The latest Web 2.0 permutation of lead generation uses social networks to connect a seller with a potential buyer via personal connections, Richard said. "If you have the right name and contact information, but that person won't take your call, it's not a very good lead," he said.
Richard said a good example of this socially powered type of lead generation is being offered by Hoover's, a unit of Dun & Bradstreet, that provides information about companies on a subscription basis. Hoover's has created a strategic partnership with Visible Path to develop Hoover's Connect.
The Visible Path service starts with digital information from a person (the subscriber) who seeks to meet a targeted contact, for example, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft Corp. With the subscriber's permission, the application analyzes his or her contact management system and e-mail to compile a professional social network.
Hoover's Connect would then try to match people in the subscriber's network to one or more persons who have a relationship with Ballmer—or who have a relationship with someone who has a relationship with him—using Hoover's database of names and titles at corporations.
Richard said the Visible Path model also uses criteria such as the frequency and recency of the communications within the subscriber's network to estimate the closeness of relationships along the path of separation and maps the best relationship-based route between the subscriber and the target.
Not all the individuals along this path have agreed to be personally identified, so Hoover's Connect acts as a go-between and e-mails the subscriber's request for help to the people who can make the introductions.
Also, the subscriber's name needs to be recognizable to the first go-between, at minimum, because of some prior communication. As each person in the chain agrees, the subscriber's request is passed along to the next, until it reaches the target by way of someone they know.
Another company offering a similar service, Richard said, is Generate Inc. American City Business Journals, a division of Advance Publications, is an investor in and a strategic partner of Generate.