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Every direct mail circulation manager wants to expand their mailing list universe. It’s the only real way to increase market share by engaging new buyers and reactivating lapsed customers. While renting lists and optimizing in-house files with transactional and intent data is an effective part of your direct marketing strategy to find incremental names, it’s up to you to do your research and find the ideal partners that can give you more responsive prospects.
With that in mind, here are some questions you should ask any potential list provider before you do business with them. The answers to these questions will go a long way in determining whether a particular supplier is the right business partner for you.
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1. Does the list provider respect consumer privacy?
Today’s consumers have multiple options for protecting themselves from unsolicited direct mail. For example, the Direct Marketing Association has a “Do Not Mail” list that all members of the DMA must adhere to. Sending mail to people on this list can result in finding your company in trouble with the DMA and other mailers, and it almost certainly will result in ignored mail pieces and wasted money.
There are also other legal statutes with which you must comply. Companies are not allowed to use lists from medical facilities, nor are they allowed to disclose any ailments a patient may have had. Similarly, companies are forbidden from using driving records as the basis for a mailing list. Check with any list vendor you speak with to make sure they’re abiding by the laws — actual laws as well as the laws of decency — before striking a deal.
2. What is your pricing?
Price is always a big consideration for any company, large or small. Everyone wants the maximum value at a minimal cost. So ask questions up front to avoid being taken by surprise later. Is there a minimum amount of names per purchase? Are there are any discounts on follow-up mailings (reuses)? Are invoices net of matches to my house file? Other rental lists? Are there any hidden fees beyond the quoted price per thousand names?
A word or caution: Third party vendors offer competitive pricing for similar lists. If a list broker or database vendor is offering to rent you a list at a drastically lower rate than other vendors, that should be a warning sign. You will truly get what you pay for in terms of poor list quality and unusable names. It pays to get estimates and pricing structures from multiple list vendors, so you know if you’re making the best investment for your company. The more you know now, the better your chances are of making a well-informed and educated decision.
3. Can I speak with current customers?
The direct mail vendor solutions industry isn’t exactly overflowing with online reviews and consumer feedback. There’s no real way to know what kind of professional relationship you’re entering into with a list supplier until you’re in it. Asking if you can speak directly with current customers is a great way to gain some insight into what working with that list provider is really like. Whether they give you a list of current customers to contact or they decline, how they handle your request says a lot about their values and policies. Of course, speaking with another customer will provide you with valuable, although biased, feedback. It is, after all, in the supplier’s best interest to showcase their most successful working relationships. Be prepared with specific questions and you will learn a lot more.
You can also reach out to your peers and colleagues for their experience with the vendor you’re looking to work with. Again, more information makes for a better, more confident decision.
4. When have you not delivered, and how did you handle it?
Every company has its share of failures, and no company likes to brag about the times they’ve fallen short. But your organization could end up being the one to be disappointed, and it’s your responsibility to find out how the vendor handles these mishaps. Consider this planning ahead for a worst-case scenario. If you like what you hear and know the vendor has taken steps to remedy the problem or has a guarantee in place, you’ll feel a lot better about moving forward with the process.
5. Can you create custom segments?
The heart of direct marketing circulation planning is identifying your target audience and making sure that the audience segments receiving your mailings are as precise as possible . This is a major criterion for any list supplier, and if you find that provider takes a "one size fits all" approach to audience creation, it’s probably time to look for someone else.
6. How do you maintain list quality?
It’s not enough to simply rent a list of names and addresses or optimize your in-house files. Those names, and that optimization data, have to be up-to-date. In other words, a list is useless if it contains outdated information, and that goes beyond simply having the prospect’s current mailing address.
Modern-day direct marketing circulation isn’t just about sending your direct mail piece into someone’s mailbox. It’s about increasing your chances of that piece landing in the mailbox of someone who’s likely to respond. The list provider should eliminate the names of people who are unlikely to respond to direct mail offers of any kind. Combining this approach to list hygiene with the vendor’s ability to provide custom segments should give you a pretty good idea of what that vendor can do for you.
7. What’s your turnover rate?
While you want an audience of customers who are likely to take action on your direct mail, you don’t necessarily want to target customers who have been bombarded by recent mailings. Ask any potential list provider how frequently the names on their lists have been contacted, and when the date of the last contact was. This will give you an idea of how receptive those prospects may be to your offering.
8. Will other companies have access to these names?
Because you’re renting names from a list provider, odds are high that the names you receive will be shared with other companies. However, that doesn’t preclude you from asking about the companies that have those names and the industries of those companies. Although confidentiality concerns may limit whether a provider will “name names” of specific companies that have received a similar list of names, there is no reason they cannot indicate how many times these names have been mailed within a particular product category or industry segment.
This information can be valuable in many different ways. If you’re in an emerging industry, knowing the distribution of these names can give you confidence that you’ll be the first to target these consumers. That gives you a better chance at moving those individuals to take action. If you find out that competitors have already sent mailers to those customers, you have the option of competing with those companies or taking a different approach by talking to another list provider.
Give Your Direct Mail Circulation the Best Possible Chance
Unfortunately, finding productive direct mail circulation vendor solutions isn’t a simple task. It takes a careful approach, one full of questions and skepticism, to gain the confidence you need in a list provider. By the time you’re done asking these questions, you should know exactly what to expect from a given supplier, and you’ll know if that vendor is right for your company. If it’s not a great fit, there are plenty of other choices out there. Do your homework, and give yourself the best possible chance for success.