How One Man Used Artificial Intelligence to Generate Genuine Sales Leads

How One Man Used Artificial Intelligence to Generate Genuine Sales Leads

Following the leads: Bernhard Peters of Ebsta.

Image credit: Brian Higbee
This story appears in the December 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If there’s one thing software company Ebsta understands, it’s customer relationship management. The San Diego- and London-based company sells a $10 per month per user Chrome browser extension that syncs customers’ email accounts to the Salesforce database to streamline the onerous task of updating a CRM system. But finding new prospects for Ebsta is difficult and, as vice president of sales Bernhard Peters points out, expensive -- especially for a company with roughly $1 million in annual revenue. “We’re still a tiny company,” Peters says. “We have to be careful who we chase; we don’t have a lot of money or manpower to spare. Buying lists never works; they’re out of date. And data-mining companies charge at least $25,000 upfront, with no guarantee of ROI.”

The Fix

Peters was in a San Diego restaurant when he overheard Olin Hyde, co-founder and CEO of Englue, explaining how his artificial intelligence product LeadCrunch could mine the web to uncover leads based on names of a company’s best customers. It’s the same technology Englue developed for a Lockheed Martin contract with the U.S. Navy.

“The Navy uses our software to identify intent,” Hyde says. “In other words, determining whether that’s a commercial vessel traveling outside of traditional shipping lanes or a Chinese destroyer up to something suspicious. It does this by categorizing millions of variables to come up with a unique digital fingerprint.” That strategy can also be used to find qualified leads for sales managers.

Peters introduced himself and later handed over a list of Ebsta’s 100 best U.S. customers, which he’d identified by the length of the sales cycle, cost of acquisition and amount of revenue each brought in. LeadCrunch took the names and scanned the web to find similarities among them. Once it had developed a unique digital profile for the ideal customer, the system searched for similar prospects. Within days, Peters had a list of 100 prospects to pursue.

The Result

“The quality of the information was so much better than anything I’d ever seen,” Peters says. “We had names and direct emails and phone numbers of the real decision-makers.” Working that list, Peters saw a 30 percent conversion rate and slashed the time between initial outreach and a face-to-face meeting from 35 days to 10.

More surprising, LeadCrunch opened Peters’ eyes to bigger enterprise-level customers. “It matches our culture with any company’s culture, no matter what size,” he says. “From the outside looking in, I would have thought, ‘No way we get them as a client.’ But LeadCrunch found the person in that company who was in sync with our vibe and would be receptive to our product.”

Since then, Peters has gone back to LeadCrunch, paying $250 for 200 leads at a time. With each submission, he says, the tool grows smarter, and the conversion rate holds steady. “This is the first game-changing tool we’ve ever implemented,” he says.

A Second Opinion

“What’s interesting about LeadCrunch is that it’s based on what already works, not assumptions or gut feelings about the future, yet it still has the power to open the door for unexpected wins in totally new markets,” says Kelly Kuhn-Wallace, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultant focused on seed-stage startups. She believes LeadCrunch’s technology to be sound but says its pricing structure may not be sustainable. “I fully expect the pricing to go up as people discover how valuable it really is. So try it now, while it’s still cheap.” 

Edition: December 2016

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