Free People Searching (With the Occasional Price Tag)
By Barbie E. Keiser
Throughout 2010, I’ve been reminding readers about the freebies offered from vendors whose services we purchase, often for huge sums of money. Recently, I’ve become intrigued by a category of people-finding resources that are quite useful and purported to be free. However, in some cases, payment lurks just below the surface. Where should we turn to obtain accurate, current contact information? What are the new tools to consider? What can “free” cost?
Before pop-up and spam blockers became so effective, each time I opened my browser I saw advertisements for finding old classmates. Today, I’m more likely to have several invitations pending to join a colleague’s LinkedIn network (www.linkedin.com). Generally, these are people I know and have a relationship with or had some relationship with in the past.
What about looking for people you don’t know? If you have access to public records search tools (such as LexisNexis or Accurint), you’re in luck. However, I often get calls from folks who have Googled a name and have seen a load of sponsored links to resources announcing, “We’ve found X for you.” It’s tempting to just click through, but frequently to obtain actual contact information, there is a fee. Sometimes, the price is quite low and worth a gamble, which could be a good option for someone who otherwise would search for hours before retrieving a valid phone number or email address. However, do those services provide accurate contact information?
Back to basics
I often forget about the telephone directory, but it can be surprisingly helpful. Thanks to the internet, you no longer need to hold onto every city’s physical phone book.
A person’s name is your starting point for a white pages look-up. I like the clean search form presented on the White Pages website. Yes, it helps to know the correct spelling of the name. Is it James, Jim, or J? Knowing the city/state also helps, particularly for a common name. This certainly would not be the source I’d turn to for someone named “Smith.” However, many of the links at www.whitepages.com are sponsored links from www.PeopleSmart.com, www.MyLife.com, and www.Archives.com that invite you to buy a report or subscribe to a service.
Billed as “not your grandma’s phonebook,” Spokeo (www.spokeo.com) also has a quick look-up text box into which you type someone’s name. Search Barbie Keiser and you get a map of the U.S. with many Barbies (and Barbaras) from which you can choose. You can retrieve phone numbers and email addresses for any or all of the Barbies on that list, though the email addresses will cost you membership (beginning at $2.95/month for a year).
COMPANY MEN AND WOMEN
When I know the person I want to contact works for a particular business, I turn to the company’s website. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a phone number or email address for an individual on a company website. I refer to the footer on the homepage first, but some webmasters refuse to put contact information there.
If there is no phone number listed, or if the individual is likely to be located in a remote location and not in headquarters, I might open the Contact Us page or a listing of staff/offices. Increasingly, the Contact Us page is a form for submitting an inquiry via email, and organizations are beginning to omit accurate email addresses for their staff (to avoid spam), though some reveal clues as to how to construct an email address for each staff member (firstinitial .email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). It helps to remember that you can search for business phone numbers at www.whitepages.com.
Let the reason for your search dictate where you turn first. Sometimes I need to find a specific individual. The name is my starting point. At other times I want to find a group of companies in a particular industry or geographic location, and then get contact information for individuals occupying specific positions in each of the firms listed. Then I start with company name and drill down to people.
CORPORATE PHONE SYSTEMS
Years ago, when vendors were just beginning to obtain annual reports from non-U.S.-based companies, they all went after financial filings of companies that were big or domiciled in a handful of countries where the reports were easy to obtain. We thus had access to a small segment of a large population. What about all those other firms? Why didn’t some enterprising vendor try to gather annual reports from those companies?
A similar situation developed with company profiles and key contacts within each firm. Search for a Fortune 100 company and every vendor had a profile containing brief biographies and contact information for the top executives. Alternatively, you get the proxies from EDGAR (http://edgar.sec.gov). Sure, you could use those services to call the company and get to someone a bit lower down the totem pole, but that took time, and did you really need a fee-based service to get you the main phone number for a huge corporation? (I don’t know about you, but I try to get around the automated systems that say I can hit “0” for an operator. Lately I’ve been getting voice mail for the operator as well! I really want to speak to a person.)
Three major vendors—Dow Jones, Hoover’s, and OneSource—are waking up to the fact that some of us want to dig deeper within a company and go beyond the C-suite. Each is providing a fee-based service to take advantage of this “new” opportunity. The introduction of these new services coincides with new platforms or acquisitions of firms that possess technology that vendors lacked. They are using these new products to target three major populations of users (sales, marketing, and re cruiters). Each takes a different approach to integrating their flagship business information service with the new product.
• Dow Jones complements Factiva with Dow Jones Companies and Executives Professional, which requires a separate contract (www.dowjones.com/product-djce.asp). Dow Jones employs the technology of a 2008 acquisition, Generate, to crawl company websites to update company contact information. Other quality data producers of this type of information—Standard & Poor’s, Marquis Who’s Who, and Carroll Publishing—contribute to augmenting existing company data. Company Radar delivers a stream of new companies that meet specific screening criteria in a particular sales territory.
