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Monday, October 23, 2006

I was reading a book recently that talks a lot about "Independent Information Professionals" (or IIP's). Here's a full description of the profession from the industry body, the AIIP.

In a nutshell, IIP's are self-employed people or freelancers who do research, analysis & "information brokering".

The thing I found interesting in the book, which was first published in 2002, is how the profession has changed since the rise of the Internet and search engines.

Essentially, up until very recently, IIP's were paid to search and retrieve information. Before the rise of search engines & the Internet, that really meant researching in libraries, filings, government records, etc by hand, or using a small number of specialist databases.

Up to around 5 or 6 years ago, most of the work was information retrieval, or "rip & ship" as it was commonly known.

Now, most IIP's say that up to 80% of their time is spent on analysis or synthesis of data, rather than simple retrieval. In short, most people can now "Google" for the simple questions. They only engage an IIP when they need those hard to find" answers.

Of course, the profession has also grown since the advent of the Internet, making it easier for companies to outsource some of their research and easier for IIP's to work from home.

A couple of points I found quite interesting, from my own perspective, was firstly that many IIP's are trying to distance themselves from the term "information broker". This was the term that they were all known by up until the media hi-jacked it recently and attached it to various shady dealings such as social-engineering & "dumpster-diving".

I'm always interested by they fact that everyone assumes the only way to get "information" is by illicit or illegal ways.

The truth is that pretty much everything you need for research or Market Intelligence is out there someone, either in public records, online resources or through telephone research. OK, you have to put the pieces together, but it's all there.

Another interesting point is that a lot of IIP's sub-contract their telephone research to a smaller subset of specialists. These people actually sound quite close to my own speciality, as they're the people who you say "find me a person who knows X" and they go out, find them and interview them.

It seems that there's this core set of people who make a living finding people using the telephone. Whether they're called telephone researchers or names sourcers, there always seems to be a demand for someone to pick up that phone.


Posted by: David Regler @ 8:48 am |  0 comments  | Links to this post  

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Friday, October 20, 2006

I've started playing around with Spoke recently which, since this summer, has now opened up access for free.

Last time I looked a while back I decided not to join as it appeared to be predominantly US focused and I couldn't justify the monthly fee (when compared to the access I was getting via LinkedIn).

[BTW, it's still very US focused as you can't search for contacts by country, although there are non-US contacts & companies on Spoke)

So, how is Spoke different?

At a first glance, it's obviously set-up more for sales & marketing people than LinkedIn. It allows you to search it's full database of 30 million contacts (which makes it nearly 4 times the size of LinkedIn) and you can save searches and set up alerts (which is something that would greatly improve LinkedIn).

The main difference, however, is how it generates it's data.

This article, "Spoke frees up its database", explains this in more detail.

Until now, Spoke has created its database by scouring the web, using third-party providers, as well as asking its members to share their address book contacts. You could think of it as a cross between LinkedIn & ZoomInfo, I guess.

But, as the article points out, "Any kind of database becomes practically worthless if you don’t know whether an entry is accurate or not. Even if 10 percent of it is wrong, you can’t trust it."

To me, this is always the main issue.

All these tools, LinkedIn, Spoke, etc are just the starting point of any names sourcing or business development research. When you're tracking people within companies, guess what, they move about. It's about finding an appropriate entry point.

Sure, if you're after anyone in the C-suite, then just pulling up the website will normally do it. But if you want specific role-holders then you need to get digging.

It's like I pointed out in my post "Drive-thru or counter?", sometimes it's easier just to pick up the phone.

This was illustrated the other day when a colleague emailed me and said he was trying to get hold of a senior budget holder within a major UK retailer. He said he'd searched everywhere and couldn't track down a name.

I just picked up the phone, called their Head Office, got through to the right department and asked. Sometime the simplest route really does work.

It would be nice to think that we can sit at our computers and do everything by searching & emailing (and sometimes that does work). But then you're just limiting your options.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Adding to what I said on my previous post, I came across this blog "The Ultimate Revenge On A Telemarketer".

This really is the best! Have fun.

I found it on an Ecademy blog which was talking about how to avoid telemarketers.

It seems the word "telemarketer" is not a label someone wants to have; it's signifies someone who's a low-level, scripted, call-centre...well, "telemarketer"

The reality is that I know many big-ticket "telemarketers" who have been doing this for a long time and have made a lot of money (and still do).

Generally they focus on business-to-business and very high level work. Calling on CEO's is completely different to calling someone's home in the evening (CEO's are soooo much easier)

Consider this...there are some industries where the "big-billers" do all their business on the phone. They make cold-calls, they cut high-value deals on the phone and make a lot of money.

Generally they're in some kind of "broker" activity, such as recruiting, or executive search.

Think about that, recruiting's an industry that thrives on cold-calling. One veteran once told me "recruiting is cold-calling"

I personally do about 50% of my work by phone. It's nearly always "cold-calling" - whether it's research or lead generation. But then again, I also use email a lot and online networks such as LinkedIn

There's two main reasons I don't call myself a "telemarketer":

1) It limits what I do, as I say, the phone is only one way in.
2) It devalues what I do, when people are looking for telemarketers they want to pay next-to-nothing.

That, and the social stigma, public humiliation and verbal abuse ;-)

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Posted by: David Regler @ 8:52 am |  0 comments  | Links to this post  

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I recently re-read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, "Better Sales Networks".

