How to get a list of potential customers
What to do when you have run out of leads
Starting a business means getting customers. Your first customers are probably people you already know, friends, family, and old co-workers, you will approach them all looking for work and referrals. Hopefully, this outreach to your personal network will provide you with your first few customers, maybe even get you to full-time, but what if it doesn't?
If you have exhausted your personal network and are still looking for clients to fill your day this is the article for you.
Where do you find leads?
If you have given your pitch to everyone you know and you are still looking for customers you'll need to expand your search. There are plenty of options, inbound marketing, networking, speaking engagements, they all have their place, but for just starting out I think you will find that they are a little too slow, you're a go-getter and want to take control of your destiny afterall.
The direction I'm suggesting is cold outreach, its a tough route but it is effective. If you aren't convinced of the effectiveness of cold emailing I'll have another article for you soon, for now trust me and read on.
What you need to get started with cold outreach is a list of contacts at companies in your target market. This is a list of companies that based on what you know about their business you have a reason to believe that they need your service, a.k.a a lead list.
You can build a list like this yourself using Google, it is time consuming but the information you are looking for is out there. Assuming you don't hate yourself enough to spend hours manually scrubbing through internet search results you'll want a faster way to get the list you need.
Fortunately, for those who love themselves enough to respect their own time there are multiple companies that exist to provide you with lists of leads. These web services provide a way to search for leads that fit the profile of your target customer. I've compiled a list of some of these services that I have tried and I will share my experiences. There are other tools available, this list isn't exhaustive, the main criteria for inclusion in my list is that they offer a somewhat obvious free trial that doesn't require credit card information.
Here's what we are doing. I'm going to define a target market/customer and build a list based on my criteria with each of these services.
Target Market and Customer Profile
I freelance as a data scientist and product manager, these are business-to-business (B2B) services so I'll be building a list of businesses.
What's the profile? Defining your ideal customer profile is a bit of a creative activity at first, as we get more customers and complete more projects we will develop a better idea of the ideal customer profile. For now I will start with a few basic criteria.
- Located in the greater Twin Cities Metro, because I would like to be able to meet my customers in person.
- Big enough that they can afford my fee, let's say at least $5M in revenue.
- Small enough that they make quick decisions, no more than $20M in revenue
- Between 10 and 200 employees, a small business.
We could focus our search within a specific industry as well. I don't really have an industry focus at this time for my freelancing, but I will use the industy filters for the sake of making complete evaluation.
Filter by Industry, NAICS Codes
The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is a classification system developed by the US federal government in cooperation with the governments of Canada and Mexico for use in collecting, analyzing and publishing data about businesses in North America. Every business falls into one or more of these categories. For instance the code for ECommerce (officially Electronic Shopping)is 454111, and the code for vending machine operators is 454210.
Here are a few examples of NAICS Industry codes:
- 541613 - Marketing Consulting Services
- 454111 - Electronic Shopping (8 digit is 45411001)
- 454210 - Vending Machine Operators
- 518210 - Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services
- 541713 - Research and Development in Nanotechnology
The were pretty thorough when they came up with this system, as you can see.
Salesgenie is a product of Infogroup, a provider of marketing data established in 1972. It provides a web interface to their databases. They cover over 25 million US businesses, and over 245 million US consumers. The tool allows you to filter these massive lists down to a reasonable number of leads that match your customer profile.
They offer a 3 day free trial with 150 credits, one credit gets you one contact record.
I built a search up from their filters based on my customer profile and it returned 5,696 records. I can only download 150 with the free trial so to narrow down my list I played with some of the other filters.
Adding NAICS 454210 (Vending Machine Operators) to my filter set limits the results to 5, smaller than I would like but isn't it fascinating how specific you can be!
To be included in the results a contact only has to match one of the industry codes in your filter. Adding a few more codes (541613, 454111, 454210, 518210, 541713) to my filter set I get 159 records, and can further reduce that by searching only for a primary NAICS match.
Based on my limited evaluation Salesgenie seems to have the best database, they work hard to make the data complete and correct. The user interface is a little dated, by todays standards it is kind of clunky but it is effective. They have monthly and a la carte packages for getting lead data.
