Marketing your business catalog list

Your database of customers and prospects is your most valuable asset, and how much income it generates depends on you and your list management company. While many consumer catalogers aggressively market their lists, business-to-business mailers tend to sit back and watch list rental revenue roll in without much effort. If you’re a business mailer taking a passive approach to list marketing, you’re most likely underestimating the value of your customer file. List owners owe it to themselves and to their list managers to be aware of the list rental sales efforts and programs in place-and of how these procedures can be improved. While the following list of suggestions is geared mostly to b-to-b catalogers, consumer mailers are likely to pick up some tips as well.

* Set list service standards. You need to take care of your list “customers”-the other mailers, list brokers, or agencies that rent your list. Whether you manage list rentals inhouse or through an outside list company, set and monitor customer service performance standards regarding count process and turnaround time (within 24 hours, for instance), and make sure your list manager knows your company and your market. Be sure that you or your list manager follows up on all leads generated in a timely and consistent manner.

* Know your audience. Use research to take the pulse of your list-buying market, at least annually. Innovations such as e-mail databases and Internet-based lists have certainly changed the landscape of the catalog list rental business and the b-to-b market in general-but how are these changes affecting your list customers? Direct mail, telemarketing, e-mail surveys, and focus groups are just a few ways to gauge the list-buying activities of clients.

* Adopt list industry procedures. Once you put your list on the rental market, you have the responsibility of managing it as a secondary business. Be sure to consider the standard accounting practices in the list business. For instance, age your accounts receivable on mail date rather than the date of order, take necessary steps to maintain tax-exempt status for brokers (which do not pay taxes as resellers), and charge a realistic base price and selection price.

* Step up promotion efforts. In addition to ads in direct marketing publications, consider integrating direct mail, trade show exposure, advertising in vertical market business publications, public relations efforts, fax broadcasts, and Website exposure into your list marketing plan. Yes, it can be done-even on a limited budget.

* Hire the right list manager. If you’re hiring an outside list manager, base your decision on a sound analysis of the presentation and the formal proposal offered. Catalogers often place their list with a management company because of an existing relationship with a person in that firm. But when you decide on a list management company, you decide on that company-not just an individual. Look for a list management company that knows your market segment.

* Find cross-selling opportunities. You should try to cross-sell within the business-to-business market categories that your catalog (or catalogs, if you own more than one list) serves. For example, if your data communications catalog list works for one mailer, that cataloger should also test a segment of your networking or communications products catalog list.

* Segment your file. Be sure to identify the hot segments in your database so that your list manager can market these segments to other mailers. These segments may be identified by product category, date of purchase (hotline), purchase amount, or any demographics that you generate and maintain on your customer file.

* Enhance your file. If your database does not contain key business demographic information such as company size, industry segment (SIC), and telephone numbers, you should research sources of this information. It may be worthwhile to pay a fee or royalties on such information to add value to your information. SIC codes may run $5/M-$8/M; phone numbers cost $10/M.

* Keep it clean. The cleaner your database, the more deliverable the addresses will be, and the higher the likelihood of increased response rates for customers that rent your names. Run your list through address correction software and possibly even National Change of Address (NCOA) software so that it is as deliverable as possible. Also, many large companies require mail stop or department information in the address block of mail for their employees. Be sure to capture this data when building your database.

* Consider list exchanges One of the most important leverage points of placing your list on the rental market is the opportunity to exchange lists with competitive companies. The universe of business-to-business names-trade magazine subscribers, buyers, seminar attendees-is expanding quickly, and the number of opportunities for exchanging is increasing, due largely to the need for technology names.

* Cover your asset. The security of your database-the names, the addresses and all the other information attached to the files-should be a top priority. Use several levels of seed names and decoy address records to properly monitor database activity. You can do this inhouse, but an increase in rentals-say, more than 50 list orders a month-may necessitate independent mail monitoring.

* Look for new opportunities. Information in your database can point to other revenue-generating products, including package insert programs, statement stuffers, and perhaps promotional opportunities such as newsletters or card decks.

Every dollar of list rental revenue drops directly to your bottom line. Given that such potential income can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, your list rental business warrants as much attention as you can give it.

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