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Greg Hoerner needs a lot of names—actually, he needs millions of them every month.

As VP of Diamond Media Group in Holiday, Fla., Hoerner is in charge of buying e-mail prospects lists for the aggressive e-mail marketing programs of Diamond Media, a marketing and advertising company that specializes in working with automotive dealers and agencies.

But Hoerner says that all e-mail lists are not alike, and the quality of a particular list has little to do with its price. Instead, he follows a few simple rules to get the best lists possible.

“I've used countless list vendors,” Hoerner said. “They used to call every week trying to sell lists.”

Over time, Hoerner said he figured out that the closer he was to the raw data source, the better the list. That means no list brokers; he only deals with list aggregators that collect raw records themselves or buy records directly from source Web sites.

Hoerner is also faithful to trusted vendors: He buys lists from two, and neither is a list broker.

“Ninety-nine percent of the companies out there are brokers,” said Andrew Marcus, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Media One. Media One is a list aggregator that collects raw records direct from Web sites. “If I were buying a list, I'd want to get as close to the source as I could. I wouldn't want five brokers in the deal.”

This is especially true because brokered lists are often more expensive—each broker adds a markup but doesn't necessarily improve the product.

“In my opinion, a broker is someone who sells something they don't [own],” said James Alamia, president of Route72.com in West Caldwell, N.J. Route72.com is also a list aggregator that gets records directly from Web sites. “Brokers are getting their lists from someone else, putting a margin on it and reselling it.”

One quick way to tell if you're dealing with a broker or a true aggregator is to ask about their real-time counts, Alamia said.

“If they can ascertain a real-time count right away, I would know they're an aggregator,” Alamia said. “If they have to call me back the next day, I'd know they were a broker because that means they have to call the source.”

Once purchased, e-mail lists are typically measured by their deliverability rates, Marcus said.

“There's no such thing as a 100%-deliverable list,” Marcus said, referring to the fact that even the best list contains some bad e-mail records. “If the list is 85% deliverable, people are pretty happy.”

For Diamond Media, finding out the deliverability rate usually means testing out a new vendor with a few lists and closely watching performance. If the deliverability drops or if it's unusually low, the list is probably old or it wasn't thoroughly cleaned of bad records.

Deliverability guarantees are hard to find, but some list vendors will offer guarantees to their b-to-b customers. Route72.com, for example, guarantees at least a 90% deliverability rate, assuming that the client's broadcast methods are correct. If deliverability falls below that level, the company will “cover those bounces.”

In general, no list vendor can guarantee a certain open rate or click-through rate based on the list alone. These critical metrics are affected by too many variables, including the subject line, content, distribution method, timing and nature of the campaign.

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