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How To Find A Reliable Source of Mailing Lists

by Mike Adams

When I set up the Professional Mailing Service 2 years ago it wasnít because I had seen a gap in the market. I just wanted a cheap and effective system for sorting through mailing lists to find the most responsive 10% and what their interests were. As no-one was offering a service like it at the time, I was forced to start one myself. The longer Iím in business the more I realise that providing quality mailshare and mailing lists is not a gap in the market, but a gaping chasm. How can there be such an insatiable appetite for mailing lists when there are literally hundreds of list sources (brokers, sellers, renters, agents and exchangers) around? You may well ask.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of lists, but good ones that will make you a profit barely make double figures. What follows should help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

List Brokers

First, let us get some definitions straight. Many people call everyone who rents mailing lists, a "list broker". Not so. A broker is a middleman like an insurance broker, or stockbroker. A broker buys, sells and exchanges lists with all sorts of people. The problem with this is that the broker may not know:

  1. How the names were generated.

  2. How old they were when he got them.

  3. Where they came from.

  4. Worst of all he may not care about 1, 2 or 3.

How does a broker start out? He may have 500 names from his own advertising. These are probably good names. He calls another broker and arranges an exchange, 500 for 500 or maybe 500 for 1000. Exchanges with another 1500 for 3000, and another 4,500 for 9,000. Before long, he has a database of 25,000 or 50,000. It looks very impressive in sales literature. I know I was impressed by this when I started out.

The truth is that having 500 good names and 49,500 rubbish names is no good to anyone: it will also guarantee that this broker gets no repeat business, unless the customer buys less than 500 names. Though this will not be much of a consolation when you have sent the guy £200 for 2000 names and wasted a further £800 mailing them. All good businesses are only profitable because of repeat business and referrals from happy customers.

Talking to Gerry Tarbuck last month, he made an interesting comment. "Besides not being able to sleep at night, conning people just wouldnít make economic sense. My business would not make a profit at all if I had no repeat customers. Iím too lazy to be a con-merchant: itís too much like hard work!" I hadnít thought of it quite like that before but I know exactly what Gerry means. As most businesses take a year or more to come into profit, how could you ever achieve this by alienating every customer you ever get?

Play The Detective

That said, not all list brokers are bad. I can only recommend one from personal experience. I like the look of one other because he gives the original sources of the lists available.

Generally, I would have to say, stay away from brokers if you are a beginner in mail order. Donít deal with people operating from a post office box, or worse still an accommodation address. If the telephone number is a mobile phone, or you always end up with the answer phone whatever time of day you call, then you are dealing with a person who thinks like a drug dealer not a businessperson. STAY AWAY!

Never - ever - buy a list from someone without talking to them first. Ask lots of questions and make sure you get answers. Lots of 'ummms' and 'ahhhhs' usually means - hang on while I think up a plausible lie. Think about the answers, do they "add up"? Never deal with telesales people especially if they call you! They may be nice genuine people, but they are trained to make a sale and will know absolutely nothing about the list they are selling you or if it is suitable for your needs. A novice will be reassured that if the company they are dealing with is big enough to have staff, then it should have large high-quality lists. Maybe? Maybe not! If this is the case, you should ask to speak to the owner of the business and ask him your questions.

I made all these mistakes myself this spring. First, I asked for the info pack. A nice glossy magazine arrived with reassuringly expensive list prices. This is fine and the next two characteristics impressed me at the time, but would now set alarm bells ringing: they claimed to have a database of 300,000, and you only get to talk to sales staff.

The Broker Pretending Not To Be A Broker

This is the most dangerous beast of all in the mail order business. The give-away is the outrageous size of the database - anything over 2000 should raise your suspicions. The best source of lists for the novice mail order dealer to start with would be your favourite business opportunity magazines, or the people who last sold you a manual you were impressed with. Any honest editor or dealer will give a truthful answer to the size of their mailing list. It might be 500, 1000 or perhaps 1,500 names less than a year old. Lists over a year old will only be around half as good as a 3-month-old list. Personally I would much rather go to an honest source knowing that Iím mailing a high quality list that is over a year old, than be sold a "3 month" list that is really 3 years old and totally unsuitable for my offer.

Of course, some companies do generate tens of thousands of enquiries each year. You will have heard of them because they mail you something almost every month and they have adverts running constantly in every high circulation magazine and newspaper in the country.

So now, letís go back and look at my mistake with the benefit of hindsight. I had never heard of this company before despite being on business opportunity mailing lists for the past 3 or 4 years. Remember it takes a serious mail order dealer to achieve over 1000 enquiries in a year.

Conclusion - This list was either up to 150 years old, or it had been bought, sold and exchanged with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country. The latter in this case being the most likely, as the former would mean that two thirds of the list would be dead, let alone gone away.

Like most other sources they did have 1,000 good names. They were fantastic in fact. Two months later we used 4,000. They were supposed to be less than 3 months old, just like the first 1000. This list turned out to be (if youíll excuse my French) so crap that we would have had to mail 6,000 to get the same response as the first 1,000. In other words, they had 1000 names that would make you money and 299,000 that would lose you money.

If P.M.S. clients had done this mailing on their own rather than through the Service, the first mailing of 1,000 would have probably made them 100% profit. A second mailing of 6,000 would have only covered one third of the costs.

Getting Good Lists

The best list should be acquired from people running their business in a similar field to you. Lists that have come directly from their own advertising or mailings. The down side to this is that once you find a reliable source you will quickly work through a small list and then have to find another one. However, you will now have a foot in the door. Get to know your list supplier and he will be able to give you other reliable people to contact.

Questions To Ask


How many names do you generate in a year?


How do you prevent duplications?


Are you registered with Data Protection?


Where do you advertise? (Check this at the newsagent - no need to buy anything.)


Where do you rent lists for your own use?


Can you send information about your mailing lists? (Not just "Our lists are the Best" plus the price list like most sources.)


Ask for the advertising copy used. They may be attracting totally the wrong type of person.


Ask to be put on their mailing list to receive their next mailing - as above.

Issue 1, Friday 3rd March 2000






If you would like a free information pack
on how you could use P.M.S.
to cut your business costs by up to 90%,

Send 4 x 2nd class stamps to Mike at:

Professional Mailing Services (CNW),
Wrexham, LL12 8ZZ

Tel: 01978 852 709