Knowledge Centre

How to Get a Good Direct Marketing List

Tips for the Irish SME

Given this is my third recession, I think I have learned a bit, but only because I worked hard at being a survivor, so for these interesting times we're in, here's a big tip:  think of a good, accurate, up to date database as a treasure trove of strategic marketing options, because the first thing you need to do in terms of a list, is recognise its importance and put a value on it. Respect the list! Why? Well, what other mechanic offers you the possibility to market directly to your customers or prospects, select them by any number of criteria you have available, at a time of your choosing and without your competition being any the wiser. Marvellous really... and it's cost effective and measurable into the bargain.

The list or target group you select, perhaps based on company type, value, employees, age, location or purchase preferences, is the single most important (but least sexy) part of any direct marketing initiative. Its overall contribution to your campaign's success is even more important than the product, the price, the design or the copy. If you botch up one or more of these elements, your DM piece may still have a fighting chance, but get the wrong list with the wrong names and addresses and you're drop-dead gorgeous campaign is dead in the water. 

Get your target audience right and you're half way there - and I am not just talking about cold lists here either, you must also be sure that your own client list is not only accurate, but also has the depth of contacts and relevant information, added over time, that enables you to segment and focus the right offer on the most suitable people who can make a purchasing decision in your favour.

So let's look at an overall database strategy. There are two things you need to consider. Firstly, break your targets or prospects into two groups; clients, and then those who should be clients, not just who could be. Remember, a good fisherman always goes to where the fish are.

Client Databases

You need to ask yourself some tough questions about your database and answer them honestly if you want to get the best out it. For example, how old is your own database?  Was it originally from an accounting package, is it in a CRM format, or even, does it exist at all? Alternatively, just scrap what you're not sure of and start from scratch.

Appoint a database/list manager who will monitor access to data files and be in charge of updating, cleaning and monitoring how they are used. If this is not possible, at least agree upon a field structure and a data-protocol so the inputting of information is consistent, irrespective of which person is doing the data entry. ‘Pat Murphy' isn't good enough: Mr Pat Murphy is the minimum and an accurate job title should complete the picture.  

Similarly Jeffrey/Geoffrey, Eoin/Eoghan/Owen, Bridgit/Brigid/Bridget; which is it? If at all possible, call to verify and confirm your contact is still there, or if they've been promoted, which is a good reason to write to them! People appreciate attention to detail, which reflects well on your company's attitude and keeps you front of mind.

"Keep it clean!" should be a frequent cry, so simple things like making sure you verify the addresses, will mean less waste in returns and postage, whilst abbreviations - St should be Street - should be uniformly amended in full. The last field in your addresses should be the final line of address such as Dublin 24, or Co. Limerick; even if it means leaving earlier address fields blank, as this will allow for easy sort by location

Always be on the lookout for duplications, as having clients in twice means you end up paying double for everything every time you mail them! How you deal with multiple people per business should be based on whether your database is either company driven or contact driven - but not both. Telephone numbers are extremely useful as a unique identifier when you are de-duplicating and should be entered in a consistent format, i.e. Dublin numbers should have the 01, just as Cork city numbers have 021.

Finally, can you profile and then analyse your database?  Can you segment your customers by area, employee size or industry sector? Can you match your customers to your individual products? These questions are a health and hygiene indicator of how well you are maintaining and developing your various client lists. If the answer is yes, it makes getting a cold list that much easier, but remember, ‘prospecting' is not about getting as many potential customers as possible, but about getting the best, so we have to be a bit more selective.

Develop a quality marketing list of potential clients

These should fit the profile of the people you have already analysed and segmented in your own client database, so now it's more clear-cut who you want to go after, or at least you know what they look like... gorgeous aren't they!

So what next? Call people who own lists and tell them who you're after.  A good list owner or list broker should always challenge you a bit, as in my experience some people are a bit tunnel visioned about their market and could use some onboard lateral thinking. Tease out your objectives and then listen to the advice on offer. However, there are a few standard questions you must always get the right answers to before renting a list.

  1. How and when is it updated? The best business lists in Ireland and worldwide are compiled by the list owner's in-house staff and verified by telephone at least every 12 months.
  2. Does the owner offer a refund on "gone-always?" You can expect 1-2% on business lists and a bit higher on consumer lists.
  3.  Is the price quoted for one campaign or is it for multiple use throughout the year?
  4. Be wary on consumer lists!  My preference is for lists where the individual has responded personally to an offer, has entered a competition, or, best of all, has actually bought something. These people are expecting to be contacted and are already well disposed to responding.
  5. Discuss your selection criteria. Do you need local branches or regional/head offices?  How narrow is your geographic search criteria? What is the average company size and how many industry sectors are available. These are just examples, but other selections like advertising spend, number of computers or bedrooms in the case of hotels may also be possible.
  6. Finally, is the list broker/owner registered with the Data Protection Commissioner and, particularly for overseas enquiries, are they members of their local trade association?

Database marketing is the medium that is accountable and can save and make you money. So remember, clean, update, profile and analyse your lists, and communicate with your clients and prospective clients individually. This takes time and maybe hard work, but not necessarily a lot of money.

"In hungry times the smart companies go hunting, others wait for the phone to ring."

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