ThomasNet is a searchable online database of 67,000 industrial product and service categories from more than 650,000 companies. To make the directory useful to potential buyers of industrial products, it lists suppliers and products whether or not they advertise or participate in ThomasNet's programs.
ThomasNet makes money on enhancements to those listings and various advertising opportunities.
Brad Mehl, VP-marketing for ThomasNet.com, explained that ThomasNet derives revenue from custom-written, comprehensive online product catalogs for advertisers, from computer-aided drawings of products that design engineers can place in their designs and from payments advertisers make to enhance their placement within product categories or geographic listings.
Although ThomasNet could be considered a lead-generation product and lead-gen is a hot concept in business media, Mehl doesn't want to be associated with the term.
“We provide sellers with qualified business opportunities,” Mehl said. “We provide many conversion paths for buyers to find exactly what they're looking for, so when that buyer contacts a seller—which they can do directly through ThomasNet—we think we've delivered more than a "lead.' “
Penton's Etheridge takes a similar view. “The pay-per-lead model is catching on because it's an easy concept for advertisers to buy into,” he said. Lead-gen revenue is also likely to decline when there's competition or an economic downturn, he added. “I don't like those kinds of models,” he said. “I would rather provide you more and more functionality, utility and data, and expect more and more dollars from you.”
McGraw-Hill's Sachinis noted that the issue is not really about leads but about marketers' ever-increasing need to measure the return on their investments. “The overarching trend we see affecting everybody is the need for metrics,” he said. “In everything we do, you will see us moving to be a much more metrics- and data- intensive business.” M