Striking Gold

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What happens when a company pursues worthless leads? Time and money go down the drain. Waltham, Mass.-based iMarket's solid-gold response to that problem is MarketPlace Gold, a tool that allows businesses of all stripes to match a list of customers, leads or Web registrants with an onboard database of 12 million businesses and immediately start marketing to them. The result? A useable list of thousands of prospects in a fraction of the time and money it would take to farm the project out. "We don't know anybody that does this exactly this way," says Tom Gaither, iMarket's vice president of customer marketing. "The nearest competitors, really, are substitutes--a service bureau with some reporting capability. There really is no competition."

In April, iMarket, a 10-year-old company with 95 employees, merged with Dun & Bradstreet, a provider of business information. That merger means iMarket customers have a huge database to work with, enabling them to zero in on new customers and understand more about customers they already have. "Once I know more about my existing customers or leads, then I want to find more prospects out there in the marketplace that look most like my best customers," Gaither says. "MarketPlace Gold allows me to do that with a click of a button."

Specifically, iMarket products use standard industry classification (SIC) codes that sort businesses by category and size to match client customer lists with prospective clients in the marketplace. MarketPlace Gold allows customers--most commonly management consultants--to sort those files on their own desktops. Once that task is complete, the customer can launch right into a marketing campaign using their new prospect list to complete the task.

MarketPlace Gold comes with software that Gaither describes as "pretty scaleable" for any Pentium-class PC. The standard $7,900 package comes with 1,000 records. Additional records can be purchased in a minimum lot size of 1,000 for about 10 cents a record. "You don't need anything else," Gaither says of MarketPlace Gold. "It comes with our prospecting tool...and once you do your analysis, you can turn around and create a list."

Gaither says a "fast machine" can process about 100,000 records in an hour, and a more standard PC can do about 10,000 in the same period. He compares the cost of MarketPlace Gold with what it would cost to send those same records out for processing. "Let's just say the basic information would cost you 10 cents a record--which would add up fast," Gaither says. "Then you would need to get access to what is basically an abstract file of information, and you would analyze or compare that information. For any provider to be able to do that would cost you $20,000--a lot of money."

In addition to management consultants, Gaither says iMarket customers tend to be "small to [midsize] businesses" interested in "having maximum control and production from their desk tops." In that setting, he says MarketPlace Gold is ideal for a marketing department or "a sales group in a remote office." He adds, "I would say it's a department solution, not an enterprise solution."

Golden Eagle

One company taking the departmental approach is Eagle Equipment of Norton, Mass., which hit gold with a marketing and prospecting solution from iMarket. Twenty-year-old Eagle Equipment specializes in above-ground automotive lifts, alignment equipment, wheel balancers, compressors, transmission tracks and oil drains for small and midsize auto garages, vendors who sell to garages and high-end car owners who like to tinker on their own. To reach that varied pool of clients, the company mails out a 40-page four-color catalog four times a year. Producing a catalog like that is expensive, and since Eagle's average order is $2,500, the company's customer base is "fairly low," says Marc DelCheccolo, Eagle's marketing manager.

Even so, repeated catalog mailings are an effective way for a company like Eagle to recruit and retain customers. "With most of our direct marketing, we do feel we need to continue to get our efforts in front of new people--and the same people--over and over again," DelCheccolo says. "When someone gets our 40-page, four-color catalog, they may look at it and stuff it the first time. The idea is to get them in front of it several times."

For Eagle, iMarket offered an in-house tool for increasing the company's customer base only by those prospects likely to buy something. Using iMarket software, Eagle is able to target prospective customers by SIC codes that sort businesses by category and size. The company can then winnow those selections down to customers as specific as automotive shops with two or more employees with the ability to fix up to five cars in their garage. The result? This spring Eagle generated a per-catalog order 1.25 times greater than the break-even sales rate. Specifically, Eagle needed to generate $1,517 in sales from every thousand catalogs mailed. In the end, it generated $1,874. The company is even continuing to get responses from iMarket-generated catalog mailings from a year ago.

And this upward trend only continued. Eagle's September 2000 catalog mailing generated sales of $2,372 per thousand catalogs mailed. The break-even point for that mailing was $1,850. DelCheccolo says he appreciates the relative ease of using iMarket's products. While mailing lists from automotive magazines allow customers to use their list just once, iMarket allows clients to use its list "an unlimited time for a 12-month period," he says. That factor alone makes a huge difference to a small company like Eagle.

DelCheccolo is also pleased with how iMarket handled the problem of a CD, which arrived scratched from iMarket through no fault of the company. "I called up the [toll free] number, and they FedEx'ed a new CD at no cost," DelCheccolo says. Ironically, Eagle started using iMarket's products because he wasn't satisfied with the solutions offered by another company. "The quality wasn't there."

Now, he's thrilled with iMarket's huge database and the success Eagle's enjoyed from access to a plethora of potential customers. "We're making money on a rental, which is unheard of," DelCheccolo says.

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