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B2B Direct Mail Lists: Ask These Questions Before Renting

By Alan Sharpe

If the most important part of any business-to-business direct mail package is the list, how can you be sure that you have a good list before you drop your money (and your reputation) in the mailbox? Answer: Ask the right questions before you rent that list.

1. Who is on the list, exactly?

Let’s say your potential list is high-tech prospects. Are the people on the list analysts, network administrators, product managers, chief information officers or sales managers? Knowing makes all the difference. So make sure you can select names by job title or function.

2. What is the source of the list?

Is the list a compiled list, where names and addresses are compiled into a list from directories, newspapers, trade show registrations and other public sources? Or is the list an opt-in list (such as subscribers to a particular trade publication, or buyers from an online store)? Lists of names that are compiled from phone books and directories usually age more quickly than names from opt-in lists and usually produce more undeliverable mail.

3. Are the names on the list known buyers?

The best B2B lists contain names of businesspeople who have bought your product or service or one like it, regardless of how they bought it (online, by mail, retail).

4. How recently did they buy?

In the trade, we call this Recency. Prospects who bought a product or service like yours recently are better prospects than ones who purchased years ago.

5. How often do they buy?

We call this Frequency—how often someone buys. Naturally, someone who buys your product or service often is a better prospect than someone who buys less frequently.

6. How much do they spend?

We call this Monetary value, and it’s the third component in the standard test of mailing list quality—Recency, Frequency, Monetary value. Buyers who spend the most are the best prospects for your mailing.

7. Are the people on the list “direct-mail responsive?”

Sometimes a list owner or list broker will know if the names on her list respond to direct mail offers. A good example would be a catalog merchant who would know the percentage of names on his list who buy through the mail.

8. How fresh are the names?

Some business-to-business lists decay at a rate of 25% a year. In other words, at any given time, 25% of the names on a given list will have moved (new address), been promoted (new job title), undergone a restructuring (new email address) or quit. Ask your list owner or list broker how often they update their list.

9. When was the list last cleaned?

List owners “clean” their lists by comparing them against the postal service’s National Change of Address file. Ask how often this is done.

10. How often is the list rented?

If the list is rented often, it is likely a good list (but one that contains names of prospects who may have been inundated with offers like yours). If the list is rarely rented, it is either no good or it contains a highly specific group of prospects that no other business except yours wants to mail to (not likely).

11. How many other mailers tested the list successfully?

You should conduct a test mailing to a list before rolling out your entire mailing. Ask how many other businesses tested the list and then declined to rollout, and how many tested the list and decided to rollout. The answers you get give you an idea of the value of the list to your business.

12. Who else rents the list?

Do your competitors rent the list? See if you can find out!


About The Author
Alan Sharpe is a business-to-business direct mail copywriter and lead generation specialist who helps business owners and marketing managers generate leads, close sales and retain customers using business-to-business direct mail marketing. Learn more about his creative direct mail writing services and sign up for free weekly tips like this at

March 30, 2020

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