Verifying B-to-B Mail

Sep 19, 2005 9:45 PM  By

Building and maintaining your business-to-business house file can be daunting, especially when you have different databases throughout the enterprise. These multiple databases frequently have no common link and it is impossible to exchange information between the company’s various departments.

What’s more, customers and prospects added to the file often provide different company names for the same enterprise. Abbreviations and company name permutations create duplicate records on virtually every file. This is exacerbated because people who change jobs or companies rarely file a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service and are not identified in the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. But you can take several steps to clean and maintain your business database.

Begin by sending all of the house files to a service bureau and have them combined into one database. Historically this produces match rates of about 50% to 60%.

Once you’ve built a merged, consolidated database, process the file through NCOA. As you identify incorrect names, build a suppression file of names that shouldn’t be mailed. This file will grow in size and value. When you rent names from outside lists or merge additional files with your house file, you can bounce the records against the suppression file and eliminate bad names before they cost you money. The USPS NCOA files maintain information for three years. If you have older records as part of your house file they may not be identified using the NCOA database. We recently discovered that if you mail older records, even those that are no longer in business, the mail will probably be delivered by the letter carrier—depending on the knowledge of the local letter carrier. A letter carrier who hasn’t been on his route for a long time may not be aware that the company your mailing is not accurate; if NCOA doesn’t flag the mail piece, it is quite likely to be delivered.

From the merging, you should be able to identify business locations that have multiple contacts. Take any location with three or more people and mail a letter first class, along with a list of contacts, to the mailroom manager. It is not unusual to get 40% to 50% response from the mailroom manager. The mailroom manager will typically not only delete inappropriate names and change names to current contacts but often will add names.

Add any non-deliverable name to your suppression file. Try coding the source of each name on the suppression file so you can evaluate the success of the various steps in the cleaning process. You should mail the non-responding mailroom managers a second time, about three to four weeks after the initial mailing. This second mailing will often produce about the same response rate as the initial mailing. Again, add non-deliverable names to the suppression file.

Mail a postcard (4-1/4”x 6” using first class postage) to all remaining names that haven’t been verified. Non-deliverables will be returned to you–some will have a change of address but most will probably be beyond the forwarding time and therefore simply be non-deliverable. The non-deliverable rate from the postcard is typically 15%-20 %. First-class mailed letters, especially with a customer opinion survey, can accomplish the same task. Make sure you add the non-deliverables to your now-growing suppression file. You can use a double postcard to accomplish the same mission and actually test offers, generate sales leads, and sell products while still cleaning your house file.

Develop a plan to subscribe to any updates to the records you have acquired and matched through the service. Periodically send another copy of entire files you originally provided, updated with current transactions, to the service bureau to ensure new records are being handled correctly.

These efforts will typically pay huge rewards. If you’re using direct marketing, the savings in promotion costs typically pay for the process in a few months. Eliminating non-deliverable records from you mailing plan will also increase the response rate from the remaining viable records. In essence, you mail less for the same results.

Bernie Goldberg is president of Yardley, PA-based consultancy Direct Marketing Publishers