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Spoke's Freedom of Information Act
By making its huge contact database available at no charge, the social networking provider hopes to fill a void in personal access while making fresh info the users' responsibility.
Posted Jul 31, 2006
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Spoke Software today announced its 30 million-person social networking database is now free of charge for access and use. This radical move goes further than other information brokers' willingness to share top executive contact information, providing access to all levels within a target company and such additional value as job history, email patterns, phone numbers, and addresses. The catch? Users must validate their own contact lists through Spoke, or it's not free. According to Spoke, the free service is intended for individual sales and marketing professionals, recruiters, and job seekers. By validating their own contacts through Spoke (an automated process), these people keep the database growing and stocked with current, fresh contact info. No explicit contact trading is required; Spoke's system simply uses the validated data to confirm and update what is already known. Frank Vaculin, CEO of Spoke, explains that this change of business model has been in the works for some time, and depended merely on reaching the "critical mass" of 30 million entries. "Now we're in the position of being able to turn the power of freshness over to our users on the Web with automated validation," Vaculin says. He hopes this move will cause some heartburn among traditional data providers. "It's a big move, and we've been waiting for a long time. This is really going to be disruptive in the marketplace. It's going to shake things up." Spoke offers corporations a premium service that integrates with campaign management, CRM, and SFA systems, and includes internal networking, administration, and Web-based training. Marketers can export contact lists, paying on a sliding scale based on the number of contacts. Access is still possible for users who do not wish to open their own address books; the price is $50 per month for such holdouts. "We wanted to leave no one out," Vaculin says. "If for whatever reason people want to purchase our service on a monthly basis without validating their contacts, they only lose some networking properties." Free offers are nothing new, even in the CRM industry, according to Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager for Yankee Group. "I go back to when Salesforce.com first launched, and they gave away the first five seats to get users interested," Kingstone recalls. "It gets people past the initial hump. If you're willing to put skin in the game, Spoke will give you something very valuable for free."
If the value of Spoke's offer is clear to potential users, it will meet with considerable success. But that success will depend on users' ability to leverage the free information to generate revenue, Kingstone says. "Getting to the right person is critical, a major pain point for organizations. The other pain is maturing your contacts and holding their attention. If [using Spoke] doesn't help drive business, it won't lead to the next level. Spoke helps businesses get a foot in the door, but the rest is up to them." Related articles: Social Networking: Getting in Touch the CRM Way Google's Free Web Analytics--A Stalking Horse?
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