Building and maintaining your business-to-business house file can be daunting, says Bernie Goldberg, president of Yardley, PA-based Direct Marketing Publishers. The problem is often compounded by the use of different databases throughout the business. These multiple databases frequently have no common link, making it all but impossible to exchange information among departments.
Making matters worse, abbreviations and company-name permutations create duplicate records on virtually every file. In addition, constant change due to mergers, takeovers, and business closures further complicates the issue and makes databases even less hygienic.
Business marketers have always lived with this problem because there was no realistic approach to cleaning and maintaining their databases. But, says Goldberg, “in the past few years I’ve used a series of steps that produces remarkable results.”
Step 1: Use a computer service for list hygiene, duplicate elimination, and address verification.
Step 2: Ask the mailroom manager for help in verifying records on your file.
Step 3: Send a first-class mailing to help verify deliverability.
Begin by sending all of your company’s house files to a service bureau and have them combined into one database. Historically this produces about 50%-60% match rates, Goldberg says.
Once you’ve built a merged, consolidated database, process the file through the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) file. As you identify incorrect names, build a suppression file of names that shouldn’t be mailed. “This file will grow in size and value,” Goldberg says. “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.”
All too often, Goldberg continues, companies will verify a customer or prospect’s mailing address during a phone conversation and change the address information dynamically during the conversation. Quite often the old address is changed, and the company loses the ability to move the old address to its suppression file. You may want to examine your own internal procedures to ensure you are not losing the opportunity to retain all bad addresses on your suppression file.
From the database merge, you should be able to identify business locations that have multiple contacts. Goldberg suggests that you mail a letter, along with a list of contacts, to the mailroom manager of any location with at least three names on your house file. The letter can be title addressed and you can use a plain envelope mailed first class. It is not unusual to get 40%-50% response from the mailroom manager, he says.
If the letter is created carefully, the mailroom manager not only will delete inappropriate names and change names to current contacts but often will add names. Add any non-deliverable name to your suppression file. “I suggest you code the source of each name on the suppression file so that you can evaluate the success of the various steps in the cleaning process,” Goldberg adds.
Because the response rate is often very high, you should mail the nonresponding 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 nondeliverable names to the suppression file.
Mail a postcard to all remaining names that haven’t been verified. Because postcards are mailed first class, nondeliverables should be returned to you. Some will have a change of address, but most will probably be beyond the forwarding time and therefore simply be nondeliverable.
The nondeliverable rate from the postcard is typically 15%-20%, Goldberg says. “We have also used first-class letters, especially a customer opinion survey, to accomplish the same task. Make sure you add the nondeliverables 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.”
Even while you’re in the process of cleaning the database, Goldberg says, it is being corrupted with daily transactions. “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. Plan to mail the mailroom manager at least once each year. Mail everyone who hasn’t purchased or responded in the past year a first class mailing to verify their address. Once you sell an individual or they respond to a campaign, plan to include them in a first class mailing one year later.”
These efforts will typically pay huge rewards. Goldberg says that the savings in promotion costs typically pays for the process in a few months.