Software a help to smaller businesses


March 16, 1992|By Ron Wolf | Ron Wolf,Knight-Ridder News Service

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- William Yee plans marketing strategy for Octel Communications Corp., a maker of voice-processing systems in Milpitas, Calif. As part of his job, he must assess the potential for selling Octel's products to various types of customers and must set priorities among them.

One day, Mr. Yee may need to figure out how many medical clinics there are in the St. Louis area and estimate their size. Another day, he may be evaluating operators of cable television systems in New England.

For much of this information, Mr. Yee relies on a compact disc containing data on more than 7 million businesses in the United States -- a software product known as MarketPlace Business. Mr. Yee searches the data base with his personal computer to extract relevant information.

"There is probably no other source where I can access so much data at one place so readily," he said. "It's a tremendous resource."

For Mr. Yee, the availability of MarketPlace business data -- the only product that provides this data on the desk top -- represents a fortunate turn of events. The product was withdrawn from the market by Lotus Development Corp. early last year as a result of an uproar over privacy issues.

Lotus encountered unexpectedly severe opposition to its ambitious plans to sell a set of CD-ROM discs with economic profiles of 80 million U.S. households. The reaction caused the company to abandon both its household-data software and its related business-data software.

After Lotus killed both MarketPlace products, Richard Lim, Douglas Bourchard and three other members of the Lotus development team formed a privately held company to resurrect the business-data software.

"There's never been a controversy about the business data," said Mr. Lim, chairman and chief executive officer of MarketPlace Information Corp.

Nevertheless, the new owners made several revisions in the design and distribution of MarketPlace Business before reintroducing the product in July.

Before shipping the new version, which so far is available only for Macintosh computers, MarketPlace took steps to address earlier fears that the company might lose control of data distributed on discs. The firm redesigned the procedures used to encode information on the disc and prevent customers from extracting more data than they pay for.

XTC The new company also adopted a different marketing plan. Lotus sought to sell its MarketPlace data through conventional computer retailers and software stores, a strategy that made the products as visible as possible. Lotus was trying to create

mainstream, mass-market products, Mr. Bourchard said.

The new owners have decided to place less emphasis on retailers and rely more heavily on direct mail and telemarketing to likely users, Mr. Bourchard said. As a result, the reincarnated version of the product has not been as visible to the public.

Since its return in revised form in July, MarketPlace Business has won an enthusiastic following among small and medium-size businesses that do not have the resources to develop such extensive marketing data themselves.

"The controversy has had some positive effects," Mr. Lim said. A lot of potential customers heard about the product and realized it might have some value for them, he said.

Also, "a substantial portion of the former Lotus customers resubscribed," he said.

The possible uses for MarketPlace data have hardly been scratched, and new applications are emerging all the time, Mr. Bourchard said.

Several university placement centers have begun to use the software to help students identify potential employers, he said. For example, a student in Boston who wants to find a job at a small software company in the Chicago area might be able to generate 50 prospects within minutes.

An importer of luxury automobiles uses the software to target presidents of small companies, Mr. Bourchard said. Executive search and placement firms have begun to use the product to find prospects for their clients.

Many firms, including very large companies, use the product like Mr. Yee does -- to identify market opportunities.

The earlier version of the product described businesses according to four-digit "standard industrial classification" (SIC) codes that recognized about 900 possible categories. The new version uses an expanded eight-digit code that currently includes about 10,000 categories.

MarketPlace Business costs $995 for a copy of the business data base, three quarterly updates, personal computer software extract information and technical support. For more information, contact MarketPlace Information Corp., Three University Office Park, Waltham, Mass. 02154. (617) 894-4100.

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