• OneSource’s (www.onesource.com) new platform, LiveContent, integrates data from traditional directories, editorial content, web mining, and social media into a single service. Like Dow Jones Factiva, OneSource Global Business Browser remains available as a separate research service or in conjunction with the new iSell service targeted for sales and marketing personnel.
• Hoover’s (www.hoovers.com) Lead Builder service is designed for sales prospecting. It is Hoover’s new platform, introduced in 2010, that makes this possible. Using Lead Builder, subscribers can build, prequalify, and download B2B lead lists using more than 60 criteria. Hoover’s Prospector delivers the contact information needed by salespeople, while Relationship Manager is targeted to those who need to cross-, up-, and down-sell.
In each case, the vendor has sought to provide subscribers with contacts deep within a company, improving the currency of the data available. All vendors work with clients to integrate vendor information with the client’s own customer relationship management (CRM) product, often within Salesforce (www.salesforce.com). As news about industries and companies being tracked by individuals enters the system, alerts are triggered so that people can use that information as a reason to contact their existing clients or new prospects.
NEW GENERATION OF PEOPLE SEARCH TOOLS
Subscription services carry with them high price tags, particularly for organizations with large numbers of employees using the tools. Several web-based services take a different approach to developing large data files of contacts within companies. Their reliance on social networking illustrates a transformation in thinking about contact information and building and maintaining a database.
Social networking is at the heart of Jigsaw’s strategy (www.jigsaw.com). The site relies on individuals—nearly 1.2 million have registered on the free site—to build and edit a contact directory of 22 million business contacts in 3.9 million companies around the world. This community-driven model, where dedicated members add or edit more than 36,000 contacts each day, stands in sharp contrast to traditional models where vendors purchase vetted data to populate their databases.
Jigsaw views contact data as a commodity, gathering information from open sources. Since data is not purchased, it costs the company nothing; the firm can focus its energy on technology and platform improvement. With Jigsaw, members exchange the contacts they have for new contacts—uploading data and building points for adding new contacts or updating information in existing records. The points can be used to download new contacts. Is quality compromised by gathering data in this manner, or as Jigsaw maintains, does the crowd do a better job updating incorrect information than some fee-based directories that only update content once each year?
While relying on active members to update contact information, Jigsaw executives acknowledge that 90% of members don’t contribute at all, 9% do some work, and 1% do most of the work. Jigsaw’s most active members race to verify questionable records. For them, it’s a game, and Jigsaw feeds their passion by running contests for points that can be used to download more records in the future.
If what you need is direct contact information for individuals deep within a company, and you’re willing to accept that it won’t be all employees at all levels (only those who have been uploaded from other people’s personal address books), then Jigsaw might be a good choice for you. You’ll never retrieve all companies within an industry, no matter what the resource, but here you are relying on what happens to have been contributed to the database, so some industries are better represented than others, as illustrated in the table below. (The numbers following each industry indicate the number of subindustries within each category.)
With Jigsaw, it’s easy to download a single contact or company record and to export multiple contacts (as a CSV file). Jigsaw Data Fusion, the fee-based enterprise service, permits unlimited views of sales leads and automated refreshing of a company’s CRM database each night, synchronizing a company’s data to Jigsaw’s. It automatically completes partial records and flags those that are incorrect. Reports can be generated each morning to alert salespersons about new leads.
Jigsaw’s Industry Directory
Agriculture & Mining (5)
Media & Entertainment (7)
Business Services (11)
Computers & Electronics (11)
Consumer Services (7)
Real Estate & Construction (7)
Energy & Utilities (7)
Software & Internet (5)
Financial Services (10)
Transportation & Storage (8)
Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals, & Biotech (12)
Travel, Recreation, & Leisure (13)
Wholesale & Distribution (10)
TIE-IN WITH SALESFORCE
Jigsaw has tried to make its database more appealing to researchers by adding company news, but the resource remains most beneficial to its target market of sales personnel. Those using Salesforce CRM now have the ability to receive alerts and updated Jigsaw data via Salesforce Chatter. (Salesforce acquired Jigsaw in April 2010.)
Jigsaw provides links to ZoomInfo, LinkedIn, and a Google search of the individual, with plans to link to Facebook and Twitter in its next release. Interestingly, more than 9 million email addresses and direct phone numbers are available via Hoover’s ConnectMail, which is powered by Jigsaw. (More than 70% of contacts in Jigsaw contain direct dial phone numbers.) Editors at OneSource review contacts downloaded from Jigsaw, including them in its new iSell service. (OneSource also uses Jigsaw’s competitor, NetProspex, to source middle management contacts.) Hoover’s customers can discover new professional connections via LinkedIn network connections accessible on Hoover’s company profiles.
What do I like best about Jigsaw? Well, there are two things. First, Jigsaw’s simple search box retrieves likely company matches for any keyword entered. It’s possible to search by company name, contact name, or company URL, which is an especially useful feature. You can screen for companies across eight categories with advanced search options.
