The List Industry Should Turn to the Web

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Many direct marketers wanting to begin their campaigns right away no longer want to wait for list counts and marketing data that were ordered hours, if not days, ago.


Instead, they increasingly are turning to the Internet to make real-time queries, get their counts and download the data they need on the same day they place the count.


Welcome to the world of e-commerce, mailing list style, where your traditional hours of operation no longer should be an issue for clients.


The list industry is aggressively positioned in the business-to-business marketplace using offline channels. Why not fully leverage yourself in the online BTB marketplace, which Forrester Research reports will soar to $2.7 trillion in 2004?


Every other industry is feverishly rushing to incorporate online BTB into their sales channels. Over the next five years, Forrester projects that "these emerging online venues will capture more than 50 percent of online business trade in the United States, redefining the nature of business-to-business relationships in the process."


The online research firm could have been talking about the list industry when it recently reported that "e-marketplaces are rapidly infiltrating a wide variety of industries by attacking inefficient trading processes built on phone, fax and EDI communications."


Making lists and data available on your Web site 24 hours a day, seven days a week makes sense for the list industry, and it benefits both companies and clients.


Here are some of the ways:


Need a count at 1 a.m. for a campaign presentation later that day? No problem. Clients can log on to your Web site and immediately register to do business. They then can search for the demographics they need and know right away how many potential customers are in their marketing universe. They can download the data right away, paying for their lists by credit card or through an established account.


Companies save internal resources and staff time. Clients more often than not need and want more than one count. Each new count means that your list sales and customer support staff are working as count processors, instead of consulting with clients. Online count and order access means that your customers can run as many counts as they want, making your staff available to offer them better data recommendations and support.


You shorten your sales cycle. The whole count and order process now takes less time to complete from start to finish, and your clients are equally pleased because they can compress their own direct marketing schedules.


Lists via the Internet are just the thing for an industry that has always screamed for bigger, faster and "It needed to be in the mail yesterday."


Use some caution when setting up your e-commerce solution:


* Be specific about the type of data you are offering.


* Give a clear understanding of what clients can legally do with the data they are buying.


* Be up-front about cost.


* Give several chances for clients to back out before you accept their payment online.


* Address privacy issues. If you are offering data that conflicts with privacy issues, let them know.


It used to be good enough for customer service representatives to take a query over the phone or by fax, do the research, maybe wait a few days for answers and then get back to customers. Now, with a click of the mouse, clients could get the same information from your Web site much more quickly. That speeds up the entire direct marketing timetable, which translates into more sales.


Just think of the impact your company can have with a full e-commerce site. Properly done, your e-commerce business can serve more than 100 customers simultaneously.


What does not have to change is the customer service aspect that forms the foundation of any successful business. Account consultants still will be available during regular service hours to advise customers about their list options and assist them in making the best choices for their target markets. If anything, your customer satisfaction and retention will improve.


At first, some of your existing customers are going to shy away from an online count/order system because of online inexperience or fear of technology.


That shyness will fade over time -- and more rapidly than gradually. When clients realize the control they have over when and where their business is done, they will see the real benefit.


The list industry needs to realize this change quickly and move in the so-called "24/7" direction.


Don't get caught up in old habits and continue to rely on the way things have always been done. Remember what business you are really in, or redefine it if you have to. Your customers are looking for and finding e-commerce solutions for many other facets of their businesses. The rest of us need to keep up and make ourselves compatible and available to work in that arena. Otherwise, customers are going to look elsewhere to solve their business needs. This is what more and more customers are asking for. Prepare for it now; don't be left behind.
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