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Count on NextMark – from 48 hours to 5 seconds

Medieval counting

Running counts is an intrinsic part of the mailing list rental process. In most cases, you don't want to order all the names on a mailing list. Instead, you only want to order a targeted subset of a list (e.g. "only those with the job title of CIO with an address in New England and employee size greater than 100"). This naturally leads to the question "how many names meet my criteria?" This is what's known as a count request.

Servicing these count requests should be quick and easy, right? Unfortunately, that's not the case today.

I've been interviewing list companies to explore the process of servicing these counts requests. I have found that the industry standard is to turn around count requests within 48 hours.  This means that the requester (usually a list broker) has to wait up to 48 hours before they get their answer back.  This process is repeated until a suitable quantity is selected.

Why does it take 48 hours to get a count?

48 hours seems like an extraordinarily long time for a relatively quick and easy task.  After all, in many cases, it takes less than 5 seconds to run a count query.  But delays are introduced by the process through which these requests are handled.  Nobody gets paid for running a count and, as a result, servicing real orders takes priority over servicing count requests. The count requests and associated responses get queued up at the list manager and service bureau.  It only takes a few minutes to service the request, but each step may take hours due to the delay in getting to the request in the queue.

The price you pay for slow counts

Ask any list broker and they'll unload their frustration in getting answers to count requests.  Many brokers agree, "it would be wonderful just to get an answer the same day!"  Getting the count is a barrier to a sale. To make matters worse, their client doesn't understand why it takes "so darn long to get an answer to a simple question." So, the list broker appears incompetent and makes no money waiting on counts.

Every list company employs people who spend part of their time or all of their time chasing down counts.  One list company executive told me "85% of my people get involved with servicing count requests."  This is very expensive when you consider the full cost of your employees' time (salary, benefits, office space, etc.).  But it's even more expensive when you consider the opportunity cost of taking time away from selling and providing value added services to your clients (by the way, no client sees running a count as a value added service).

The other less tangible problem — but perhaps more economically significant – is the impact on marketing effectiveness caused by slow counts.  With the current process, it's virtually impossible to perform "what if" analysis on list segments. To meet deadlines, you place your order when you get "in the ballpark" of your desired target audience.  This attitude certainly reduces response rates and return on marketing investments.

Why existing online counts systems don't work

Some enterprising service bureaus have built interfaces that enable list managers to run their own counts online.  This is a great idea for the service bureaus because it eliminates their cost and delays in this process.

However, these online systems provided by service bureaus do not solve the problem because they do not address the root of the problem — efficient request handling.  List brokers cannot configure and submit counts requests efficiently and the requests still get queued up at the list manager. So, the process is still slow.  In fact, the 48 hours turnaround standard actually assumes that the list manager has access to online counts systems for a significant portion of their count requests.

List managers don't want to use all these different counts systems.  In addition to their own data card and order entry systems, they have to log into all these other systems to run their counts – a different one for every service bureau they work with.  Some list companies work with 20 service bureaus or more! Not only is it a hassle to learn and use all these different systems, the chances of making a mistake are almost a sure thing.

Connecting data cards to the data

List brokers and list managers rely on data cards as the standard way of exchanging information about a mailing list. Many data cards contain static counts of key segments. However, today's data cards are disconnected from the underlying data.

Connecting data cards to the data through a universal counts interface could be the "silver bullet" that solves this problem:

Imagine… your data cards now have a "get count" button on them.  You press this button and your system brings up a simple interface for running counts. This button works the same way for all of your lists — regardless of where the data is located.

Imagine… the answers to your count requests are returned quickly and automatically included in your list recommendations and orders.

Imagine… all your count requests are tracked automatically for you.

How great would that be? It would virtually eliminate all the hassles associated with the counts process and make you a better (and more profitable) service provider.

How NextMark is addressing this problem

Solving this problem is looking like the next "big thing" for NextMark.  Providing fast counts is a high-profile project in our research and development department.  Here are some of the main design principles:

  • Easy. The counts interface will be "so easy even a caveman could use it"
  • Quick. Asking for a list count will only take a couple of button clicks. Running the list count should be quick.  Integrating the result with your reco/order will be automatic. Sending the result to your client will be a click away.
  • Free. You won't have to pay for running counts. After all, nobody makes money on counts. And, even better than free, you'll eliminate all the costs associated with running counts the old way.
  • Open. You don't have to move your data. The mailing list data can reside anywhere. The data can be in any format. Any service bureau can participate.
  • In Control. You will will have more control over access to counts than you do today. Quick counts does not mean everyone has unfettered access to instant counts. You will continue to control the flow of information and will have new tools to manage these requests efficiently.

Stay tuned!

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