I’m getting really skittish about proclaiming some new Web 2.0 scheme spectacularly stupid, wrongheaded, or immoral. It seems like every time I do so the scheme immediately gets traction and the perp gets rich.
So it’s with some trepidation I introduce you to Salesconx, a marketplace for the sale and purchase of personal business connections. Essentially you can sell access to your contacts–I mean the actual live people you know personally and/or have done business with–in an open marketplace. You can also buy access to others’ connections.
Connections are priced anywhere from $35 to $1,000 and up.
I know, I know. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around this at first too. Could this marketplace be as nakedly crass it appears?
Let’s look at one current listing, which appears in the “Buy” section. This is where people make their connections available to buyers.
In this case, Kris N says he has a “strong connection” to the chairman of an oil drilling company in Thailand. He is offering anyone who wants to buy crude an introduction to that chairman for $100.
It’s not clear whether the CEO knows that Kris is charging $100 for a meeting with him (or if the CEO thinks maybe he’s going too cheap). Whether Kris’s connection to the CEO remains “strong” will depend, I suppose, on whether Kris’s introduction is beneficial to the CEO or just time-waster.
Let’s look on the other side of the market, where people say how much they are willing to pay for connections to certain kinds of people.
This guy sells high-end custom men’s clothing. He’s hoping to get introduced to some agents that represent professional athletes. [Good prospect targeting, by the way!] He’ll pay $35 for an introduction.
The secret sauce of salesconx.com seems to include aspects of eBay, eHarmony, LinkedIn and those blood banks that pay for pints of plasma.
It is easy to ridicule this as a tool by which grubby salesfolk pimp out their Outlook files for some extra cash.
Let me strain to view this another way.
The charitable view is that Salesconx is a marketplace that can produce win/win/win scenarios. Mr. Thai Oil gets someone to buy his crude. Someone who needs oil is hooked up with a key decision maker. They are unlikely to have met otherwise. The fact that Kris got $100 for his trouble is kind of icky–dishonest, if it’s not revealed to Mr. Thai Oil–but not intrinsically harmful.
[An actual real-life salesguy from Salesconx called me on the real live phone an hour or so after I signed up for an account. He thought I was a real community member; I told him I was a blogger. He told me the site will use a ratings and recommendations feature, like eBay offers, so anyone who makes a bad match will get rated down by the community. And (he said) Salesconx will either refund money or give credits to anyone disappointed by the quality of a connection.
[I tried to find written elaboration on this but the Salesconx FAQ isn’t posted on the site yet. Beta, I know.]
Taken up a notch and viewed from 30,000 feet, Salesconx is a remarkable economics testbed. It provides a platform by which the most important intrinsic currency of commerce–personal connections–is assigned a transparent market price.
So why does this all seem so spectacularly stupid, wrongheaded and immoral?
For me, it’s because I can’t imagine being on either end of that transaction.
I like it when people I know match me up with talented people, point me to a good deal or recommend a product. And vice versa. Social media like LinkedIn, Yelp and Twitter have oiled that machinery. So have pleasant nights of drinking and chatting.
But no money has changed hands in those transactions. If someone in my personal network who knows I buy software silently recommended a vendor hit me up–and quietly pocketed $60 for his tip–I’d be disgusted. If LinkedIn had a Circle of Hell [not a bad idea, by the way] I’d send that contact there with one brisk click.
Now I’m no salesguy. And sales culture appears more tolerant of things I consider vulgar. I also realize that transparent “introductions” are different from stealth pointers toward unwitting sales prospects.
Who knows? Maybe Salesconx will help millions of people unlock the value in their rolodexes, and help billions of dollars change hands efficiently and legally. As a press release on Salesconx points out, a lot of money is spent trying to develop sales prospects. This could just be a faster way to do it.
Hey, maybe by 2011 “free” networking sites like LinkedIn will be seen as sweet throwbacks, relics of the days when people actually helped each other along without collecting anything in return.
As I said, I’ve been wrong about this kind of thing before.
Which brings me to the punchline: According to the press release, on Sept. 9 Salesconx is expected to announce series A funding.
My first impression was also: this is disgusting and crass and it’s ludicrous to sell your contacts. Especially nowadays when almost everyone’s contact info can be found for free anyway…
Then I started thinking about other services that, as a PR person, I’ve used (such as ProfNet, Martketwire or even something like IMDBpro). How are those different? With Salesconx, you pay-per-transaction or contact made, and with ProfNet or WhoRepresents you pay a subscription fee…You’re essentially paying a fee to obtain the contact information of an “important” person.
Why is one socially acceptable, and the other not?
I would personally never sell my contacts, but I’m not going to claim that I will NEVER consider paying to be put into contact with someone who is otherwise unattainable. Maybe a day will come when I’ll have limited resources or limited time, and Salesconx will present an enticing offer. I can’t promise I won’t be tempted…
Wow, the idea of this makes me cringe. But, thinking about it, I guess cold hard cash is just taking the place of other perks that come from being a Connector. I still think its largely wrong and will only work among salespeople, though. Thanks for the notice and the reporting.
Thanks for the write up. For those cringing at the thought of selling their contacts – why not take a look from two different angles. The first is from the buyers’ perspective. A buyer will pay for an introduction to your business contacts. And why not? They are paying $10 billion in the US alone on lead generation. They are paying Google, banner ads, telemarketers, trade shows, etc. So why not pay a selling professional directly. Now if you as the seller who is receiving this money would rather donate it to charity than so be it. I have used Salesconx myself to earn money on my business relationships and have donated nearly $5,000 to a charity that helps children with cancer and other pediatric diseases.
Secondly, on LinkedIn I am regularly asked to introduce someone I dont know to someone I do know. In these situations although I am not getting a fee for my services LinkedIn is making money. Is it okay for them to earn money on my business relationships but not me? Doesn’t that seem strange.
In the end, we have one of the top SaaS security companies looking to be introduced to CSOs of large enterprises and will pay someone $250 for the introduction and an additional $1000 if they sign with the firm. Doesn’t this make good business sense for both the buyer and the seller?
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