Using prospect databases to manage b-to-b leads

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The United States Postal Service has boosted response rates for b-to-b mailings by targeting them to the right executives and by streamlining its prospect database.

In the past, information about b-to-b prospects who registered for USPS seminars, completed surveys, requested information on the company's Web site or called the Postal Service was filed in separate databases. After it began using prospect databases, however, the Postal Service was able to better tailor its messaging to potential customers.

Now, all the contact information is entered into one database, where profiles and values are assigned to each of the various prospects. Specific mailings are then sent to targeted executives at ad agencies, media planning firms and others.

Prospect databases are typically overlooked by b-to-b marketers because leads come from several different sources and are handled by different salespeople within the organization, says Pamela Pearson, VP-CRM strategy at Harte-Hanks.

"You need to start managing databases from a prospect management perspective," Pearson said. "We need to qualify and distribute leads and prospects based on their value to the organization."

USPS has also been mailing literature to the right prospects in a creative, consistent manner over the past couple of years, said Patrick O'Connell, advertising specialist at the Postal Service, at the NCDM conference last month in Orlando, Fla. At one time, he said, USPS was sending the same mailing with the same messaging (urging businesses to increase their use of direct mail) to "millions" of prospects. The response rate was around 1%.

"It was a very wide focus; they were talking to a lot of businesses at once. Convincing a business to use direct mail is not a one-off-type message," said Guy Kostakis, VP- director of government and nonprofit markets at Harte-Hanks, while speaking at a session at the NCDM conference.

USPS conducted focus groups with ad agencies, media planning firms and others, to determine who makes the decisions within the companies and which messages are important.

"I rediscovered my target audience," O'Connell said. "I have direct marketing folks who operate very differently [than other businesses.] They have a lot of different communication objectives they are trying to address."

O'Connell now sends mailings to a prospect database of about 350,000 potential customers and sends different, targeted mailings to the various job functions within each company. As a result, response rates on certain b-to-b campaigns jumped from 1% in 2004 to 4.3%— 4.66 % in 2005 and 2006.

USPS' prospect database also became more targeted, tracking prospects by company, prospects' duties and overlapping duties, and which products or services a company is most interested in.

In assigning values to prospects, USPS does not necessarily rank them by size of company. "In 2004, people on the smaller end were responding better to me than the big ones like Wal-Mart. But I don't want to give up on the big ones that have billions and billions of dollars to spend," O'Connell says. That's where the marketing team focused on getting mailings to the right personnel within corporations.

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