Where can I get the best prospect list?

Some sales people in my firm were discussing where they could get the best prospect lists. They are building out a new territory so they need people to contact.

Some of the team were leaning towards a trial account with Hoovers. I jumped in to try and be helpful and told them I already had an Insideview account that they could use. They took me up on that offer and so far seem contented with Insideview.

But did I really do them a favor?

The answer is maybe or maybe not.

It all depends

The skinny on prospect lists is that one size does not fit all. The best source of prospect lists for you very much depends on your target industry/industries and target contacts in those industries.

Each provider of data has a different “breadth of data” (which companies and industries they have records for) and a different “depth of data” (what kind of information they have on each company and contact).

Providers build their data in different ways. Some are like compilers of other people’s data and some used “crowdsourced” approaches to get sales people to enter information into their databases.

My friend Ruth Stevens is the only person I know that’s been brave enough to try to figure out the relative strengths of different databases. She’s been doing studies on B2B data providers for the last several years and has written up each study in a white paper. You can grab these white papers here. I highly recommend doing so, if you’re considering spending any decent cash (or time) on a prospect list.

Sample data from one of Ruth Stevens' white papers

My takeaway from some of Ruth’s work and my own messing around with different lists over the last ten years is that you need to test your data source in your own environment.

Reading about data sources from their marketing information and using them “in combat” when you’re trying to crack into a key account are two totally different things. In my prospecting experience I always seemed to come up with an obscure title, or company, that was not in my data provider’s database.

A couple of alternative sources

One giant database that I find critical to B2B prospecting that is not usually considered a “data source” is Linkedin. Using Linkedin in combination with one of the data sources above can really help you add data to your own list and make it a lot richer.

In many sales jobs you’re targeting a specific niche. Often you can great some lists from associations that serve this specific industry niche. For example, in our business there is an association for hospital marketers and we’ve found the list of members very useful.

Better than any list

Your own list will always be more valuable than any third-party list for your own specific situation. As you prospect, you should develop and maintain your own prospect list. You can use third-party lists as your source but you should build your own list as you go.

But your goal as a sales professional should not be to build a list–not even the best one ever. Your goal should be building relationships.

One of the key distinctions between sales people and marketers is that sales people need to develop real human relationships. Marketers don’t. Marketers deal with large lists of names and email addresses. As a sales person it’s OK to start here but if you want to build your personal value you need to build your “Rolodex” of people that know, like and trust you.

So as you’re in a market for a while you’re reliance on “raw” lists from vendors should taper off and your focus should shift to your own “Rolodex”. The key then is how you maintain your “Rolodex”. You need to be nurturing your relationships with all the contacts in that key list. That will be your personal asset that your employer and others will pay big bucks for.

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