Facebook Twitter



What's the big difference between a successful direct marketing campaign and a poor one? Usually, it's how good a list of names you mail to or phone.

Computerized databases of businesses used to cost $50,000, or at least a dime a name for names in selected zip codes, phone area codes, or SIC categories. Now you can practically buy them out of petty cash.Here's how to get targeted names, all ready for mail-merge, without spending time and money you don't have.

If your firm is securely old-tech (no modems, no CD-ROM), use HotLine plus an add-on called HotLine National Directory. Then you can combine your own contacts with names taken from many phone directories.

Supplied on floppies (and used in our firm for many years), HotLine manages contacts and automates phone dialing. It exports records in delimited ASCII, which most databases and word processors accept.

National Directory is HotLine's large add-on database of business listings: names, addresses, phone numbers and SIC codes. You can load it all on a network, or just specific professions or industries. Once loaded, HotLine can search and sort the list by city, state, zip code, area code, or SIC number for direct-mail or phone prospecting.

Biz*File is a very useful online database if you own a modem and telecom software. We access it through CompuServe, but other online services also offer it. Compiled from directories, its data and search parameters are equal to HotLine's.

Depending on criteria selected, and on modem and software speeds, names cost from a quarter-cent to a penny apiece. But since you must specify a geographic search region, it's most useful for compiling local names, not wide-area lists.

PhoneDisc USA Business comes on CD-ROM, with many more names than HotLine National Directory. It has good accessing software, but your license limits you to 250 names/month. An electronic policeman keeps you from copying more than 250 names at once.

If you need bigger mail or phone lists, vendor Digital Directory Assistance suggests contacting its database supplier, Database America.

We suggest that you buy ProCD's selectPHONE instead. Its four CD-ROM disks list nearly every US residence and business with a phone.

The business listings show SIC category, company name, address, phone, number of employees, and date the data was compiled by hired hands in Beijing. Pro CD says it updates quarterly, but about one in ten names was revised last in 1992 or '93.

We'd love it if the disks also showed top executives' names and titles, but that would be icing on the cake.

Each disk covers East, West, South or Central US Most folks use just one disk. Still, we recommend this package rather than directPHONE, a condensed, two-disk version. You can search it on any field but number of employees or date of last update, while directPHONE is searchable only by "name."

We have some reservations about this package. The software for accessing names is awful. Entering selection criteria is awkward, slow, and very confusing. Businesses are miscategorized. For instance, searching for lawyers by SIC, we got some filling stations and physicians, too.

Phone company abbreviations are awkward and inelegant. And all names, streets, cities and all other data are in all-capitals. While our word processing program converts in a snap to upper-and lower-case, yours may not.

ProCD also makes freePHONE, which lists all the US 800 numbers. We use it to find free order numbers of computer hardware and software makers, but before publishing any number here, we double-check that it's still in service.

Whichever computerized name-and-address database you buy, it can do double-duty if you use it to cut down on those 60-cent 555-1212 phone calls. It's also handy for finding companies or people when you know just part of a name, address or phone number.

In our comparison tests, we found that PhoneDisc USA Business lists more than twice as many accounting and bookkeeping services (SIC 8721) as selectPHONE. HotLine has one-tenth the names in PhoneDisc. Biz*File stores data so names aren't easily counted, but comparative sampling suggests that it's as thorough as PhoneDisc.

SelectPHONE entries have the most errors, PhoneDisc and Biz*File the least.