Anyone who has ever worked in or around the sales department has seen "Glengarry Glen Ross," the 1992 Alec Baldwin/Kevin Spacey drama in which a boiler room of salesmen all covet a collection of supremely valuable sales leads: the Glengarry leads.
"These are the new leads," Baldwin says. "These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They're for closers."
A new Concord start-up, Mercavo, wants to create an online marketplace where technology sales leads can be bought and sold. It's like the movie's stack of Glengarry leads crossed with Apple's iTunes Store model. Mercavo has been conducting a private beta for about a year, CEO Doug Atkinson says, but will offer its first public demo Thursday night at the Tech Cocktail event in Cambridge.
The company traces its roots to LeadSpark, a company Atkinson started in 2004 (and still runs) after he left a VP of sales gig at the Internet marketing company eDialog. LeadSpark employs about twenty people who dial for dollars all day, calling technology executives to try to find one who might be shopping for some better security software, for instance. That lead then gets passed along to one of LeadSpark's clients, who are predominantly big enterprise tech companies.
How did the idea for Mercavo emerge? "Our client would want us to find a specific sales opportunity — call it a diamond," Atkinson says. "And we'd be calling around and we'd come across another sales opportunity that might be valuable for a different company. A ruby. But we had nothing we could do with those rubies."
He and David Im, formerly at KMT Software and PingPoint, built Mercavo to see whether "you could sell ephemeral knowledge about a sales opportunity in an e-commerce transaction."
So now when LeadSpark's employees come across an opportunity that isn't relevant to a LeadSpark client, it goes into the Mercavo database. Atkinson says he has another local sales development company that is also pouring leads into the database. A lead that tells you, for instance, that a VP of e-commerce at a "very well-established e-tailer" is looking to "improve e-mail metrics and get better pricing" will cost you $379. (The lead comes not just with contact info and a time frame in which the executive plans to make a purchase decision, but a paragraph describing the opportunity, and the executive's complaints about his current situation.) Atkinson says that Mercavo will sell the lead to only three buyers, since he wants the VP to have a few different vendor options, but not to be overwhelmed by sales calls. And he wants to give each of the companies that purchases the lead a fair shake.
When a sales development company adds a new sales lead to the site, and it is purchased, it keeps between 70 and 80 percent of the $379 purchase price, and Mercavo pockets the rest. That's similar to the model Apple uses with app developers on its iTunes Store.
"There is a lot of inefficiency and negative connections in the sales process," Atkinson says. "The idea of Mercavo is to create transparency. Eventually, we'd like to see [executives looking to solve a problem] post an opportunity themselves, and say, 'here's what I need,' as opposed to issuing an RFP and hoping it gets to the right people."
In its private beta phase, Mercavo has been working with about sixty tech companies who've been examining and purchasing sales leads from the site.
The company has been funded with about $50,000 in friends and family money, and Atkinson has just begun to have conversations with venture capital firms about a Series A round.
Right now, the company is primarily focused on adding more sellers of leads to its marketplace, he says: "We just need some jet fuel to acquire sellers.
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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