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The 'A' List

Need names and addresses of prospects for a direct-marketing campaign? Online list services may be the answer.

When FCI Construction, a 60-person architectural design and construction company in Mountain View, California, wanted to find new commercial and residential customers to target with direct mail, it tried a new option: an online list company. FCI's marketing director, Lori Lewis, decided an online list company would save time and money, and eliminate the hassles she was experiencing with other attempts to gather new prospects.

She was right. "In a small company, it's crucial to get the most out of every marketing dollar you spend," says Forrest Linebarger, 31, the owner of FCI Construction. "Online list sources are one way to find new clients at a reasonable price."

Like many small businesses, FCI had tried using a software program that contained lists of names and addresses that were updated quarterly. The software produced limited results, however, because its data was often outdated. A substantial amount of time was spent cleaning up the lists to make sure the names were accurate and that there were no duplicates.

Lewis discovered online list companies almost by accident. While visiting the Web site of Palo Alto, California's MySoftware Co., she stumbled across an online lead-generation marketing service called MyProspects.com. The service offers targeted contact lists of potential customers. Lewis contacted the company and began using its service in January after a brief test period.

"[MyProspects.com] offered us a condensed list that really honed into the target market we were looking at," Lewis says. "And it reduced the time spent on sorting the lists and making sure the information was correct."

The site doesn't charge subscription or sign-up fees; rather, users pay only for the names they download. They're assigned a password for the company's Web site, which allows them to conduct unlimited list searches. Through a licensing agreement, the site offers 13 million business listings from the database of Experian, a credit reporting company in Orange, California, as well as 112 million household listings from the database of Polk Co., a data provider in Southfield, Michigan. Entrepreneurs can choose business listings based on demographic or geographic criteria; sales volume, number of employees, business type or number of years in business; Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code; or keywords. A total count of the list and its price is returned, and the customer then chooses how many records to download to an Excel spreadsheet or Word document.

The consumer data provided by Polk is searchable by a set of 26 predefined niches, grouped according to age, income, lifestyle interests and purchasing habits. It can also produce a customized consumer profile that includes income, age, length and type of home-ownership, and credit card use. MyProspects.com refreshes its data records from Experian and Polk on a quarterly basis.

In addition to MyProspects.com, market information firm Dun & Bradstreet in Murray Hill, New Jersey, has an online list solution called U.S. Marketing Lists. The service, available at http://www.dnb.com , allows customers to easily access D&B's database of 11 million businesses. The types of data that D&B has on file include credit, marketing, purchasing and receivables information. The service can be ordered on a contractual basis or as needed, and fees vary with the type and volume of information required.

Arlington, Virginia-based Claritas offers Claritas Connect, an online service that allows small-business users to access more than 100 detailed reports on every U.S. market at any geographic level. Users pay a $195 annual membership fee and receive unlimited access to all 1990 Census Reports. The company also offers individual reports on a pay-as-you-go basis.

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Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the April 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The 'A' List.

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