Clean up your act

Feb 01, 1999 10:30 PM  By

In the business-to-business catalog world, maintaining good list hygiene goes beyond running files against Dun & Bradstreet corporate credit files and the U.S. Postal Service’s Delivery Sequence File (DSF) and National Change of Address (NCOA) file. Many business mailers rely on a combination of inhouse procedures to improve the deliverability of their catalogs.

“Any single device won’t work” to keep your list clean on its own, says Steve Roberts, president of Pearl River, NY-based list firm Edith Roman & Associates. “While DSF [which contains every known address in the country] will give you a deliverability rating on those names you pass through it, it’s also important to speak to your customers.”

For one thing, DSF doesn’t provide corporate mail stops, the internal post office boxes that many larger companies need to ensure delivery to employees. “In a lot of large corporate offices, if an address label does not contain a mail stop, the mailroom will not deliver the catalog,” explains Robert Edmund, president of science tools cataloger Edmund Scientific.

With that in mind, Barrington, NJ-based Edmund Scientific several years ago launched an inhouse campaign targeting larger business facilities that process large volumes of mail. “We produce hard-copy lists of customer addresses from individual companies and send them to mailroom supervisors asking them to review the lists and advise us of any changes, conditions, or requirements to get delivery of our catalogs,” Edmund says. Nearly half of the mailroom supervisors cooperate. In one case, the cataloger discovered that of the 235 names it had in its house file for one particular university campus, 30% no longer worked at the school.

Names on the move Industrial safety products mailer Conney Safety has a similar program to keep track of its moving customers. In October, Conney launched an outbound telemarketing campaign in which sales reps ask active customers whether their co-workers who also appear on Conney’s list are still working there and want to receive catalogs. “I’m hoping for 5% in savings for the first year,” says Pete Sandys, director of marketing for the Madison, WI-based cataloger.

Hardware cataloger MSC Industrial Direct also advocates communicating with customers to improve deliverability. “Every time we talk to a customer, we get the address cleaned,” says database marketing manager Patrick Hashimoto. By instructing its telephone reps to constantly verify and update customers’ records, in addition to running its files against NCOA and other programs that he won’t divulge, Hashimoto estimates that MSC saves “threefold” on the costs associated with undelivered catalogs.

Such vigilance is key, given that businesspeople across the board change either their jobs or their business addresses an average of at least once every six months, according to studies conducted by Melville, NY-based MSC. To keep up with those on the move, 50% of b-to-b participants in Catalog Age’s Benchmark Report on Lists (July 1998 issue) said they run their house file against NCOA at least once a year; MSC runs its file against NCOA once every quarter, Hashimoto says.

MSC also runs its lists against U.S. Postal Service-supplied Business Address Standardization software, which cleans up misspellings and inaccurate abbreviations. For instance, the software will automatically change the unrecognizable “Str.” to “St.” for “Street.” In addition, the postal software converts five-digit zip codes into zip+4 codes.