Where Lists Come From

The types of data available is absolutely mind-boggling. We’re talking anything from what kinds of soup people in Oregon buy, to web-traffic habits of male executives who buy soup, to all soup can manufacturers in Ohio with between 501 and 723 employees.

There is tons of data, but only a handful of organizations that gather and compile data. (Dun and Bradstreet is one compiler you may have heard of.) Compilers organize the data in lists; anything from generic lists, to lists based on very specific requests.

Some Lists Are Like Beer

In many cases you don’t buy lists, you rent access to the data on them. Keep your ears and eyes open for the phrases “single use” and “multiple use.”  Single-use means you get to use it once. Multiple-use means you can use it as often as you want over a period of time (e.g., a year).

Marketing pros will tell you that you usually need to market more than once for best results. So single-use is cheaper but also a big gamble. Now, I can hear the wheels turning…how will they know if you use it more than once? Well, the list-compilers salt the lists so they know when you use the data more than once. Remember that the data-compilers own the data. They have the right to bill you for multiple-use and they will.

Broker or Direct?

Compilers sell lists direct to buyers and through list brokers. When you think “broker” you might also think “added expense,” however, the opposite is often true. Brokers not only save you a lot of time and hassle, they’ll often save you money. The quality of data you get through brokers is better, too.

Shopping for a Broker, Compiler, List-provider

There are all kinds of list vendors. The larger companies are easily found on the internet. Smaller companies and individual brokers usually have sites, too, but since they’re buried on page 27 ask friends and acquaintances for referrals to find them.

Broker: Look for a broker who works directly with list-compilers because they’ll have the best price. Other than that, look for the same things you do in any other service-provider: expertise, cost and fit (do you like working with them).

Compiler: Many of the list-vendors you find online are technically “compilers.” They often offer very competitive pricing but may not offer the high level of personal services brokers do. Their online tools tend to shine compared to what individual brokers offer. As you can imagine, there are trade-offs here. However, there are some vendors with excellent online tools and great service from humans — you do not have to limit yourself if you are willing to shop a bit.

Please note that Broker versus Compiler may not matter much any more. As internet functions became more sophisticated the differences became fuzzier in terms of your experience as a list-buyer. So don’t focus on their technical title. Focus on their ability to get you the data you want, how you will be able to use that data, and how often you get to use it.

Before You Begin Shopping

Have your ducks in order…

  • Who or what (kinds of companies or individuals) are you hoping to contact? The more specific you can be about your target prospect and what you plan to offer prospects, the better a list vendor or broker can help you.
  •  Who will do what? Many brokers offer marketing services that support and implement using the list. You may want to get a quote that includes these services so you can compare the cost to using your own time and resources. (Tip: Stay away from CRM services offered with lists unless you are absolutely certain the CRM will be a good fit.)
  •  What’s your budget? Have a budget in mind and be open to spending more. Remember that less expensive often means lower quality.
  •  How do you want to use the data? Have uses in mind. Do you want to call? Email? Traditional mail? All of those?

If you’re not sure how you’d answer the above questions, consider working with a marketing pro first, or shop for a broker who will give you that kind of advice. In any case, be open to the pro’s advice. One of the biggest pitfalls is trying to figure it all out yourself.

When talking with potential vendors, be sure to describe all of the ways you may want to use the data and how often (e.g. you want to call and email once a week). Be sure to directly ask the vendor if you may use the data in these ways.

Also talk about how long you want to use the list. Be sure to investigate the possible limitations and costs for each use. Specifically ask if you may use the data more than once.

Lists on a Shoestring

No budget for buying? Your public library probably has access to data you can use to compile your own lists. This is usually business data, and you can usually find it in the business or reference section of the main library.

A Plug for the US Postal Service

The USPS has a nifty service that sends mail to households and/or businesses within areas that you select. No phone numbers, and you don’t get access to the list…but it’s low cost and options for customizing may surprise you in a good way. Check into USPS direct mail service to learn more.

Reality Check

People can get very excited about the idea of a list that makes marketing and prospecting easier and more productive. Good lists can indeed help, but keep these things in mind:

  • There are many details not shared here. Be ready to learn some stuff when you talk with brokers and other vendors.
  •  Train your brain: There is no such thing as a telemarketing list that gives you warmer calls. It’s up to you to use the data wisely!
  •  If you haven’t used a marketing approach before, it’s an experiment. Budget accordingly. Give the experiment a few tries to see if it works before investing too much (or giving up).
  • Have your marketing eggs in a few baskets, not just one.
  •  Run screaming away from anybody who seems to make a lot of promises for new business. Lists are about marketing, which is about responses and contact — not selling.
  •  Many list-providers and brokers give you a free trial or sample. If you don’t have this option and have not used this particular list or broker, buy small until you know it pays off.