To anyone who has spent a career in sales, consistent lead development remains the holy grail. A good sales manager can always help close deals at the end of each quarter, but if you can’t fill the pipeline with 4-6x quota, there’s not much that can be done to help hit the numbers.
Throughout my career, I have tested various models for lead generation, most of them focused largely on cold-calling. I’ve used the approach of having senior sales executives do their own cold-calling, using dedicated lead generation inside sales reps, and also outsourcing the lead generation function to specialized firms like By Appointment Only. Each of these methods has their pros and cons, but regardless of which one I was using at the time, I was always scrambling, trying to find ways to just deliver a few more qualified opportunities.
In recent years, a series of new web-based lead generation companies have arisen, each with their own methods. Traditional directory publishers such as Thomas and relative newcomer GlobalSpec drive leads in the manufacturing sector, while price comparison sites like CNET, PriceGrabber and Shopzilla create leads in the consumer markets. For the technology sector, whitepaper portals such as TechTarget, BitPipe (recently acquired by TechTarget) and KnowledgeStorm generate tremendous traffic of qualified IT executives researching software. Bankrate’s recent acquisition of FastFind provides banks with leads of people seeking loans.
The rapid growth of this segment of the content market, as exhibited by a number of recent acquisitions at high multiples, is the focus of a new research report by Ken Sonenclar of DeSilva & Phillips entitled “Lead Generation: Digital Media’s Killer App?” The report provides a clear picture of how the disintermediation of the web has allowed these lead generation companies to better connect buyers and sellers, whether in b2b or b2c markets. Where Google was able to demonstrate that clicks are more traceable than branding initiatives, these companies take that a few steps further, aiming to provide qualified leads at the right stage in the purchasing cycle.
While I can hear Alec Baldwin’s voice stating “Coffee’s for Closers” in the back of my head, I still believe that generating enough qualified opportunities is the hardest part of sales. I plan to profile a few of these lead generation companies in the coming weeks in my “50 Content Companies that Matter” segment. In the meantime, if you’re looking at segments of the content market poised for strong growth in 2006-07, the lead generation segment is certainly a good place to start.