LeadFuze has a smaller trial offering, you can search/filter and get contact information on 25 leads.
LeadFuze has a really nice interface, it is a fully modern web application. For example, it makes smart suggestions for job titles to search for and gives you the ability to fine tune your results by including or excluding terms.
Overall, it didn't provide as much in the way of filtering capabilities as Salesgenie. You can filter by geography, industry, and number of employees, but that appears to be the limit of their firmographic filtering. The industry filter was not as detailed as the full NAICS filtering in some other products.
You can create multiple lists of leads. This is nice feature to organize your search by company size, geography, etc. It also allows you to make a saved search and it will keep adding leads to your list, they call this feature Fuzebot.
You can filter specific contacts by title and keyword. It is important to talk to the right people.
It doesn't allow you to export leads as part of the trial, but you can view the contact info in your saved list.
They only offer monthly and annual subscriptions, I have to give them credit for transparent pricing, but it is more leads than I need and more than I would like to pay.
Headreach is another with a smaller trial. They allow you to build a list of 10 contacts. Their product appears to be focused on finding contact information for people at companies you already know you want to reach. The advanced search screen does allow to filter by industry and location.
The user interface is not as easy to use as LeadFuze. I got annoyed having to manually type in lists of job titles I wanted in the result set. I'd say the UX is better in some aspects than SalesGenie, but it is not as complete.
There is no indication in the search result list about how many results there are, and it is not easy to scroll through the results.
The database isn't as complete as others either. Searching for title and industry can return zero results with frustrating frequency.
The quality of the contact information doesn't look as good as Salesgenie or LeadFuze. Few results for many searches, and the results it does return often don't have email addresses, just links to the person's LinkedIn account. In my sample of search results I selected 10 contacts, of the 10 only 2 had emails associated, one email was flagged by headreach as invalid and the other as "Risky".
It doesn't remember my search settings if I navigate to a different page on the site, that's kind of annoying. It does remember the searches though, it has a search log that you can look back in which is handy.
Overall an ok application UI, but the database is limited and the data quality is poor. It was one of the least expensive options at the time I looked, but in my opinion it is still too expensive for what it gets you.
LimeLeads gives one of the larger free trials with 100 credits. It has a high quality, broad database, and a good UI.
I really enjoyed their filtering capability. It live updates as you choose to include or exclude terms so you know how many contacts and how many companies it covers (many companies have more than one contact in the database).
It includes the ability to filter by location, size, revenue, industry, job title, company name, and you can include or exclude terms to zero in on the contacts your interested in.
They had one of the best export features of the tools I tried. It offers the ability to select which fields will be included and (really nice) you can select to include only one contact per company and you can place a limit on the total number of contacts exported.
They have transparent pricing, offer subscription and a la carte packages, and the pricing was reasonable (IMO).
Working with LimeLeads was easy, pleasurable even.
SalesRipe offers one of the smaller free trials, only 10 contacts. The data quality seems good, and the interface is ok. It isn't quite as nice as most but I like the UX more than Salesgenie.
It feels a little slow, certainly compared to LimeLeads which was pretty snappy. Could be the time or place I was trying it from.
The filtering interface was just a bit clumsy, it wasn't quick and easy to adjust. It works and if you aren't sure where to start it is nice in that it walks you through each category to build your filter. It wasn't easy (possible?) to add exclusions for unwanted companies or job titles.
The export process was a bit tiresome, but at least it allows downloads of contact data during the trial.
In total I downloaded 252 leads between all the services, well I had to copy/paste and clean the 18 I got from LeadFuze because they don't provide export ability during their trial, and I gave up on headreach.
- Salesgenie 133
- LeadFuze 18
- LimeLeads 91
- SalesRipe 10
I need to check for duplicates because we were searching the same metro area for all services with similar filtering. I'd expect a good amount of overlap.
The question now is how good are the leads? These are absolutely cold leads, no indication from them that they are actively looking for my services. We find out how effective this type of list can be in the sequel where we start cold emailing.
I think 1-3 customers out of the whole list would be pretty normal for this type of cold list, if we got 10-25 I think that would be remarkably good.
The point is that getting your first few customers is hard, but once you have a happy customer you can expect more work from them, and referrals.