Meet the Company That's Revolutionizing Business Relationships
September 11, 2014 | Business and Careers
By Sonya Stinson
When Students Rising Above, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides mentoring and other assistance to low-income, first-generation college students in the Bay Area, launched a recent fundraising campaign, targeting just anybody with deep pockets wouldn't do. The group wanted to hone in on local prospects who were most likely to open up their checkbooks for the cause.
For charitable organizations, the process of buying lists, mailing letters and making phone calls to hunt down potential donors can take months. Hoping to move more quickly, Students Rising Above asked its marketing consultants, Blue Marlin Partners, to take another route. They turned to rising tech startup Relationship Science LLC (RelSci), a company that aims to help clients optimize their “relationship capital,” or the value derived from a relationship.
Launched in 2010, RelSci is generating buzz among businesses and nonprofits by accelerating their ability to build connections. The startup aimed to improve on traditional networking methods such as asking for referrals, which often yielded “an inconsistent and spotty response rate” because they were inefficient, said RelSci Chief Marketing Officer Josh Mait.
RelSci created a platform for gathering extensive data on people in an effort to help businesses make better connections. Using the RelSci system, business execs can mine those connections to find client prospects, investors, advisers or board members. Subscribers pay an annual access fee that starts at $3,000.
Maybe your target contact once worked at the same company as your college roommate or is on the board of a community organization that helps your daughter’s school. The point of RelSci’s deep data dive is to help clients discover opportunities to make the kind of “warm contacts” that can close deals.
Blue Marlin Partners used the system to target donors who had already given to educational causes and were able to obtain a number of good prospects almost instantly. “We were able to come up with a list of high-net-worth individuals who have a demonstrated track record of giving to educational causes and were in the organization’s home turf,” said Greg Berardi, founding partner of Blue Marlin Partners.
Before using RelSci, Berardi said the typical hunt for donors would involve a number of different search techniques: Asking current donors to make introductions, encouraging the board of directors to contact potential givers directly, conducting LinkedIn searches and surfing the Internet for leads. While it’s difficult for him to say which method gets the job done better, RelSci helps by “tak[ing] the mystery out of connecting with somebody.”
“The system not only shows the nature of a connection, but also characterizes the strength of that link based on the number of data points the two people or companies have in common. That way, the client can determine whether the connection warrants making a contact,” Berardi said.
Instead of relying on the kind of self-reported information that fills social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, RelSci uses more than 500 researchers and developers to sweep the Web for public information such as SEC filings and news reports. Its database contains 3 million people, mostly executives, board members and other decision makers. The company claims the approach makes the accuracy of its data more reliable.
“If you open our system, you can pull up a profile of somebody and get this deep dossier … employment history, corporate boards, nonprofit boards, memberships, interests, nonprofit donations, political donations,” said Mait, who added that RelSci can also produce additional data on request within 48 hours.
Berardi finds it helpful that RelSci allows users to set a variety of parameters—from geography to civic interests—to tailor a contact list to their specific needs. “The search capability of RelSci is incredibly powerful,” he said.
Organizations of any size can benefit from building a more efficient network, but it’s especially important for a small business. “If you are a 10-person consulting firm, more than anything you need an edge against larger competitors,” Mait said. “Often you’re going to get that edge from some relationship capital.”
One recent RelSci client in Florida wanted to reach a private equity firm to help fund an $800 million purchase. The company used RelSci’s tools to hunt for a possible connection.
“What emerged was that the CEOs of both companies had kind of an obscure connection point that our client didn’t realize,” Mait said. “Immediately after identifying that insight, they reached out and made the connection, and the deal was closed.”
“There are still plenty of cold marketing and sales efforts going on in the world,” Mait says. “But when it comes to actually reaching a decision maker, I think the warm access point is essential. I don’t think you get it done the other way.”
Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.
This article originally appeared on Northwestern Mutual Voice on Forbes.com.