11.13.2007

The Importance of a Customer Mailing List

A customer mailing list is vitally important to any service industry. Competition in today's marketplace is fierce. As a shop owner, you can no longer sit back and feel secure that your business will continue as it always has, nor can you rely on customer loyalty. There will always be new repair shops, collision centers, dealers and chain stores moving to your area and offering their services to your customers. They may have better pricing, more convenient hours or just better marketing than you do. The important thing is to keep your business in the "limelight" and your name frequently in front of your customers.

How do you do this? The most effective and economical way is through direct mail. You definitely get more for your money when you use this venue for marketing your business. Direct mail is a great way to stay in touch with your current customers. Direct mail lets you keep them up-to-date on special offers or announcements such as better service or equipment. This will make them less likely to try out the competition.

For prospective customers, repetition is important. You need to mail at least four times a year to current customers and prospects for maximum impact and to enhance the effectiveness of your message. Being a service industry (like doctors, dentists, plumbers, and heating and air conditioning specialists) you don't need to bombard your customers with mail like retailers do. Too much of a good thing can backfire on you. A good rule of thumb is a minimum of four and a maximum of eight times a year. Too often businesses do one mailing, when things are slow, and decide it didn't work for them. This does not give a true picture of what direct mail can do for you. As with all forms of advertising, repetition is your key to success and this is certainly true when it comes to direct mail. Be persistent - it will pay off!

Mailing to Current Customers

One of the first questions you need to decide when doing direct mail is who to mail to. Your own customer base is the best place to start. They already know who you are so it is a soft-sell approach. It is much easier to keep a customer than to get a new one. More and more shop owners are seeing the value of having a workable customer base, but we still have a long way to go. Many repair facilities either can't get their customer list out of their current management software, are not keeping good records, or even worse, don't even have a computer. If you do have access to your existing customer list and it is up-to-date, direct mail is without question your best option. You have more flexibility in content, design and timing, and of course, your marketing will be highly targeted and more cost-effective.

Mailing to Prospective Customers

To mail successfully to prospective customers, you need a plan. First, decide who your prospects are. You want to target the right audience and there are many categories from which to choose. Second, what do you hope to accomplish with this mailing (more revenue, name recognition, etc.)? More than likely, you will need to purchase your list from a "list compiler." There are four list choices:

  1. Consumer Lists
  2. Business Lists
  3. Resident/Occupant Lists
  4. New Movers List

Consumer lists include more than 86 million households and more than 140 million individuals. These names have been compiled by many sources such as catalog sales, warranty cards, mortgage data and many other sources.

Business lists (includes professionals) are compiled and updated monthly from sources such as the Yellow Pages directories or business credit reports, among others.

Resident/occupant lists consists of more than 100 million households. They include all residential addresses including post office boxes and rural routes. These work great for saturation mailings.

New mover lists are exactly that. They include all the new movers that have come into your area within a month's time. About 20 percent of the population becomes new movers each year.

Which List Type Is Best for You?

It depends on what you are hoping to accomplish. For example, if you decide you want to mail to homeowners with an income level of $60,000+ in a three-mile radius around your shop, you would need to purchase a consumer list. A consumer list lets you choose certain criteria including income, homeowner, households with children, ethnic households, students, renters and age.

If you were interested in fleet work, you should purchase a business list. Again, you can choose certain criteria including employee size, sales volume, executive title and type of business.

If you can't decide whom to target, a saturation mailing is a good way to start. You would need to purchase a resident/occupant list. You can select a specific ZIP code, mail delivery route or specific radius around your location. Instead of a named individual at the address, it goes to "resident" or "occupant."

A new movers list gives you the opportunity to invite new prospective customers to your shop before they find the competition. You subscribe to this service and are given new names each month. New movers establish their buying habits within the first three months following their move. New movers response rates typically double that of normal direct mail.

Design Is Important

The design of your mail piece is important. Make sure it is something that will make your customers or prospects react. Don't just list your business hours and location and expect a response.

The more personal the piece, the higher the response rate.
Include a call to action, such as "offer only good until the end of the month."
Offer a free gift to prospects using your service for the first time.

Testing a Mailing

Consider your first mailing a test. If your response is less than 1 percent, chances are your mailer isn't grabbing your recipients' attention or your prices are too high. If your response is 2 percent or higher, you are on the right track.

Where to Find Your Lists

  • List Brokers - see Yellow Pages under "Mailing Services," "List Brokers," or "Mailing Lists." List brokers are specialists in this field and are willing to help you get the list you need.
  • Chamber of Commerce - Most chambers will sell a member directory or offer the directory as part of their membership package. This is better if you are targeting businesses.
  • Community Newspapers - Call the community paper and ask for the person in charge of mailing lists.

When Prospects Become Customers

It is a great feeling when your prospecting pays off and you strike gold with a new customer! It is a lot harder to get a new customer than to keep a current one. Be sure to move your new customer from your prospect list to your customer database at this point. Purchased lists definitely have their purpose and when properly used are a remarkable tool. Keep building your mailing list, take care of your customers - both old and new - and don't take any customer's business for granted.

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