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Networking websites create business leads

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Friday, September 01, 2006

For entrepreneurs seeking new ways to find connections and generate sales prospects, the web has become a virtual candy store of options. Many small-business owners are giving cold calling the cold shoulder.

Frank Rumbauskas, a sales coach and author of Never Cold Call Again (Wiley, June 2006), is convinced that cold calling is obsolete. Prospects hate getting unsolicited sales call now more than ever — if they even answer their phone at all. “Sales people everywhere are learning the hard way that cold calling just doesn’t work anymore,” says Rumbauskas. “They are using 20th century sales techniques to try to lure 21st century customers who have no patience for the sales pitch.”

Great alternatives to cold calling are the so-called social networking sites that are all the rage in the Internet world right now. And darned if some of them don’t actually have a lot to offer small-business owners.

Perhaps the hottest player in this niche is LinkedIn, an online network of some 6 million business people worldwide. While big social sites such as MySpace cater to personal use, LinkedIn is strictly business.

First, you join and create a profile of your business accomplishments. The profile helps you find and be found by former colleagues, clients, partners and prospects. You can add more connections by inviting trusted contacts to join and connect to you in web-like fashion.

LinkedIn is free to join but last year added paid memberships (at $60 to $2,000 per year) that offer premium tools for finding and reaching the right people. The paid memberships have been hugely popular, and LinkedIn says it will expand its free services as well.

The power of these new digital grapevines is their ability to share lead-generating ideas across large numbers of people and to provide “introductions” through trusted contacts. You don’t find your ideal prospect nicely registered on the site, just waiting for you.  Rather, through an efficient system of contact sharing, it may be one of your contacts’ contacts that ultimately generates the introduction and big sale you are seeking. 

LinkedIn aims to make the search for business contacts and prospects as smart and easy as possible. Business owners already use it frequently to look up people before business meetings to learn about backgrounds and interests of other meeting attendees as well as suppliers and potential customers.

Other popular web-based lead generators for small business include Jigsaw, Spoke and Zoom Information.

Jigsaw is an online business contact marketplace where you can buy, sell and trade business contact information. You can buy leads for cash or acquire names by contributing some of your own.

Spoke comes off as a more sophisticated service offering on-demand business contact information designed to help you find and sell to targeted buyers. Spoke has information on 650,000 companies and 30 million people and also has a social networking feature that lets subscribers share contact information.

Another helpful feature is Spoke’s ability to feed leads and contact information directly into Salesforce.com — a big bonus for small firms already using Salesforce. A Spoke subscription is $59 per month, or $495 if you sign up for a year.

— Daniel Kehrer, BizBest Media


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