It’s not how many you people pitch to — it’s just who should receive your pitches. Electronic data gathering has given the American business person an avalanche of prospective customers on endless lists. But sorting the oceans of sand for the real pearls can frequently prove as laborious as hunting down clients the old fashioned way — one by one.

Direct mail, telemarketing, and E-mail are powerful selling tools, but just who are you going to write, call, or E-mail cost efficiently? In hopes of finding some guidelines, the Business Marketing Association’s New Jersey chapter offers “Learn to Love Your Lists” on Tuesday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Parsippany. Cost: $40. Visit www.bma-nj.org. Speaker Frank Conway, account manager for infoUSA/Donnelly Marketing, focuses on obtaining and maintaining well-honed lists for business-to-business sales.

Ever since wireless phones were the size of laptops, Conway has been devising and sharpening customer lists to ease his sales crew’s lot. A native of Wyckoff, he earned his bachelor’s in marketing from Susquehanna University in l990. From there Conway took his skills to Drive Phone, where he undertook to sell America on the incipient wireless industry. “This was when everyone had pagers, and the first cell phones were frightfully huge and expensive,” he says.

In l994 Conway joined DialAmerica Marketing and launched the massive telemarketing campaign to sell AT&T’s wireless services. His efforts netted a very impressive three-quarters of a sale per hour (sph), which, after five years and despite a huge upsurge in competition, continued at two-tenths sph. Testing the entrepreneurial waters, Conway then established his own wireless dealership for a while. In 2005 he took the post of account manager with infoUSA/Donnelly Marketing. “The company makes 22 million calls a year updating and clarifying its lists,” he says.

What’s cheap? Any list will be worse than useless if the names on it are not those of people likely to have the means and the interest to become customers. The futile and expensive efforts of a demoralized sales team, dialing dead lead after dead lead, can put any company under. To keep profits, spirits, and sales-per-hour-ratio high, the list must conform to the company’s customer profile, and it must be strategically pruned on an ongoing basis.

Who’s out there? Before querying any list brokers, Conway suggests that a company first analyze exactly what its current customers look like. Do most live in the Mid-West? Are they 18 or 80? Do they have high-speed Internet connections? Do they travel extensively?

Determining the profile of the company’s existent customer base with surgical precision and searching out all client correlations makes the firm a better list shopper. Once this profile is drawn, figure out what other groups are similar enough that they might become customers.

What’s free? In some cases free or minimal-cost listings may be obtained through professional associations and journals upon request. A big advantage here — in addition to cost savings — is the fact that these lists are already targeted to members of the association and readers of the journal. To a large extent, you know what you’re getting.

Rosters of individual executives are increasingly available on databases, again, with some initial filtering performed beforehand. Such tools as www.ideaexec.com can provide executive contacts at all levels. Major company rolls may also be found on their websites or via cross-indexed online professional listings.

Who’s in charge? Rank is misleading. His door may say “Director of Purchasing,” but he may not be the one who can, or will, take your order. Conway advises list buyers to consider whether they want to deal with the headquarters or individual outlets.

“There is currently a strong trend toward centralized purchasing,” he says, “but this depends on the product and the niche. Don’t buy a headquarters-only list if you want to deal with regional stores.”

The age of executives and of the business are often-neglected factors. Younger individuals who have been with the company a shorter time are much more willing to take a gamble on an innovative product. Conversely, if you are selling an old standby, you may want to tailor your lists to upper management.

Matching the customer base with the established SIC (Standardized Industry Codes) not only helps define list requirements, but broadens the sales field as well. Considering the SIC, regional boundaries, and client size (based on number of sites and employees) can keep the sales manager from buying names that simply won’t produce.

What makes a good broker? “You can’t sell lawn mowers to law firms,” says Conway. “When searching for a good list broker make sure he is currently selling to accounts similar to yours. A brief examination of his clients will tell you if his capabilities and understanding are focused on producing a list with the client size, age, and other factors you had in mind.”

Learning a list’s maintenance schedule is as important as knowing its source or content. “Ideally, business lists should be cleansed and updated every month, quarterly at most,” says Conway. One-and-a-half percent of the American population moves every month, making some business listing obsolete. Businesses change names frequently. In this age of swift electronic verification, quarterly cleansing is scarcely unreasonable.

The rumors of virus corruption via online list transfer have produced much angst, but virtually no factual examples. “It is absolutely nothing to worry about,” says Conway, “unless you are getting a list from some fifth-hand source, and then, why would you?”

Direct mail, tele-marketing, and E-mail continue to thrive and adapt to advanced technologies. The marketplace proves their value every day. As long as these selling tools remain profitable, they will require fuel. And the lists will go on.

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