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DIGITAL MANAGER

12.7.98  
Generate Sales Leads — Fast
Web services let you zero in on your target market and download data to your PC

A few years ago, organizations such as Dun & Bradstreet printed business-to-business sales leads and mailed them out. Now, you can get them instantly on the Web.

Several services have popped up that search the Internet for key marketing information and, for a fee, will load it into your computer. That's a boon for such specialized companies as American Risk Managers, a 13-person insurance consultancy in Hamilton, Ala., that needs to find prospects rapidly. "We're looking for companies that are almost big enough to have full-time risk managers, but they're not quite there yet," says the company's CEO, Walter D. Haney Sr. The entrepreneur uses iMarket's New Business Leads (NBL).

To get an idea of what these services can do for small businesses, Business Week Online compared New Business Leads to its top competitor in the business-to-business sales-lead marketplace, infoUSA. Most of NBL's information comes from Dun & Bradstreet. InfoUSA develops its information independently. The Web has other sales-lead sites, but these two are considered leaders.

We tested the information brokers' sites by creating a fictional situation: an accounting business selling to small furniture stores in Texas.

WHAT YOU GET: Up to a point, both sites work the same basic way. The first time you visit, you register, then you navigate through a series of Web pages in which you specify the type of businesses you want to target, their locations, and the number of employees in those companies. Both services scour their databases and show you a handful of partial records that include only the business name and city. This lets you quickly verify if the businesses the service found match the ones you want. To get the meat of what these services offer, you have to enter your credit-card number. We found nearly the same number of leads with each service -- 415 for infoUSA vs. 414 for NBL. For the categories we selected, NBL's search came out slightly cheaper.

The sites differ, however, in their method of selecting leads, their pricing structure, and their offerings. NBL, for instance, provided prices for different levels of detail -- ranging from minimal contact information to a plethora of data -- as well as volume discounts. But it delivers information only in electronic form. You download its prospect file to your computer and can use it with other applications, such as a database for creating mailing labels. InfoUSA does that, but it also mails you printed reports or labels.

InfoUSA (www.infousa.com) gives entrepreneurs one level of detail: everything -- the company and contact name, address, name of the decision-maker, phone and fax numbers, range of employees, estimated sales volume, company credit-rating code, SIC codes, first year it appeared in the Yellow Pages, franchise or brand affiliation, and professional specialty.

WHAT YOU PAY: InfoUSA charges on a sliding scale, based on quantity and how you want data delivered. We chose to download the information, because this is probably the fastest and most convenient method for small-business owners. The cost ranges from $1.50 per lead 9for 1 to 25 leads) to 20 cents a lead (for 50,001 to 100,000 leads). For orders of more than 100,000, the infoUSA site says, "Call us." Our 415 records cost 75 cents each -- the rate for 250 to 500 leads -- for a total of $311.25.

NBL (www.imarketinc.com/products/nbl/) offered the option to pay less if we didn't want all the company details. For deluxe records -- comparable to infoUSA's -- it charges 70 cents a lead, without volume discounts. That cost us $289.80. For this price, you get the company and contact names, address, phone number, metropolitan area and county, type of business, an executive's name and title, the company's Dun & Bradstreet number, annual sales, number of employees at that site, total company employees, import and export information, its manufacturing site, type of site at a given location, whether it's a subsidiary of another company, how the company is incorporated, who owns it, when it was founded, and the latitude and longitude of each site.

If you request only the company and contact names, address, metropolitan area and county, type of business, an executive's name and title, and the company's Dun & Bradstreet number, it will cost you 20 cents a record. For 30 cents, you get a phone number as well. If you need a lot of leads, you can get discounts by becoming a "Professional" member for $4.95 monthly or a "Premiere" member for $29.95 monthly. With a Premiere membership, you pay only 10 cents per lead for full information instead of 70 cents.

Free business leads are also available on the Web. Business Week Frontier Online's Sales Leads (bw.commerceinc.com) provides the names of specific types of businesses. Although free, this service isn't as flexible as NBL and infoUSA. You can select only businesses in specific municipalities, not in entire states or in ranges of Zip codes. Nor can you download the information into your database for future use.

So what's the yield for the investment? American Risk Managers' Haney says 2% to 3% of the businesses he contacts from the NBL list ask for his free analysis of their property and casualty insurance. What's more, 10% of those prospects eventually purchase his consulting services.

Obviously, no Web service can turn a lead into a sale. But they sure beat the old-fashioned way of finding prospects -- paging through catalogs of lists.

By David Haskin in Madison, Wis.

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