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LinkedIn Meets iTunes

A few months ago I did a piece for called LinkedIn Meets eBay, about a web startup that allowed salespeople to sell each other their contacts. If the sales world already had its eBay, it now has its iTunes: a place where sales and marketing folks can purchase contacts from a company named Demandbase, which has mined, screened and quality-checked a staggering amount of data to bring you the contact info you need to snag your next big sale.

This is cool. This is very cool, if you consider the way the analogy fits. Demandbase has taken data from all over the place, including data providers like Lexis Nexis and Hoover's, much the way Apple went around making deals with each record company. Then they did what Founder/CEO Chris Golec calls "cleansing, ranking, and scoring" — basically skimming out the useless or outdated info and ranking data in terms of reliability or currency. They're working with a database of about 6 million business contacts, filtered down from 50 million, which Golec says is the largest of its kind in the country.

Here's where it gets cooler: everything is done via web-based software. You can log on, view the kinds of contacts you need, and purchase them piecemeal, usually for a buck or two. There's no subscription, no added fees, no minimum, no other tomfoolery — you just buy what you want. The price is forumlated by the system according to a few different metrics: how well the contact fits your needs, the likelihood of a response to your inquiry, and the quality of the information. The software can even dip into your CRM software to make sure you're not buying a duplicate contact, and can add the new contacts you buy automatically. 

Smartly, Demandbase is planning integration with LinkedIn and SalesForce, to allow its customers to maintain a fluid and consistent pool of contacts, rather than a fractured bunch of silo-like Rolodexes. It's also allowing users to narrow down contacts by zip code, for people working within certain territories. 

It's not lost on the Demandbase folks that no amount of technology is going to make cold calling any easier. To really generate better quality leads, you really need a little help — something the company thinks it can get you with a widget they're announcing today called Demandbase Stream. The Stream widget runs along the bottom of your PC or Mac like a ticker, telling you which who is visiting your site in real-time. If you're away from your desk, it's still doing its work, logging visitors that fit whatever search parameters you choose (incuding geographical area). You can even set it to display only visitors you might be interested in, making for an effective (if distracting) little tool that can tell you which companies might already be sniffing around your products.

Once you mouse over a visiting company on the ticker, the system gives you basic info on that company and generates the contact information for the most useful person at the company for you to call. Click and purchase, and you can capitalize on their visit by making an oh-so-coincidental call that day. 

It's worth mentioning that both the Stream and the site itself work with fantastic fluidity, and the exact kind of Web 3+ graphical beauty you'd expect from any advanced data-heavy site. The site is built with Adobe's Flex interface, a nifty Ajax-looking technology that allows all kinds of graphical changes as well as dragging and dropping, without any refreshes. The Stream is built with another Adobe product called Air, which also acquits itself admirably. In fact, Adobe was so smitten with the deveopment of Demandbase that the company participated in an $8 million joint investment in the company, joining a handful of other VC investors. 

Interestingly, Golec says that of the 5000 users using the advanced beta version of Demandbase are about 50/50 sales and marketing, most from mid-sized companies. In the future, he says he plans on positioning Demandbase to better serve high-volume enterprise customers by providing a subscription service with mass-purchasing potential, and even tying in the software with specific campaign pages, if desired.

There are indeed quite a few clever new lead-generation mechanisms being grown on the web frontier — maybe moreso in sales than in any other field. But by using raw computing power to make a colossal body of data useful, Demandbase might rank as one of the more ingenious ones. With cloud computing on the verge of ubiquity, the mastery of improbably large data sets is the next generation of computing at large. With their two promising products, Golec and his team of 22 at Demandbase are looking especially prescient.