Q: I've opened a new business in a fairly competitive area and am planning to mail out some informational brochures about the services we offer. Where I can find the names and addresses of my target market?

A: U.S. businesses will spend nearly $50 billion on direct-mail marketing efforts this year. From retailers to marketers of consumer products and services, finding the best lists can mean the difference between success and failure for many businesses that target consumers in their homes.

The more precisely you target your audience, the greater number of qualified responses your program will generate. Typical positive response rates for direct mail are just one to five percent, so the majority of your respondents must fit the profile of your ideal client or customer. Before you approach list vendors, define the characteristics of your target audience using such demographics as age, gender and household income, and refine your geographic market. You might decide, for example, that your best prospects are married, homeowners, age 50 and higher, in specific zip codes.

List rental companies call these demographic characteristics "selections" and price their lists accordingly. Lists are rented on a cost per thousand basis (CPM) with an additional charge for each selection. If you intend to follow up your mailings with telephone calls, you can expect to pay an additional fee for a list with phone numbers.

The best place to start your search is at the library with a comprehensive directory, the Direct Mail List Source (Standard Rate and Data Service), which shows available lists by category. Choose the best vendors and supply them with your target audience profile. They'll give you their "list counts"-the total number of names they have that fit your selection criteria. Then you can shop for the best CPMs. It's also smart to negotiate upfront to purchase multiple sets of labels. Your total rental costs will be lower and your response rates will improve with the second and possibly third mailings to the same list.

Select vendors with quality lists who guarantee they'll be at least 90 percent deliverable. Within about three to seven business days, you'll have your lists-either transmitted electronically, delivered on magnetic tape or on labels directly to your mailing house.