You made outbound phone calls to close sales. That's all about lead generation was.

But today, there's a whole new way to take friending to the next level. Companies are discovering new ways to have consumers become their friends, to like them and to connect with them. You have an endless stream of opportunities to interact with future and current customers.

None of this is news, but it is profound. Marketers who are spending most of their time and resources on selling need to accomplish the following:

· Figure out the best friending strategy that fits with their selling tactics

· Find new money for friending that doesn't take away dollars from tactics that are productive, such as DRTV or search

· Locate the combination of in-house and agency talent that has both selling and friending experience

Is "friending" the new lead generation on steroids? You bet it is!

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Irv Brechner has written over 100 published direct marketing articles and 13 books on a variety of topics. He's been a pioneer in online customer acquisition since 1996 and offline for his 35-year career. He has developed's "Customer Acquisition Intel Center" ( ) he evangelizes best-of-breed tactics to help companies acquire customers in the digital age. He can be reached at: .

Read all Irv's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Customer Acquisition Intel.

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