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ZoomInfo Finds a Fresh Way to Collect Contacts
With the introduction of FreshContacts, the business database service provider allows users to gain access data for free -- so long as they trade in their business contacts.
Posted Jan 23, 2010
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How much is your rolodex worth to you? Would you trade it for access to an online database of 45 million people and 5 million companies? ZoomInfo is making it that easy for individuals unwilling or unable to pay for subscriptions to its database. With its announcement of FreshContacts, individuals give ZoomInfo their business contacts from Microsoft Outlook in exchange for two full months of unlimited access to ZoomInfo. FreshContacts, a free downloadable plug-in for Outlook, is especially geared toward job seekers who may need an extra edge in researching and connecting with employers and contacts at companies.

Chip Terry, ZoomInfo's vice president and general manager of sales intelligence, admits that the company isn't expecting much additional revenue from the FreshContacts play. However, what he is anticipating is a new and reliable stream of business contacts to add to its database. "Not everything is available on the Web," Terry says. "We are looking at how we get deeper in organizations.  A lot of information resides in people's address books." The FreshContacts plug-in weeds through a person's address book, extracting only contacts with a company-ending email address. The solution is can-spam compliant and all contacts are notified with an email once their information is downloaded into ZoomInfo. Those added to the database are given the option to opt-out. Terry says the opt-out ability is always made known to people listed in ZoomInfo, but the actual number of people who request removal of their information is very low.

The act of bartering contacts in exchange for more contacts may be ringing a few bells. Although seemingly reminiscent of competitor Jigsaw's business model, Terry insists that it's very different. Jigsaw, which gives a discount on its solution to those who upload business contacts, also rewards users who update or correct contact data. With ZoomInfo's FreshContacts, it's all-or-nothing, meaning that users give the company access to their address book -- even if they only have a handful of business contacts -- in exchange for full access to the site. Terry admits it's a risk, but in the several months of beta testing, only one person tried to game the system, completely removing his email contacts from Outlook.

"ZoomInfo's put an interesting spin on the 'share contacts and get rewarded' model successfully pioneered by rival Jigsaw," says China Martens, an analyst with The 451 Group. "It's also more of a gamble since ZoomInfo isn't placing any limitations on the two-month free access to its contacts database it's providing via the plug-in so individuals, unlike in the Jigsaw community, have less incentive to either contribute their own data or to correct and update existing contact information." Terry seems confident about the model, however. Since the September beta release, the application has been downloaded by more than 4,000 people.

"ZoomInfo's clearly hoping that the FreshContacts offer will provide a new source of additional up-to-date information for its database, but the move's also about building goodwill and interest so that once users are employed, they may look to purchase subscriptions to the vendor's various paid offerings," Martens says. Doing some math, Terry says that if the plug-in is downloaded 200 times a week, it could yield an additional 9.6 million new or updated contacts per year for ZoomInfo. "It's great for our brand," Terry says. "But it's also great for our data."

As FreshContacts gains momentum, Terry says ZoomInfo is estimating that eventually about one fourth of its business contacts will come from the plug-in. It also aids in solving what Terry calls "the data problem" -- which is the fact that contact data is so often incorrect and needs to be updated so frequently. ZoomInfo allows individuals to claim their profiles so as to ensure that the database is displaying correct information. According to Terry, more than 900,000 people have done so.

"While ZoomInfo has always encouraged individuals to claim their profiles and keep them up to date," Martens says. "FreshContacts marks an experiment into having humans add information about their contacts versus the vendor's traditional reliance on technologies to extract information and compile summaries about people and companies."

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