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How a Silicon Valley/YCombinator Company Inexpensively Sources Thousands of Sales Leads

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/02/2016 Ricardo Garcia-Amaya
SILICON VALLEY US © VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm via Getty Images SILICON VALLEY US

At the very early stages of growth, startups should be emailing and/or calling thousands of prospects per week. As a startup identifies leads, they can feed them into automated drip email campaign software like PersistIQ (YC S14), Sidekick or Outreach; or, they can leverage on-demand call agents to make these thousands of calls to prospective customers a day through our platform, VOIQ.
At VOIQ, we field the same questions from startups time and time again, with the most common one being:

"Do you provide the leads, or do we need to get them ourselves?"

Unfortunately, lead acquisition is a process that startups must solve on their own - and it is not easy to find an optimal solution. This quest usually comes down to:
1. Buying questionable lists from obscure sources on the web
These lists tend to be of very low quality in our experience, typically yielding weak results. We hear similar remarks from other founders using this strategy.
2. Outsourcing the process to high-cost providers like LeadGenius (YC S11)
LeadGenius is a good source, but each lead costs $0.75-$4, with a baseline requirement of $3,000/month (in our case $7,000).
3. Having your team scour the web manually for leads
Your team is a precious resource that should be focusing on the latter part of the client acquisition cycle: closing hot opportunities. Having them search for leads is simply not a cost-effective use of their time.
4. Joining associations to have access to their updated lists of contacts
This may be a viable option, depending on the cost.
At VOIQ, we abstain from the first three options above and, instead, outsource the process to experts on UpWork and Odesk. Our cost ranges from $0.20 to $0.30 per lead. The following is a breakdown of our process:
1. Select the category of prospects to reach out to, for example: Hospital Communication Directors on the east coast, Heads of Research for the top 10 universities on the west coast, etc.
Typically we want a group of at least 500 prospects per category - a number large enough that allows us to learn statistically whether they are an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for VOIQ, as well as one large enough to allow us to launch two or three A/B test campaigns by email and/or call campaign. This also leaves us some elbow room to absorb one or two less-than-perfect attempts to engage them.
2. Once we identify the target group, we invest about an hour to research and collect the URLs of the websites that might have lists or contact information that is relevant to this group. For example, if we are looking for executives at Hospitals, we can start by identifying the hospitals first. In one quick Google search, we can find that there is an "American Hospital Association" (aha.org) where they list the names of its member hospitals.
3. We then create a Google Spreadsheet with two tabs: Source URLs and Leads. In the Source URLs tab, we include the websites where we found the lists of potential leads. In the Leads tab, we create the following column headers: First Name, Last Name, Title, Email, Phone, and other appropriate info, and list 5-10 examples of leads we found ourselves through our own research.
4. Once we create this spreadsheet, we go to UpWork and post a job as a "data appending & research" or "data extraction" job. We provide a paragraph description of the target leads as well as the fields that we require (Company, First Name, Last Name, Title, Email, Phone, City, State, Country, and URL).
NOTE: If it is the first time to evaluate new vendors, we select two or three of them to do the same job. This allows us to identify the top performing vendor(s) very quickly.
5. Once we select the vendor(s), we provide them with access to the shared Google spreadsheet and ask them to work directly in it. This way, we are able to see updates of their work in real time. Our vendors can communicate with us and vice versa through comments on the spreadsheet.
After several jobs, we found our Cost Per Lead (CPL) to be in the range of $0.20 to $0.30 and the time frame to average 10 days per list.

We constantly test new providers in order to build an internal list of the best vendors for specific list types.
The second most common question we get from fellow founders is:
"Who are these data-appender vendors that you work with?"

I actually asked the same question to my brother, the person who introduced me to the above process, but I am grateful that he directed me to do the exercise myself rather than placing all my trust in a vendor recommended by someone else. Unfortunately, there is no single magic vendor! This is the reason why LeadGenius can charge $1 per lead!
We leverage 5+ vendors who have done a great job for us, but their availability to take on our projects vary. Also, some lists require simple data appending from online sources, while others require deeper research -and no data-appending request is the same.
Our process allows us the flexibility to outsource a data-appending/research campaign without having to meet any minimums, and for a fraction of the cost of premium services.
That being said, we do encourage looking at a side-by-side comparison with premium providers.
I hope our process provides your startup with yet another alternative to source leads.

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