On The Money

Q & A

By Christina Grace Peterson

Q: How do I get my hands on mailing lists to target potential buyers of my products?

Belinda Osborne
Nederland, Texas

A: Provided by Gail Nickel-Kailing, vice president of marketing for Postalsoft, a leading manufacturer of mailing-list management, postal-automation and document-generating software in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Mailing lists are big business. Many businesses regularly generate lists of customers and prospective customers and rent them to other businesses. Some of these lists are generated when products are purchased, while others are compiled through industry interests or affiliations.

You may not know it, but you already have the initial resources for your own lists. Start with customers with whom you've done business within the last two years. You can get information from sales orders, receipts, billing statements, warranty cards, credit records, customer service records and delivery records.

As a start-up business owner, the most cost-effective way to acquire a list is to exchange your list of customers with another business that is compatible but not competitive. For example, if you run a pet supply shop, you could exchange lists with a local veterinarian.

If you decide to rent a mailing list from another source, don't go it alone; you'll have a better chance of success if you have experts help you identify prospective customers who are most likely to respond to your offer. If your budget allows for it, consider working with an advertising agency that specializes in direct-response marketing. Most mailing service bureaus also offer some level of mailing-list management.

As for resources, I strongly recommend contacting the Direct Marketing Association Inc. at 1120 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700, (212) 768-7277 or http://www.the-dma.org

Several magazines deal specifically with direct-mail and direct-marketing issues. Three you can look for are: Direct ($74 for 16 issues per year; 800-795-5445); DM News ($75 for $48 issues per year; 609-786-4780); and Target Marketing ($65 for 12 issues per year; 215-238-5300).

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On The Money.

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