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Established 2009

Selects, Output Fields and Counts – How to Buy a Prospect List Intelligently


So, you need to order a mailing list for a direct mail or related campaign. Nothing could be simpler, right? After all, you just need somebody to send you a bunch of names and addresses.

Unfortunately, the reality of purchasing a list that will produce the desired results is a bit more complicated than it might seem. The following tips will help clarify the process so that you can go into it with eyes wide open.

A Note on List Structure

99% of lists are delivered to you in a format similar to how they would be stored in a database, namely in a “record and field” structure. A brief explanation of each of these terms is a follows:

analogous to “rows” in popular database software applications like MS Access or MS Excel, a record is one contact person’s (or company’s) set of data. One contact = one record. Your list will have 100s or as many as 10,000s of records.

Fields: analogous to “columns” in database software applications, a field is the type of data available about each record, such as name, address, etc. Your list will likely have 7-15 or more fields.

Choose Your Selects

Before you call your list provider to order a list, the first thing you need to do is decide what type of prospects you are looking for. This is where the “selects” come in. The selects are the filters or criteria that your provider will use to narrow down the universe of all possible prospects. Typical selects for consumer lists are:

location (usually state, city, zip codes, or radius around a point)
income range
age range
segmentation cluster (for hyper-targeting your best prospects)

Meanwhile, typical selects for Business Lists are:

company sales volume
company employee size
SIC or NAICS (industry) code

There are many, many more possible selects than what is shown above. Work with your provider to choose selects that target those prospects who are most likely to buy from you. It is important to note that your desired selects are not necessarily the same as your desired output fields, but the two may overlap. Output fields are discussed next.


Choose Your Output Fields

Once you have chosen your selects – or filters by which your prospects are chosen for your list – it is time to decide exactly what types of data about each prospect you will need in your final list. These are the output fields (see the note on fields above). Typical output fields include:

company name (if a business list)
postal code
phone number
carrier route codes

but may also include more fields, including one or more of the fields used in your selects, such as:

income range (consumer list)
age range (consumer list)
company sales volumne (business list)
SIC or NAICS code (business list)

Since you have already added a filter via the selects you chose earlier, the output records you receive will only contain data that is within the ranges that match your selects. In other words, if your selects included targeting only those prospects in Colorado, then no prospects outside of Colorado would be included in your final list. Common sense, but worth mentioning.

Record Counts

Finally, decide how many records you want to buy. This is a bit of a chicken and egg issue. Reason: you will need to have your list provider initially “run some counts” using your given selects in order to find out the maximum number of possible records that match your select criteria. If the result is more records than you require, you will want to come up with more focused selects by narrowing some of the ranges. Conversely, if you require more records, you will want to increase those ranges and re-run the counts.

Once you have the counts that match your needs – and provided that the price is right – it’s time to order your list. The final list will be sent to you usually as a .txt or .csv file. You can open these fields to inspect them using MS Excel, MS Access, or other popular database software applications. Be sure to check the final list to make sure it matches all of your desired criteria.

Now it’s time to go after those new prospects. Happy hunting!