Online training for ambitious entrepreneurs

Taking the mystery out of list buying

The right mailing list can be worth a small fortune to you. The wrong list can cost you a fortune in the blink of an eye.

To keep your business going and growing, from time to time you probably need to look outside your own customers and clients for more prospects or potential buyers. In these circumstances it is common practice to acquire mailing lists of potential buyers.

But there are mailing lists and mailing lists. The right mailing list can be worth a small fortune if it gets your message into the hands, the eyes and the minds of enough of the right prospects for your product, service or expertise. The wrong mailing list is a recipe for spending a fortune in the blink of an eye and getting little or nothing back.

Whilst the mailing list is just one of many variables that can affect the outcome of a mailing, it is still THE single most important factor in the success or otherwise of your direct mail campaigns.

A lot of people think that buying a mailing list is simply a matter of buying a list of x thousand names then sending your mailing to them all in the hope that enough will respond to make the exercise worthwhile. Frankly, the chance of that working is minimal at best … yet that’s exactly how most business approach the exercise.

So how do you acquire mailing lists that can transform your fortunes instead of costing you a fortune?

Your prime objective when sourcing lists should always be to find that one list that will garner more customers for you than any other. But with thousands of lists to choose from it’s not such an easy matter.

Know your ideal client

To have any hope of success you need to start by understanding your ideal customer or client in as much detail as possible. The more precisely you can identify their characteristics, the better your chances of finding a mailing list that is just right for your purposes, and the more easily you will be able to reach your prime prospects.

Start by working out what your ideal customers have in common. What magazines or newspapers do they read? What organisations or associations do they belong to? What do they participate in? What do they listen to? What do they watch ? What else do they like to do? What else could interest them?  What are their career needs? What is their level of education? What is their income or turnover level? What are the common factors in their lifestyles? Where are they located?

If lots of your ideal clients share similar characteristics, there’s a good chance that other people who share the same qualities will also be good prospects for your product, service or expertise.

Go through a free association and brainstorming exercise to discover the common factors and build bridges to other people who share the same or similar characteristics. It may be necessary to carry out a customer survey. If you do so—and I would recommend it—explain that you’re trying to improve your product or service and would like to know more about your buyers so that you can serve them better.

With this information you can create a profile of your ideal customer or client and you can start searching for lists that fit your profile. So where do you find these lists?

Types of lists

Besides your own in-house list, there are two main types of mailing lists available to you: Compiled lists and direct response lists. Compiled lists can be derived from many sources such as: Business and trade association memberships; Car registrations; electoral register; Newspaper and magazine subscribers; Promotion respondents; Public records; Requests for information; Seminar, conference, exhibition or trade show attendees … or many other sources.

Direct response lists, in contrast, are derived from people who have previously purchased certain products or services. In other words they are the in-house customer lists of other companies. Everyone on these lists will have a proven history of responding to direct mail, advertising, catalogues or offers. As such, direct response lists will normally perform much better than compiled lists, where only a percentage of people on the list may be responsive to your mailing.

Compiled lists are good for gathering large quantities of names and are less expensive than direct response lists. But compiled information also ages rather quickly and response rates are usually much lower than for direct response lists. In addition, because you will be mailing to large numbers of people who have no proven history of being responsive there is massive wastage because you still have to spend considerable sums on writing to, handling and mailing large numbers of people who are unlikely ever to respond … which can be a very expensive exercise.

Although more expensive, there is much less wastage with direct response lists, and people on those lists who have a track record of buying products or services like yours are the most likely to make such purchases again. You will therefore always be better off using a direct response list as long as you can identify one or more that have proved to be responsive to the type of offer you will be making.

How do you obtain these lists?

You can research list availability at most business libraries using directories like “List and Data Sources,” which describe thousands of lists and where they can be obtained. You can then obtain those lists direct from the company, association or organisation that generated the list; or from their list managers; or from specialist list brokers whose business is to match direct marketers with list owners.

You don’t pay list brokers for their services because they’re paid a commission by the list owner. Although this can cause some bias, good list brokers can still be worth their weight in gold because they should know where to find lists that meet your criteria, including many that would otherwise be hard to track down. They will also negotiate your use of the list with the list owner or manager, manage the transaction and oversee the whole operation.

As a point of clarification, you normally rent lists, you don’t buy them. Most lists can be rented for a single one-time use. Annual unlimited use rentals are available from many list owners, and you can also sometimes negotiate alternative terms, e.g. multiple use of the list or alternative uses such as for telemarketing. A good list broker can help you with such negotiations as well as help you make effective choices.

Choosing a good list broker

List brokers can vary enormously, just as the lists themselves do. A good broker should be an experienced marketer who knows and understands your industry; they should know what your competitors are mailing and what is or isn’t working; they should be well connected in the list management community; they should be able to find out who has used any given list in the past and what results were achieved; they should also pass on their honest judgements to you and save you from making costly mistakes.

Ask other direct marketers which list brokers they would use and recommend. Contact the Direct Marketing Association for further suggestions. Ask each broker for client references you can call. Once you have thoroughly briefed each broker on your company, your products and services, your target client groups and the outcomes you’re seeking, ask each broker to submit proposals to you on what lists they would recommend and why they have suggested those particular lists.

Learn all about each list

With those recommendations in hand, classify each list as likely, marginal or unsuitable. You then need to learn everything you can about each likely or marginal list, things like: the original source of the names; how the list is refined; how often it is updated or cleansed; who else uses the list; what selections are available; how recently people on the list have responded; how much they spent etc.

There are many other factors that you should consider when buying lists, but this is all I have space to cover in this post. If you would like to discuss any of this further, please feel free to contact me.

Please share your thoughts and add your questions to the comments below. I’ll try to provide as many answers as possible in my future online videos, seminars, workshops, masterclasses and blog posts.

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