You can learn about your customers even before they're your customers. Employees of ESG Internet Services, in Amsterdam, do research on clients prior to making their pitches. The small Internet content provider follows up on the leads it generates at trade shows and on the Web. But before making phone calls or mailings, the five employees begin intensive Internet information searches on each lead.

"It's surprising how much information is really out there," says training manager Cheryl Gilbert. Web sites, Internet newsgroups, proprietary online services like America Online, and pricier search services like Lexis/Nexis are tools that turn up newspaper articles, press releases, and other data about most businesses.

"We can address the leads that we decide to follow in an extremely personalized way," Gilbert says. "Companies are impressed that we took the time to research them before pitching a proposal." The Internet works as a tracking tool, reducing the time and money required to do the research, and it also allows ESG to focus time and mailing resources on the most promising prospects.

Copyright 1999 G&J USA Publishing