Finding Gold on the Web

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Everybody's done it. From interns to senior vice presidents, at one time or another, someone in a sales or marketing organization sits down at a browser and enters keywords into a search engine to track down new leads. While it can be effective in the short term--if the keywords are appropriate and the search engine is the right combination of lucky and good--it's generally not a winning strategy for long-term prospecting. After the first few dozen search engine hits, the information starts to blur together, even for the most eager of interns. And properly collecting and distributing the findings is a very tedious, manual process.

Intarka, of San Jose, Calif., has an answer. Their flagship product, ProspectMiner, automates the process of not only searching, but also organizing results from 19 search engines and online databases. "It's helping businesses solve the problem of taking advantage of the great deal of information that exists on the World Wide Web and converting it into actionable data for a business process," says Mark Calkins, vice president of sales at Intarka. ProspectMiner takes a user-defined set of keywords and conducts an exhaustive search, then boils the information down into line items on an internal spreadsheet. One Intarka client was looking to sell their services to online content providers: companies in the business of generating or syndicating articles and information to other Web destinations. With little more than "content provider," the software went on to find hundreds of reasonable matches.

For William Sell, vice president and general manager of the COMDEX shows, ProspectMiner fills a major need. "When we get a new category to cover, like Windows 2000, we're looking for 'How will I find everybody that fits this category?'" He believes that Web prospecting through ProspectMiner is essential to the continued growth of COMDEX. "We're trying to deal with companies that are the latest, the hottest in their field, and the only way to do that is the Internet," he says. "It's better than an industry association directory, which might be one or two years old."

Picking good keywords is important, but ProspectMiner learns best by example. At the start of a search, users provide the software with the Web address of one of the target type of company they're looking for. In the case of the digital content provider search, "ProspectMiner builds a model of what a content provider looks like, based on the way it represents itself on the Web site [provided by the user]," says Calkins.

When ProspectMiner believes it has found a match, the software searches the entire company Web site and compiles vital data, such as contact information, company officers and contacts, financial figures and relevant news items. The entire search results are called up from the ProspectMiner spreadsheet. "We're giving them that icebreaker info for the cold call, without them actually doing the research," says Calkins.

Users can refine search terms, or read through ProspectMiner's results and rate each finding on a sliding scale, indicating if a lead is very appropriate, close or not nearly a proper match. The software can then repeat its probes, taking into account the ratings bias and those factors that seem to make target companies either fit or fall short of the intended search. When the user is finally satisfied with the results, ProspectMiner can output its findings directly to a variety of SFA packages, including ACT!, Pivotal and SalesLogix. A generic export wizard is also included to handle custom data formats. Resonate, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of e-commerce traffic management software, turned to ProspectMiner to refine their lead generation process. "Even though trade shows are a targeted audience, you spend a lot of money to get a lot of bad leads, and maybe a few good ones," explains Tong Zhang, manager of Resonate's 30-strong inside sales staff. With search setup times down to 10 minutes using ProspectMiner, she hates to think of the alternative--searching the Web for leads by hand. "We'd have to hire additional manpower just to cover all the search engines," she says.

ProspectMiner searches generally take several hours--up to 12, in the case of extremely high-frequency keyword terms. As a result, Calkins explained, most companies run their searches on a spare Windows NT workstation overnight. Intarka offers a variety of implementation options, ranging from a single-seat, three-month license that lists at $9,500, to an annual site license for $99,500.

Although ProspectMiner has not yet celebrated its second anniversary, its early adopters seem to be pleased with their early returns. COMDEX's Sell says that one out of every three ProspectMiner leads is a contact that would not have been found any other way. And Zhang says she expects her organization will run ProspectMiner searches every day once the entire staff is familiar with and given access to the software.

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