If you’re not working off a house file, your entire direct mailing campaign starts with a list of prospective customers. You’re not going to build these lists yourself. Can you imagine thumbing through an old phonebook to find the names of all the potential customers in your area? You wouldn’t. Instead, you can purchase lists of names that have already been filtered by certain criteria (previous mail order customers, people of a certain profession or demographic, etc).
The easiest and most efficient way to order these lists is through a list broker. Some folks who are new to direct mail marketing think that a list broker is going to charge them for his or her services. So in order to save some money, they try to find lists on their own.
That’s a big mistake. Like any other profession, being a list broker has more to it than meets the eye. A good list broker will find you the best lists out of the tens of thousands that are available, get you the best prices, help you get money back on bad names, duplicates, etc., and take care of all the negotiating with list sellers. These are all jobs you don’t want to try to do yourself.
The truth is, you wouldn’t save yourself money, anyway. Because you don’t pay for any of this! I always say that using a list broker is one of the best bargains in the business. Let me explain how list brokers work, and how they get paid.
How List Brokers Work
A list broker’s business setup is very similar to the way a real estate agent works. If you’ve ever bought property, you know that you go to a real estate agent and say, “I want to find a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a pool and a two-car garage.” The agent will go out and search the market listings to find homes that meet all your specifications. Then they will show them to you. You get in their car; they drive you around and take you to all the homes they found for you. They discuss with you the pros and cons of each property and make sure you have all the information you need to make the right decision.
Once you select the home you like, your real estate agent has the ability to negotiate with the seller and coordinate all the steps of purchasing the property. The agent is then paid a commission – not by you the buyer, but by the person selling the house.
Well a list broker works in a very similar way. You go to the list broker and explain all the characteristics and qualities that you’re looking for in a mailing list. The broker researches and shops the market to find all the lists that are available that fulfill your requirements, and then sends you a list of recommendations.
To help you select from among the different possibilities, the broker will send you a very informative datacard for each of their recommended lists. The datacard provides all the information about the list that you need to make a proper decision. Just a sampling of what the datacard tells you includes: When the list was last updated, whether it’s a compiled list or a response list, demographics of the names on the list, who else has rented the list and how many times they rented it, etc.
What You Have to Do
After you go through this information, and discuss it with the list broker, you can say something like: “Okay, I want these three lists,” and then the broker will go out and help you acquire that list for rent.
In most cases, you don’t actually own the names. You’re only renting them. Most lists only allow you to rent and mail the names one time. Occasionally you will be able to rent them twice. Don’t try to mail them more times than your contract allows. List sellers have ways of checking up on you with seed names planted in their lists. If you mail illegally, they’ll charge you and probably won’t rent to you again. Who needs the embarrassment?
Returning to the list broker, you can see that the role he plays is essentially that of a middleman. He’s going to do all the work of finding you the best list out there and then negotiate with the seller and make all the arrangements for you. And again, the list broker will get paid a commission by the list owner (not you, the renter).
Who to Work With
For the clients I work with, I’m renting lists every single week. I’ve ordered thousands and thousands of mailing lists over the years, so I’ve worked with a lot of list brokers. I’ve worked with the good, the bad, and ugly, and I’ve narrowed my brokers down to one excellent agency that I use exclusively. But you may have specific things that YOU look for when trying to identify a list broker that you want to work with.
Basically, you want to find somebody who’s going to be responsive to the way that you like to work. If you primarily like to communicate through the fax, you want a broker who is willing to fax you back and forth. If you’re the type of person who prefers to work on the phone, make sure the broker is willing to call you with information. If it’s e-mail or texting that’s most convenient for you, make sure the broker is willing to accommodate those preferences.
In the end, selecting a list broker is just like picking your real estate broker. You want to find someone who you are happy and comfortable to work with and who is willing to work within your parameters.