Custom Prospect Database Solutions – Technology Implications

In the third installment of this four-part series on building custom prospect databases, we’ll discuss how customized consumer prospect database systems require changes in how we leverage and apply technology to the process of customer acquisition. Specifically, we’ll explore where prospect databases are hosted and maintained, how data consolidations work if the house file is integrated in the prospecting solution, and how and by whom the “rental” data are accessed.

In the first article, we described a number of prospect solutions that marketers use to overcome customer acquisition challenges. In our second installment, we focused on consumer data and how prospect databases change the way we manage list rental. As you might expect, the changes we need to make as marketers, list owners and brokers, and services providers transcend the data discussion to include the technology and processes we use to manage those data over time.

The first technological consideration that comes to mind is where do companies who want a prospect database build and maintain it. The obvious answer is to keep it “close” to your house file, as you’ll need the timely interactions between your customer data and outside lists to create a net prospect list. But issues arise when the house file is managed internally by a company’s IT group, as experience tells us that list owners are very unlikely to allow their data to be housed in such environments.

A trusted third-party service provider can serve as neutral go-between to house and process the prospecting database. For companies with inhouse customer databases, this means ensuring that they find a partner who can manage the complex technical integration. Or it means moving the entire customer and prospect database infrastructure to a third-party provider.

Beyond where to host the prospect database, marketers and their technology partners are faced with how to handle the interaction between the house file and outside rentals. Common practice used to be to include just the house file mail segments in our “net down” premail processing jobs. In a prospect database environment, however, we can address interactions across the entire house file, including lapsed or inactive buyers and underperforming segments. Rather than discard the overlapping prospect records, you can capitalize on the more recent nonproprietary purchase information to update your customer records. But we have no precedent for reporting these interactions or the related process in order to compensate list owners.

Another dimension of technology change that we must address is data access. Today there are lucky marketers among us who have access to accurate, actionable customer information to support both strategic initiatives (such as customer segmentation and modeling) and tactical marketing initiatives (such as campaign execution). Why not have the same access to prospect data? Because there is a clear indication that list owners will not endorse (or permit) the renter to access their customer data, even if they are hosted at a third-party provider. To overcome this issue, we must leverage intelligent database design and access-control technology to block access to “list specific” information by end users. Will this be enough for the list owners? Possibly. Then again, list owners’ peace of mind might be realized only by denying access to all customer-level data except derived and aggregated variables.

If and when more and more data-driven direct marketing companies pursue customized consumer prospect databases as a means to combat customer acquisition challenges, we will need to change the way we think and use database technology in ways like those described here. None of these conditions – in isolation or in combination with others – will kill a prospect database. They all, however, require our collective consideration and attention to ensure success for all industry constituents – data owners, list renters/marketers, brokers, data providers.

A key theme you may have detected within and across all these prospect database articles is that our greatest impediment to adoption is aligning people and process with enabling technology. This will be the topic for our last installment, as we cover the business and marketing processes that we must change to support prospect databases.

Caryn L. Gray is a senior marketing consultant for Experian’s Business Strategies Group.

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