Lacking the cash to build a full-fledged sales organization to blanket the country? Consider cultivating contacts in complementary industries who, for a finder's fee, can open doors for your salespeople.

Laser Vision Centers, a $1.2-million provider of laser equipment and medical-marketing services in St. Louis, used just such a "bird-dog network" to extend its selling efforts. "We became a national company quicker than we would have otherwise," says Jack Klobnak, CEO of the 10-person company. He has used the referral system since 1987.

Independent sales reps of related products mention Laser Vision's name to their physician clients and get them to block out time to meet with a full-time Laser Vision salesperson. If that leads to a sale, the contact gets a finder's fee equal to 10% of Laser Vision's fee for services -- less than what a full-time rep would get but enough to make it worth the effort.

"These fellows are in the neighborhood and know the people we want to sell to," says Klobnak, who estimates that his bird-dog network generates 20% to 25% of Laser Vision's leads. "If we get the opportunity to make the pitch," he adds, "we make the sale about 40% of the time."

Klobnak found his eight or so scouts at trade shows and conventions. The approach has given him a risk-free way to try out potential reps. He plans to make five of them formal sales reps with their own exclusive territories. -- Susan Greco

* * *