Show Me the Data: Compiled Lists Aren’t Commodities

Jun 04, 2007 8:35 PM  By

There are roughly 55,000 lists for rent today. About 24,000 lists are business and government focused; response, subscription, and compiled files. The mailers and list brokers I have worked with often talk about the compiled files as commodities. Different business-to-business lists characterized by similar demographics such as: standard industry classification (SIC) codes, employee sizes, annual sales, and geographic regions are expected to perform equally well.

Early in my b-to-b career I learned how inadequate that view of compiled lists can be. I rented a compiled list of mid-sized business for a sales team to call to gauge the list members’ immediate needs to upgrade their office technology. The broker and I carefully checked the employee sizes and the validity of a sample of the firms’ addresses and phone numbers. The names and phone numbers came in and were loaded for calling.

I quickly heard about the quality of the list. The first reactions I got did not come from the business contacts on the list, but from the sales manager who stopped me as I walked across the sales floor and shouted in my face: “Your list stinks!” When he calmed a bit I was able to find out what had happened.

This list of businesses with 100 to 500 employees across all industries was not a commodity. Rigorous examination of the list showed that it included retail stores, restaurants, warehouses, consultancies, and legal firms, as well as a few state and local governments. The legal and similar firms with high proportions of office workers were just right for the salespeople to address. But the retailers, restaurants and warehouses needed very little technology to support large numbers of employees. It was these businesses that frustrated the sales team and made them question the list’s quality.

If you want to try marketing product or service categories for which you have not used compiled lists, I suggest you use some simple tests. Average sales per employee are likely to vary widely for service based businesses: warehouses, restaurants and stores, compared to professional firms such as hospitals and law offices. Look at your current customers to see their average annual sales and employee sizes and screen samples of the compiled files you want to use.

I remember that confrontation whenever I read the datacard for a compiled list or hear a direct mailer suggest that their mailing will attract all businesses of a certain size, certain industrial segment, or certain geography. I was able to find more carefully qualified lists that brought those salespeople the opportunities they wanted. And they taught me that compiled lists are not commodities.

Bill Singleton writes “Show Me The Data” each month for Lists and Data Strategies. He recently joined the Allant Group in Naperville, IL as a Manager of Analytics and Consulting Services. He can be reached at: and 630-579-3448.