The other thing that appeals to me is how Jigsaw presents contact information. It’s really clever to show a business card with the direct dial and email information blocked until I log into the service!
NetProspex (www.netprospex.com), a Jigsaw competitor, also relies on a crowd-sourced business model. It is created with contact information contributed from the address books and databases of subscribers, who upload their business contacts in exchange for new leads. (You can purchase lists and contact information if you don’t wish to upload contacts from your address book.)
NetProspex contains more than 13 million contacts, with 2 million traded, on average, each month. The system takes contacts uploaded and uses real-time processes to verify details submitted against external reference sources and internal licensed resources, checking various elements of each record. Records uploaded by subscribers must be complete, including first and last name, company, job title, main phone number and/or direct line, email address, street address, city, state, zip code, and country. NetProspex analyzes the behavior of traders: The system knows whether to trust content coming from a particular source. (Most cool feature: The system identifies email address patterns for companies, allowing you to send an email to someone whose name you know even if you don’t have an email address.)
PRESENTATION AND VERIFICATION
NetProspex presents search results in summary tables that list titles, organization, and location. One has to either purchase or trade for full records. (Contrast this to Jigsaw’s practice of giving street address and general phone numbers without purchase of a record.) NetProspex lists can be sorted by title, organization, location (city/state), or degree of accuracy.
Records are verified utilizing CleneStep technology in conjunction with live phone verification. All records have a data score that also indicates when the data was last checked. Data scoring can be used to help you select just those contacts whose information is likely to be most accurate (for example, greater than 95%), reducing the cost and “assuring” accurate contact information. However, the process of telephone review has been outsourced to an offshore firm and I’m really not certain that they’ve got it right yet.
I use NetProspex the way I might have turned to a direct mail marketing service in the past to compile a list of people who do X in companies that participate in industry Y that are located in city Z. The search screen makes it quite easy to build a list of contacts in this manner.
Notice that searching for individuals is at the bottom of the screen options. This is an indication that NetProspex might be a good choice for building a list of contacts within companies to target. However, if you want to find contact information for a specific (named) individual, my choice would be Jigsaw over NetProspex. Newly added features within NetProspex, such as the addition of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles, may make me think twice about the value of a NetProspex search for individuals.
Are there additional options that I would like to see here? Sure. Why not give me the flexibility of a ReferenceUSA (http://ReferenceUSA.com) crosswalk for SIC and NAICS? What about going beyond North America? (NetProspex covers only the U.S. and Canada; Jigsaw is more international.)
TIME VERSUS MONEY
Consider this for a moment: Users who don’t wish to pay an annual subscription to fee-based resources are willing to spend time searching through every free site to get contact information. Don’t they know that time is money, at least in the business world?
Jigsaw’s gamelike atmosphere is just a time waster for me, though I recognize that it appeals to some. I do wonder what more constructive work these individuals are avoiding while gaining all those points to use later on for downloading contacts. It’s a trade that I’m not ready to make.
Nor am I inclined to upload all of my contacts anywhere for others to access. Not even in LinkedIn, where I am happy to accept invitations to join someone’s network. I rarely send an invitation myself. However, if I need to get in touch with someone, itamazing how many individuals have a LinkedIn account. I’ve sent several messages to individuals I needed to reach and whose contact information I could not have gotten as quickly otherwise.
Within large organizations, people often move offices and change phone extensions. Even reputable sources frequently get it wrong. So how good is the crowd? My tests were inconclusive. In some instances, they found the person who’d just announced a move from one firm to another; in other instances, they didn’t catch a change of office location that occurred 2 years ago. Maybe you get what you pay for, though there is no guarantee that a fee-based service would have done any better.
Frustration at not finding people—or getting the wrong contact information and having to begin the search all over again—is enough to keep me within the fee-based arena for a while yet. I realize that not everyone works in the same way that I do. With any of these services, it’s hit or miss. Knowing the parameters—scope of the product, industries of concentration, geographic limits, quality of data gathering, ease of screening, presentation of results—can help you make the right decision in a time of need.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
As ever, the tool I choose to use depends upon how much time I have and how much the information is worth to me. There are lots of competitors for the handful of resources I’ve chosen to illustrate my fee-based and “free” point. (I have 246 sites bookmarked in my “people” folder on Delicious; don’t ask how many sites there are in my “business directories” folder.)
Some sources are best for a particular industry or field. Often I will check an association’s membership list. Subject-specific databases with contacts such as ScholarUniverse (www.scholaruniverse.com) may also have competition from the free-based arena (http://academia.edu).
In situations where I absolutely have to have the right contact information for an individual—correct, complete, and up-to-date—then I choose one service. When I have some time or can afford to make a couple of phone calls to get to the right individual, I might choose another tool.
I’m partial to some tools because of the interface or the way that the data is presented to me. You need to feel comfortable with the choices you make. My suggestion: Be willing to experiment—and do so when you don’t have an urgent need. Test the systems for people you know, people on the move, and people in industries you track to see which tool works best for you.