Marketing automation is a distinct category of products, even though highly related to sales force automation and CRM. And the marketing automation arena is evolving furiously, particularly as social media and crowdsourcing techniques come into vogue.

Jigsaw is one such innovator, focusing on the assembly and maintenance of high quality data about prospects in a cross-customer way. By leveraging what each of its customers knows about a given lead, Jigsaw becomes the "high water mark" source for information from all of its customers. Classic crowdsourcing, applied to the very difficult problem of lead data enrichment.

This has been such a sore spot for marketers because most leads don't want vendors to know a lot about them. They create multiple avatars to evade the intelligence gathering that's part of any good marketing automation system. Jigsaw managed to counteract this "keep me anonymous" phenomenon with a set of incentives for members and participants, and garnered a good reputation for lead quality with sales managers.

Think Plaxo meets Wikipedia. And now, that meets

So why does it matter? A CRM system, by itself, is not particularly powerful. Even if usage is mandated, if the system doesn't have good data in it, users will resist. Of course, the fewer the users, the less interesting and representative the data in the system will be. The virtuous cycle of quality data--> more usage--> more data has to start with data, because that's what you can most directly change. And what's the most notorious area for bad data quality, both in the technical sense and in the meaning/relevance of the information? If you've been reading my articles, you know it's leads.

If you can do something - anything - to improve the quality and credibility of leads, the CRM system becomes instantly more attractive to sales reps and marketers alike. That's typically the majority of users. While there are several lead and account data services from companies like Hoovers, Lexis-Nexis, and D&B, from the user's perspective the integration of these services has seemed arm's length. Since you can never make things easy enough for users, this acquisition should improve things from the users' perspective.

What other kinds of DQ things need to be considered when it comes to leads?

  • Real-time deduping is a must for any serious marketing and sales team. Dupes cause huge credibility problems and user headaches. In the CRM world, there are great tools for this from CRMfusion, RingLead, and others.

  • Address cleansing and validation tools are important for disambiguating companies and divisions, and for removing a few chores from the sales rep's life. There are services for this from Hoovers, D&B, Jigsaw, and others, plus some high-end services that cover millions of business addresses outside the US.

  • Account profiling services provide names and contact information for key executives at a range of companies. These services are invaluable if your sales team needs to profile the org chart of their target companies and "sell high." Typically, though, the information never goes below the VP level. Dozens of firms - both mainstream and boutique - provide variations of this service.

  • Email appending services provide an email address if you know other information, or do reverse lookups that enrich an "email only" lead. While these services only cover US corporate email addresses, they can be very helpful. Expect something less than a 50 percent match rate, though. Companies like OneSource (was IDexec), email appenders and other service firms offer this on a range of platforms.

What's all this cost? Even though I contend that $/lead is too often a misleading metric, ask yourself "if it was worth paying $X for a lead with bad data quality, isn't it worth paying another, say, $30/yr in automation to keep that lead current?"

These tools, though, are really focused on improving the quality of the leads you already have in your system. Jigsaw is more about bringing in new names to fill out the "white spaces" in your target company's org chart. Not a replacement for lead gen, but a potent supplement.

If isn't your CRM system, Jigsaw data will still be available in whichever vendor you need. Integrating the data will be tougher, but in most situations a monthly one-way import of new additions will be fine. And if you had tried Jigsaw and didn't like it, there are a number of competitive offerings (with extra features and their own secret sauce).

Is this the harbinger of the end of lead gen? I don't think anybody's going to go that far. But this should be a warning to any CIO who deploys an empty CRM to users: they're expecting more than that from you now.