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What to look for when choosing a b2b mailing list provider

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By David Battson 6 min read

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On a daily basis companies are busy Googling ‘business data’ (and its many variations!) and battling through endless lists of providers to find the right data for their marketing requirements. As marketing data providers ourselves, we understand how challenging this can be.

With uncertainty about the data quality on offer, buying data is not an easy decision. So with that in mind, this blog looks at the key questions to ask your potential business data provider before you sign on the dotted line.

  • How current is your data?
  • What deliverability guarantees do you have?
  • How often are numbers screened against the CTPS register?
  • Are they DMA members?
  • Where do the providers obtain their data?
  • What else can they do with your data?

1. How current is your data?

Business data gets old really quickly. Estimates vary, but according to research by Marketing Sherpa, databases degrade by around 2.2% a month, which works out at a rate of 22.5% a year. Some sectors may see their data decline at a much faster rate, though.

Working with old data is problematic for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s simply wasteful. If it turns out that 40% of the contacts you obtain are no longer with their companies, that’s hugely inefficient. Secondly, and more seriously, you risk alienating the companies you’re contacting. Asking to speak to personnel who moved on some time ago makes your company look unprofessional at best.

Therefore, when you’re buying data, one of the first steps is to ask the provider how often they refresh their records. We would anticipate at least once a year for business contacts. Twice a year is even better.

An alternative way of dealing with old data is to use a data cleansing service. Rather than buying in new lists, experts in data will carry out verification of your existing database, ensuring that any out-of-date information is weeded out before that all-important first contact is made.

2. What deliverability guarantees do you have?

When you send a parcel or a letter, it’s a prime consideration that it gets to the intended address. You might accept that there’s a small possibility of it going astray, but your expectation is that the service provider is going to get it right most of the time.

When it comes to selecting a data provider, it makes sense to apply the same criteria. What guarantees can the company give you that your messages will reach the correct recipients? Good providers will offer ‘deliverability guarantees’ on their data. It’s certainly unrealistic to expect 100% deliverability, but the closer you can get to that figure, the better.

As a bonus question, ask the company what action they will take if a message turns out to be undeliverable. Their answer may tell you a lot about the quality of their service.

3. How often are numbers screened against the CTPS register?

No one likes unwanted marketing calls. As consumers, we can opt out of receiving cold calls using the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Companies that cold call TPS-registered consumers risk the icy hand of the ICO, who have punished transgressors with eye-watering £50,000 fines. The rules on B2B calls are not quite as strict, because business people are usually more interested in the services being offered in a marketing message. In fact, part of their role will probably involve talking to potential service providers.

Nevertheless, businesses are protected against unsolicited marketing messages by The Privacy and Electronics Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR). This covers marketing by phone, fax, email, text and so on. Companies using any kind of telemarketing methods need to avoid contacting numbers listed by the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS). Failure to do so risks a complaint to the ICO, with all of its unpleasant consequences!

Make sure you ask potential providers what checks they have in place to ensure compliance with the PECR. You’ll want to hear that their telephone numbers are screened regularly against the CTPS register.

4. Are they DMA members?

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is an industry association that provides around a thousand of its members with free research, advice and guidance. Crucially, for our purposes, members have to sign up to the DMA’s code of conduct. In addition to upholding any legal requirements concerning data, the code requires its members to:

- Respect privacy

- Be honest and fair

- Be diligent with data

- Take responsibility

As a potential purchaser, you would certainly want your data provider to fulfil all these criteria.

At the least, DMA membership demonstrates that the company is willing to pay for a professional membership and aspire to a customer-centered and ethical way of working. Look out for the DMA logo on a data provider’s site, then be sure to check with the DMA that the company is actually a member.

5. Where do the providers obtain their data?

Legitimate data providers gather their data from a number of sources, including online information, publicly registered data (e.g. from Companies House), and data licensing. They may also use other data vendors – which is fine, provided that they are able to guarantee the data’s accuracy.

Demanding to know a data provider’s precise sources may not be reasonable – after all, every business has its methods, and they shouldn’t be forced to disclose all of them to you. However, they should at least be able to explain their fundamental processes. If they can’t do that without beating around the bush, there are plenty of other providers available!

6. What else can they do with your data?

A good data provider will be able to do more than simply provide a list of new contacts. They will have the resources and knowledge to mine your data for valuable information. This can then be used to look for new growth opportunities.

For example, the provider may be able to analyse the characteristics of your ideal customers, such as the size and turnover of the company they work for, their geographic location, their job title and their buying patterns. This profile can then be used as a template, and the provider should be able to provide lists of new prospects that match the specified criteria. This can result in much more targeted marketing, resulting in a higher return on your investment.

Looking for a data provider can be daunting. Remember to speak with various providers, do your due diligence, and use the checklist above.

Finding the right partner is hard work, but it’s certainly rewarding when you get it right. Partnering with the right data provider can transform your marketing strategy delivering huge business rewards. On the flip side, making the wrong choice can lead to a marketing disaster.

Here at Data HQ, we have a team of data experts who are waiting to answer your questions. We’re available by phone, email, or via our web form – just contact us for a free consultation.

Further reading: Data HQ's complete guide to data quality

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