Show Me The Data: When Audits Are Good For Your Business

As we start the second quarter, you should think about audits. The thought of a tax audit can make any business person shudder. But audits help keep companies honest about their taxes. You shouldn’t fear all audits; they can keep other parts of your business honest as well.

I am amazed how often I find experienced professionals trying to grow their businesses by working on projects far outside of their competence. Examples are easy to find: A home improvements CEO that created his own brochure for a prospect mailing. A restaurateur who wrote her own ad copy for a business directory mailing, a computer reseller that programmed its own customer database and used it for managing prospect lists, an insurance manager who profiled his agency’s customers and rented compiled lists on his own.

When I encountered each of these examples I heard complaints that the prospect lists and the buying public were non-responsive, fickle, lacked taste, or needed to work with the merchant. But when I audited the prospect profiles and the marketing materials, the causes of the problems became clear. Competent executives of marketing, sales, IT, and management thought that their competence in one area granted them competence in other areas, such as graphic design, copywriting, analysis, and list selection.

Unfortunately for their businesses, they were wrong. The home improvement mail piece was so ugly that people threw it away before opening it. The restaurant ad was incomprehensible. The reseller’s prospect lists were miscoded and corrupted. The insurance prospect lists had geographic gaps and large overlaps between successive selections. Each situation cried out for a thorough audit to guide corrective action.

The executives that accepted auditing were able to salvage some of their investment of time and money from their misguided efforts. For the insurance firm, a comparison of the customer and prospect profiles demonstrated that the rental lists were not far off the desired targets and were not the sole source of low response. In the home improvements and restaurant cases, gentle coaching by an empathetic designer led to revisions of artwork and copy that significantly improved readability and response. The computer reseller had to scrap hundreds of thousands of prospects after a massive manual clean up effort. Subsequent conversion to a professionally designed database system took over a year.

Tax audits keep businesses honest about what they owe. Database, creative, and copy audits can keep businesses honest about prospect list, design, and content issues before they harm the firms’ finances. It is too late to have someone perform an audit when you wonder why your mailings are getting low response rates. The right time for an audit is at the moment your executives think that they are competent beyond their skills and experience; before they dampen response, not through bad lists but through the materials and systems through which those prospects are expected to respond.

Bill Singleton, president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing , and pens “Show Me the Data” for the Lists & Data Strategies e-newsletter.

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