Salesconx sells your contacts, but gently

salesconx1.JPGFinding potential business clients is easy on the internet. From Jigsaw (our coverage) to ZoomInfo (our coverage), new services provide a wealth of contact information you can use to reach into the bowels of companies, from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to a manager of an Arkansas Wal-Mart.

Finding and winnng a great new client is more difficult. Just possessing an email or phone number doesn’t guarantee that the person on the other end will be interested in talking, or be a promising customer.

Evan Sohn started Salesconx to provide fewer, but higher-value new business contacts for people who will pay more for quality. It’s the equivalent of targeted advertising, which increases the likelihood that the people who see the ad will respond, and in exchange raises the rates advertisers pay per thousand views of the ad.

It’s a small, exclusive social network for people who want to use, but also want to protect, their business contacts. For example, say you’re a salesman with the CEO contact mentioned above, but you don’t want to drop their info onto Jigsaw. The information is worth something, but so is helping the CEO — so if you introduce a new person, you’d better introduce someone worthwhile.

On Salesconx, the emphasis is on finding the right new person. First, you’ll start an auction for the information, with a fixed price (generally around $100). The price stays the same; instead of picking the highest bidder, you’ll be able to glance over the credentials of various bidders and pick the best one. Once the sale is finalized, you’ll make a personal introduction between the buyer and your contact.

Sohn says his site is for the “ground troops” of business — the highly engaged sales people and small business owners who benefit from intelligently networking. Contrast its method with Jigsaw’s practice of opening all of a user’s contacts to every member, a practice many think is abusive of business relationships.

The company launched a closed (alpha) testing of its product two months ago, and has several hundred professionals actively using it, Sohn says. Users include sales people and partners at businesses like design and law firms, who need to secure quality leads.

However, the service won’t explode into growth. It can’t, because most new members come through referrals, and all are given a phone interview about their professional background before acceptance. And once they’re on, the site continues to protect against bad apples by holding money in escrow until both parties are satisfied, and allowing members to give dishonest or ineffective sellers bad ratings.

The entire process requires extensive investment of time and capital by Salesconx — a nearly unheard-of move on the Internet, where most startups strive to automate as much as possible, keeping costs low.

Sohn says the investment is worth it because each lead generated on Salesconx is worth much more than a random name pulled off a site like Jigsaw, thus returning a higher cut to his company. He compares the service to business networking events that took place more often before the Internet era.

The site will be highly successful, and generate a large profit, if it can hit 50,000 active users, according to Sohn — again, far smaller numbers than most other sites require. It has so far picked up 719 members, as of this writing, in limited alpha testing, and is launching into beta today.

Salesconx is funded with about $500,000 from Sohn and several angel investors. It’s in the process of raising a venture capital round.

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