The article looks at different types of social networks and how each is more suited to different sales tasks.

The article shows how "sparser networks are better at getting access to unique information", whereas denser networks are "more desirable for coordination purposes".

As someone who predominantly uses my network for prospecting & lead generation on behalf of clients I can understand this completely.

In fact, the article recommends that "salespeople looking for new and unique information should cultivate broad marketplace networks" and suggests that, as not everyone is naturally good at this task, companies should "consider decoupling lead generation from other tasks"

I found that a very interesting observation. Not that lead generation should be decoupled - there's nothing new there. No, the comment that not everyone is "naturally good" at developing diverse contacts.

If you've been following many of the social networking platforms there's always this "quality vs quantity" debate going on. It's an old chestnut and I don't intend to add to it here, except to say that it always seems to polarise opinion.

I'm certainly firmly in to "quantity" camp as I use tools such as LinkedIn to develop access to a large and diverse range of potential contacts. If you look at all the most "connected" people on LinkedIn (apparently I've dropped a few places to #41) they're dominated by people who need to access information - such as recruiters, investors, researchers, biz dev people, etc [plus a few who just seem to be in it for the game of who can be top]

LinkedIn is such as powerful tool as it allows you to see your extended network in ways not previously possible.

But, to get back to my point, people in the "quality" camp will tell you that the most important thing is how strong the relationships are in the network, not how many connections you have.

Of course, if their focus is on coordination (getting experts together, getting contacts to actually do something for them) then it's important to not only have strong ties with their contacts, but it's important that they are also connected to each other. That makes sense.

Another way of putting it is that the more commitment you are asking for, the stronger you need the relationship to be.

If I'm just calling someone to find some relatively low-value (to them) information, then a sparse network with weak-ties is not only fit for purpose, it is actually optimum for my purpose as it gives me the widest range of access.

However, if I wanted to use this network for a purpose which requires much more commitment from my contacts (such as getting them to collaborate with me on a project) it's unlikely I would get such support unless I had taken the time to build a strong relationship with them (which, in turn, takes more time to cultivate and therefore is likely to reduce the size, and diversity, of my network)

So, in summary, if you're looking for information, you ideally want a sparse network (ie, it doesn't matter if each "node" of your network is not connected with another). If you want to get things done, you need a more tightly configured (and probably smaller) network.

Common sense really. Which isn't bad for Harvard ;-)

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

OK, so there's always a point when I engage with a new client when we start to discuss fees. For "appointment setting", there are a few fee models on the market, ranging from the very bottom (setting up meetings for financial advisers or low-value B2B propositions) to the very top...CEO of a global company.

I pretty much focus on the upper-middle to top of this market.

Typically, my clients want to engage with senior budget holders and decision makers where their value proposition has the most currency. In larger companies that's not always an easy person to find. Often for consultancies I need to find a departmental or divisional head... or even a "Director" level interim who's heading up a programme. Titles can be a bit misleading...

[You can't go out and buy those names on a list, BTW.]

Anyway, we now get back to "how much" is the meeting worth?

Whilst there are methods of calculating the life-time value of your potential client, as used by many direct marketing guru's when establishing ROI and Client Acquisition methods, I find these don't really help.

In any case, the cost of getting the meeting will be far less than the cost of "pitching" for the business. For any company with a complex sale, and long bidding process this cost regularly runs into hundreds of thousands, GBP or USD, take your pick.

Therefore, when you factor in the cost of sale, it's more important to have a well qualified meeting than just any meeting.

Another way of establishing cost per meeting is to look at alternatives, such as trade shows, events, or even your own biz dev people cold-calling - OK, so we both know that'll never happen :-)

When I've sat down with clients before and looked at the costs, when you add up lost billable hours or sales "down-time", plus costs of the event etc, the cost per meeting always runs above 1000GBP.

I regularly deliver qualified meetings for less than half that amount, as well as supporting my clients with account research & intelligence that they can leverage for success.

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Posted by: David Regler @ 8:32 am |  0 comments  | Links to this post  

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Monday, October 09, 2006

You've probably seen "Dragon's Den" before. It's the TV programme where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to secure investment finance from a panel of multi-millionaire business experts — the "Dragons".

It's great television and I'm an avid viewer of the BBC's UK version.

Now, when I say (jokingly) that I could be the next Dragon, it's not because I'm a multi-millionaire business expert (or have a few hundred grand to throw about). No, it's because on a regular basis I get asked by entrepreneurs who want to discuss working with my company on a "success basis", typically that means "commission-only".

In a sense, they are pitching me to risk my time (or the time of my team) to help them sell their product or service.

I read one of the TV Dragons say that only about 10% of the Entrepreneurs they see get funding (and of them, the Dragon's assume that about will 10% actually succeed).

And that's pretty much how I see it.

Only about 10% of the people that ask me to work on a "commission-only" basis have something which I feel either excited about or think has "got the legs" to work. The problem is, though, that if only 10% of those actually take off... where does that leave me?

Investing my time (and money) on high-risk, unproven ventures is not my business model.

I don't mind linking part of our fees to our results, such as a number of qualified appointments; if we don't deliver then we don't get that part of our fees - that's a healthy results-focused model.

But that's a long way from working "for free" on the basis that someone else will make a sale, deliver their (usually unproven) product or service, get paid and then still be solvent to pay us.

No, I think I'll stick to watching the Dragons on the TV.

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