Eye on B-to-B: Tracking the Moving Work Force

In 1992, 62% of people at business-to-business addresses had moved. Pretty disturbing figure if you’re a business mailer, right? Well, consider this: By the end of this year, 72% of people at b-to-b addresses will have moved, according to Lansing Chew, product manager at Orange, CA-based information services bureau Experian.

These figures underscore one of the oldest and most persistent problems in the industry: keeping b-to-b mailing lists up-to-date. And it’s only getting worse, thanks to increasing layoffs — not only of the targeted catalog recipients but also of the personnel in mailrooms who route the books to their destinations.

To help keep their lists clean — and to ensure that their catalogs end up in the right hands — mailers are taking some low-tech initiatives. For instance, during the past few months, Shrewsbury, NJ-based Programmer’s Paradise has been sending questionnaires to the mailrooms of its largest customers to find out exactly who does and does not work there anymore, says direct marketing manager Lynn Adkins.

The $89.5 million cataloger of software for computer professionals mails more than 1 million catalogs to prospects and customers each year. Although Adkins believes the questionnaires are helping Programmer’s Paradise clean up its list, she can’t attribute any sales gains specifically to the surveys, because the initiative is still fairly new.

Sweeten the deal

Scottsdale, AZ-based database consultant John Coe recommends taking this practice one step further: “Even though it may cost money, companies should get to know their customers’ mailroom managers.” He cites a case of one marketer that sent boxes of brownies along with lists of names to entice the mailroom managers to make any necessary corrections to the addresses.

While this may sound extravagant, the importance of proper routing can’t be underestimated. “Thirty-three percent of catalogs sent to companies don’t make it through,” Coe warns.

Another b-to-b address correction strategy is to send customers letters or postcards to update files. “With the steady increases in postal rates during the past few years, it pays for b-to-b mailers to send first class letters or postcards to at least their best customers to confirm that they or someone else should be getting catalog mailings,” says Milford, NH-based consultant Mary Ann Kleinfelter. Such mailings can cost as little as $0.50 per piece.

Five years ago it wasn’t worth the cost to do this, notes Kleinfelter. “But with the economics now, it pays to spend the money,” she says, adding that cash-strapped companies should start these efforts with their best customers — those likely to produce the quickest ROI.

You could try applying the same strategy over the phone. Madison, WI-based industrial safety and medical supplies cataloger Conney Safety Products used to run outbound phone campaigns to check addresses for customers on its list and to ensure that they still wanted to receive catalogs. Now the company is having its inbound customer service people perform the same winnowing functions when customers call their orders in — a much less expensive method. Conney mails its main book three times a year to 4 million prospects and customers nationwide. It also mails a smaller catalog, which sells only first aid products, twice a year.

Naming names

With all the turnover in corporate positions, why not just mail to titles rather than to individuals? That’s what ATD-American Co. does. The Wyncote, PA-based cataloger mails more than 5 million books a year to governmental and institutional markets. ATD’s products include uniforms, furniture, and law-enforcement gear.

“We’ve tested this time and again over the years, and it still works for us,” says ATD executive vice president Arnie Zaslow. ATD also runs its house file against U.S. Postal Service address correction services twice a year.

But Carl Sieg, circulation and marketing analyst for Conney Safety Products, says his company’s testing has shown that it’s better to target names rather than titles. To find and confirm these names, Conney rents the subscriber files of controlled-circulation business magazines and compiled lists based on the standard industrial classification (SIC) codes from D&B (formerly known as Dun & Bradstreet) and InfoUSA, which are updated almost constantly.

“You really need active names of people in companies,” consultant Coe contends, “otherwise mail won’t get through corporate mailrooms. But this is not a problem in firms of 10 people or less and possibly even 100 or less.”

Case in point: Groton, MA-based office forms cataloger New England Business Service (NEBS), which caters mainly to firms with 10 or fewer employees. “The catalog always gets in the right hands,” says chief financial officer Dan Junius. But he admits that catalog delivery could become a problem for the company as it explores mailing to larger firms in its new fiscal year, which begins this month.

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