At the height of the recession in 2009, lead generation was one of the areas that most small and medium-sized businesses had to give up in order to save on costs. To compensate, businesses started to source leads from third party publishers that collected data. It was during this time that business intelligence (BI) software and tools began to gain popularity.

Back then, it was either you use third-party software or you come up with your own home-grown applications. Fast forward a number of years and several advances in computing have changed the game. The cloud entered mainstream consciousness and the SaaS delivery model has enabled businesses to actually run applications on their own without investing in expensive infrastructure or out-of-the-box costs. Applications that are essentially BI platforms are now at your disposal, improving the way SMBs do market research.

Real-Time Prospecting Data

Data is perhaps the best tool that a marketer can leverage in improving productivity. With a targeted list, you can generally close more deals in a shorter span of time because you know your prospects better. You can now theoretically say goodbye to most cold calling attempts because you know what potential customers need and want.

Browser-based business intelligence tool Unomy allows you to get real-time data on millions of businesses globally. The platform provides business information and contact details that will be relevant to your B2B customer hunt, including company profiles, employee with their contact information, technologies, social profiles, investments, news and press releases, and even competition. You can also build targeted lists based on the company's revenues, number of employees, the industries they belong to, location, and other criteria.

Similar platforms include InsideView and Avention, which are enterprise-grade applications for B2B prospecting. These provide similar functionality, although more oriented toward big enterprises. Prospect information enables you to more easily target your message, knowing whom to call and when, and even what to say. You can also find out more about your competition, discover new traffic sources and be the first to know when new business opportunities are available. This significantly shortens time in researching for relevant leads--something that small businesses can derive huge benefits from.

Context in Communication

Professional social media platforms have made it easier for businesses to connect with professionals around the world. Platforms like LinkedIn, Yammer, Slack and the like enable professionals to share information, exchange ideas and establish contacts, either through public or private exchange.

Such information can significantly make conversations richer through context. One tool I've used for a long time in everyday interaction is Rapportive, a browser extension that incorporates a correspondent's LinkedIn information straight into your Gmail inbox. Being able to view your contact's LinkedIn profile, you can easily see their job details, company details, and even shared interests and mutual friends and connections, right within an email. This information makes it easier to establish rapport; you can even check if they are located nearby, so that you can perhaps invite them for coffee or have them drop by the office for some impromptu product demonstration.

You can also check to see if you have shared interests that you can mention or go further and add them to your LinkedIn account. LinkedIn actually acquired Rapportive in 2012, recognizing the benefits of being able to incorporate professional social networking information into emails. The service provides similar functionality to YesWare and Discoverly, which are also platforms that incorporate data mining into communications.

Business development made easy

These platforms basically give the context that helps your small business prospect better, ensuring stronger conversion rates and productivity. It's an added benefit that these applications are available without having to invest in building your own infrastructure like in days gone by. Plus, these services are pretty straightforward and easy to use, which means they can be easily incorporated into any small business process workflow. With the right context, a first time call never has to feel like a cold call.