How many sources of business data do you know? Do you know where to go to get a list of businesses that may want to buy your product or service? Do you know where to find out what type of businesses may buy your product or service? There are excellent sources of data you can obtain cheaply or even for free.
As someone who helps businesses use data to improve their marketing, I field many questions about lists and data sources. Let's take a look at business data sources, email lists, and my favorite free data source.
Business data sources are similar to consumer data information sources in many ways. Both provide information at either an aggregate or individual level. However, instead of demographic information about households (e.g., income, family size, credit scores, ethnicity, etc.), business data sources provide information on the industry the company is in (e.g., Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code or North American Industrial Classification (NAIC) code), the number of employees it has, and revenues.
Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) is perhaps the best-known business information provider. D&B files contain information on millions of U.S. businesses and provide information such as SIC code, number of employees, revenues, and credit risks. D&B even started its own eight-digit classification system before the advent of NAIC codes. If you need a list of companies in a specific industry in a specific region, D&B can provide it.
Alternately, provide D&B with a list of your business customers, and it'll append its information to your file and return it. You can conduct an analysis of your customer base incorporating the variables D&B has on file for your customers.
Abacus provides both consumer and business information. You may not know the company by name, but you know its work. It's the reason you receive piles of holiday catalogs in your mailbox, even if you only ordered from "just that one catalog, just that one time!"
Now a division of DoubleClick, Abacus-Direct is the coordinating company for an alliance of mail-order catalogers. Companies share their lists through the alliance, so if you order from one catalog, your name is shared with all the others.
The long-standing success of the catalog alliance prompted Abacus-Direct to launch a similar business alliance.
infoUSA is another source of useful lists, with information on over 14 million U.S. and Canadian businesses. Like D&B, it can provide lists of prospects or append its data to your customer list. Unlike D&B, infoUSA collects some information from Yellow Pages and business white page telephone directories. It calls businesses to check and confirm additional company information.
A number of list brokers manage niche market lists. Lists are available covering things such as college-bound students, recent movers, even those who bought a specific type of boat three years ago. Finding the best list may take some work. But know there may be a good list out there somewhere, just waiting for you to try it.
Many sources and brokers will help you obtain the right one. Direct Media and infoUSA have expertise in specialized lists, including opt-in email lists, female executive lists, and home-business lists. A search for "list brokers" leads to many more sources.
Local, state, and federal government agencies produce business and consumer lists, including lists of companies that have obtained certain licenses. The "who bought a specific type of boat" list cited above is an example of data that interests boat marketers. Such information is often made available by the boat owner's state game and wildlife department. Although local and state agencies provide regional information, my favorite free data source provides nationwide data.
The U.S. Census provides geographic and demographic information (e.g., income, ethnicity, own/rent, etc.) that gives you a better understanding of your customers and helps pinpoint areas where your customers are. Though the Census Bureau doesn't provide information on individual households, it does provide information at a specific-enough level to be useful. Data are aggregated to the block group level, which is much more specified than a Zip Code but not as specific as the Zip+4 level.
Census data are free, but you won't get it in a readily usable format. Depending on your application, you can either invest time manipulating the data into a useable format or spend money with a company that's already put it in better shape.
Unless you have a very specialized product and find a very, very specialized list, commercially available email lists often aren't cost effective. Many list brokers are happy to sell you an email list. Some major services (including Experian) will append email addresses to your customer file (with a 15-30 percent match rate). If you're considering entering the world of spam, search "email list broker." You'll understand why spam is such an enormous problem. [See ClickZ's E-Mail Reference for best practices. -- Eds.]
Use Information to Grow
Companies hoping to grow their businesses (very few aren't) may want to take advantage of some of the business information and list sources mentioned above. Testing and finding the right source can prove to be very valuable.
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