The poor woman looked stricken. She'd just hired on as a rep for a media company, confident with the assurances her interviewer had given her about the sales support she'd receive. Sometime in her first week on the job-between watching training videos, getting her cubicle arranged just so and meeting the other reps-she got her first look at the extensive lead-generating system she'd rely on for prospecting: the phone book. Her sales manager recommended she start from, get this, the back of the book, a method sure to unlock the powers of this fabulous resource.
You may laugh, but how do you get your leads? Lead-generation methods range from direct-response advertising and dialing for dollars to direct mail, Web inquiries and referrals. In the past few years, companies providing fee-based leads databases have become another option in the war for qualified prospects. The services typically charge a monthly fee per user, and some require setup fees.
Ron LaVine, CEO of Intellworks Inc., a sales training company in Oak Park, California, counsels entrepreneurs to ask questions when investigating a provider, including: What guarantees are offered? How does the provider charge? Does the entrepreneur have any recourse if the program doesn't work? What kind of reporting does the provider offer? "Pay-for-leads services can be quite costly if the leads produced do not result in sales," warns LaVine. He advises business owners to avoid locking in for a long-term agreement and instead test out the company's services before making a commitment. LaVine sees pay-for-leads services as a potential advantage for a sales force if they allow the reps to concentrate on making sales rather than scouring for leads.
Jeff Tagman is vice president of Boston Networks, an ISP in Framingham, Massachusetts. Tagman has been using TrueAdvantage for two years and has found it helpful in securing new clients. "We use it to help find qualified prospects. As a small company, we have a limited amount of resources, and the service is a cost-effective way to find new customers," explains Tagman, who searches the database each day and receives daily e-mail alerts on new leads.
That's sweet sales music to Jaret Christopher's ears. Christopher, CEO and founder of TrueAdvantage, a Westboro, Massachusetts, provider of sales leads and intelligence, says, "In today's competitive market, it makes sense to focus on qualified prospects rather than wasting time and resources looking for new clients." TrueAdvantage users can search its database of 1 million prospects for leads at a cost of $899 per year per individual subscriber (with corporate subscriptions starting at $1,800 per year for up to five users).
Several other services may help extend the reach of your sales force, including ProSavvy.com, Techmar.com and Zapdata.com. Investigate fees carefully to ensure that the potential return on investment warrants the expense. Sometimes it doesn't. For instance, Philippa Gamse, 44, a professional speaker and the president of CyberSpeaker, an e-business strategy consulting firm in Santa Cruz, California, investigated a well-known provider and didn't end up using the service.
"I felt they wanted far too much money upfront, without being able to convince me they could provide suitably qualified leads," says Gamse. She adds that if an entrepreneur uses the wrong services, she ends up wasting time-an experience Gamse had using Web sites designed for public speakers seeking leads. "Many of their leads are low-ball tire-kickers."
Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing (www.marketingangel.com), a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.