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© Bailian.ai

Previously, a salesperson who got five or six customer leads was considered fortunate. Now, using Bailian.ai, thousands, or even millions, of leads can be found at once

For every business, acquiring customers takes time, money and effort. According to Bailian.ai CEO and founder Feng Shicong, the average cost per lead in China's education sector is over RMB 5,000. The cost of customer acquisition increases in sectors with a higher average transaction per client. "Medical aesthetic service providers have to pay a referral fee of at least 10–30%, or even 50%, for every transaction, usually worth 6-digit-RMB, generated by a newly acquired customer."

With expertise in natural language processing (NLP) and big data, Feng had already founded two successful ventures – Miaozhen Systems, a third-party adtech company, and MININGLAMP, a big data solutions provider – prior to Bailian.ai. Both use big data and analytics to serve businesses.

For his third venture, Feng set his sights on a more specific concern: customer acquisition. Founded in March 2018, Bailian.ai provides customer leads to enterprises by using AI to process large volumes of data available publicly on the Internet. The end result is a less expensive and more efficient way to acquire customers.

"Customer acquisition is a common problem facing every business, especially when the macro economy is slowing down. Bailian.ai's service is valuable," said Xu Xiao, a partner at Oriental Jiafu, which invested in the startup in July.

Unstructured data to business insights

Bailian.ai first targeted the finance, FMCG and pharmaceutical sectors, which have more open data available online than other industries. "Public information on the Internet is our data source," stressed Feng. Using publicly available data allows Bailian.ai to sidestep any "privacy and intellectual property issues."

The startup gathers and cleans the relevant information and then extracts useful information to build a business- or industry-specific knowledge graph containing all relevant entities, including people, time, organizations, places, relationships, etc. Using the knowledge graph, which Feng prefers to call an "interrelation graph," Bailian.ai has built a search region, which enables its clients to locate target customers. Without other technical input, enterprises clients can use Bailian.ai's SaaS platform, based on the cloud, to obtain customer leads.

China prohibits advertisements for prescription drugs, so Bailian.ai's service has been especially welcomed by the pharmaceutical industry. For a pharmaceutical company, a plug at a convention from a renowned professor who works for a prestigious hospital can have a significant impact on sales.

According to Feng, Bailian.ai can create complete profiles of KOLs in the field, including published papers, clinical experiments and lectures. Armed with this information, pharmaceutical companies can then reach out to KOLs and offer them help with conducting clinical experiments on the company's drugs.

To facilitate direct contact with prospective leads, Bailian.ai has also created a tool for individual salespeople. The startup's WeChat mini program, Bailian Networks (still in beta) enables salespeople to search the business profiles of prospects. Since there's a reasonable chance target customers might ignore total strangers, the tool also provides salespeople with the contact information of their connections. If the theory of six degrees of separation is true, any prospect is, by means of introduction, six steps away from a salesperson at most.

"We are similar to LinkedIn in this way," said Feng, "but there is a difference. LinkedIn is based on user-generated content, and there is a chance LinkedIn users might make up non-existent connections to impress others. Connections provided [to clients] by Bailian Networks are based on public information such as news reports and company profiles, and are therefore more trustworthy."

Scaling up

Bailian.ai has an ambitious plan for targeting its own enterprise clients. "Some [companies] choose to start with small-sized clients, which is not easy and takes longer," said Feng. "Once you win over industry leaders, others will follow suit and come to you."

Additionally, the standard versions of Bailian.ai's products are easily scalable. The logic behind data processing is the same; the only difference lies in the characteristics of target customers. "All we have to do is tweak some parameters," said Feng.

The approach has worked well. During the past year, Bailian.ai has gained a foothold in several new sectors, including education, media, internet and government. The startup signed more than 20 business clients last year with an estimated revenue of 6- to 7-digit-RMB per deal. 

According to Feng, Bailian.ai's knowledge graphs can also be used in other scenarios, e.g., risk control. "In the future, we are going to transform all the open information on the internet into structured data."

"In the long run, Bailian.ai has the opportunity to create a brand new market by transforming unstructured data into usable insights," said Oriental Jiafu's Xu.

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Edited by Wendy Lovinger

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