Welcome to the first edition of Inside Scoop – our Q & A with email marketing experts. We catch up with Toby Hone, founder and owner of Afriseek – South Africa’s largest business to business database provider.
We asked Toby to share his insights about buying lists and how to set about getting the most return from these lists, in the most ethical way of course.
Let’s do this!
1 - Afriseek is 10 years old this year. Tell us a bit about how Afriseek came about?
Around 10 years ago I was carrying out some sales activities and found myself utilising a variety of different printed and online data sources to try and contact relevant businesses. I found that a lot of the information available was outdated with telephone numbers not working and when I did get through to a company, I wasn’t able to speak to a decision maker.
That’s when the idea for AfriSeek was born and since then we’ve grown the AfriSeek database to be South Africa’s largest commercial business database. We’ve invested heavily in building our own internal research tools and systems and we’re now at a point where our database quality and quantity is steadily improving.
2 - What is your core service?
The goal of AfriSeek is to connect businesses and we do this through actively researching companies and decision makers in these companies. Our clients then utilise this data for a variety of sales, research and marketing activities. We’re helping to not only shorten the sales cycle and research phases for companies, but we’re enabling companies to spend more time prospecting and closing deals, and less time on researching prospects contact details.
Consumers don’t generally make their contact details available in the public domain, whereas with companies and business decision makers they do and through this there is an expectation that they can be contacted for legitimate commercial offerings.
3 - There is somewhat of a stigma around buying and using lists, with some marketers being dead set against it. In your experience can it still be a good strategy?
There is definitely a stigma about it and unfortunately it’s an area that continues to be impacted by companies and people that don’t follow marketing best practice. For me there is an important difference between targeting and communicating with individuals or consumers versus targeting companies and business decision makers.
Consumers don’t generally make their contact details (private email and cell number) available in the public domain, whereas with companies and business decision makers they do and through this there is an expectation that they can be contacted for legitimate commercial offerings.
This is an important distinction to make and one where we’ve made a strategic decision to rather focus on the business landscape. Anybody looking for business contact details can find these on any number of resources, although the quality of this detail will vary enormously. We simply carry out this research on an ongoing basis and this helps our clients focus on their sales, research and marketing projects. That said, having a list of business contacts is one thing; it is completely another knowing how to effectively use this and maximise responses.
I also think there has been a lot of confusion and scare mongering with the introduction of the POPI Act and how this relates to utilising bought lists and once again the source of the data is an important starting point for this. For instance, buying a list off Gumtree is extremely risky as it raises important questions such as where was the data sourced, have the records given consent, what detail is supplied etc, whereas buying a targeted list of business decision makers to introduce an event, product or service can be a very effective mechanism to reach a wide audience in a very short period of time.
We do still expect our clients to comply with required legislation such as ECT (Electronic Communications and Transactions Act) and ensuring unsubscribe requests are honoured.
4 - I have no doubt you have learnt a lot and have some great advice to share. Can you give marketers some steps on how they can set about communicating to a list? What are the steps you would typically follow?
The starting point for any campaign is to have a proper understanding of who your audience is. Many clients either make the wrong assumptions here, or they exclude relevant decision makers and influencers. My biggest grievance here is when a client insists on limiting their audience to one contact per company or to only one communication. It’s always best to cast a wider net than risk losing prospects by being too specific on criteria.
Then another common mistake clients make is assuming that a single communication will lead to a flood of enquiries. Unfortunately, too many clients don’t spend the time crafting appealing messages and multiple follow ups to maximise their responses. There are also some technical aspects that we guide clients on especially when they have no previous experience with outbound email campaigns.
It really comes down to the client understanding who their target audience is and effectively communicating the benefits of their product / service to this audience in an ongoing and appealing way. When clients do this they always come back for more data as they realise the power of having access to a quality database of business prospects.
5 - Please share a success story with us.
We’ve had many success stories including training companies filling up their courses, events companies reaching thousands of exhibitors and visitors, research companies completing surveys amongst the top JSE listed company decision makers and having helped hundreds of SME’s get sales by reaching new clients.
However, the most successful campaigns have been the ones we’ve run for our own purposes. We’ve achieved response rates of over 50% when carrying out highly targeted campaigns in specific sectors e.g. Advertising Agencies, Research companies etc. When we achieve these types of response rates it certainly validates the value in having access to and using our database.
6 - And, of course, a fail story / lesson learnt?
There are certain factors that increase the chances of a poor campaign. Typically, this includes clients who want to rush through a campaign, or who send out an unappealing creative with little incentive for prospects to respond, or clients that give little thought as to who their target audience is and why.
I always tell clients that we can guarantee delivery of emails; however, we cannot guarantee responses and in instances where we think responses will be poor, we’d rather work with a client to avoid them having poor ROI on their campaign spend. Ultimately, we want happy clients that come back for more.
7 - Afriseek also does bulk mailing. How do you ensure a high delivery rate of mails sent to a list? Some email sending platforms are so strict!
We utilise a variety of sending platforms, however, we spend a lot of time and money ensuring that the email addresses we hold on our database are valid and we’re continually flushing out emails as they come back with hard bounce statuses.
Because of this our clients don’t have issues utilising our email databases for their own purposes. When we carry out email sends on behalf of clients there are obviously some technical aspects of campaign set-up and completion that need to be done but this is something that we’ve had to learn over the years and its part of our ‘secret sauce’ and what we charge clients for.
There is no restriction on sending a commercial offering to someone on a business email address.
8 - How can one make use of a bought list that is in line with the POPI Act?
As previously touched on, the fact that our data comes from public domain sources where people and companies have disclosed their details largely mitigates the risk from POPI.
Clients can just as easily pick up the phone and get business decision makers details over the phone or through company websites etc. So, there is no restriction on sending a commercial offering to someone on a business email address. In fact, in Europe, there has already been a precedent set by the Information Regulator that states that companies can use ‘legitimate business interest’ when introducing their product/service to someone on their business email address.
Clients are still however required to uphold ECT (Electronic Communications and Transactions Act) requirements by unsubscribing recipients when they request this. Clients also need to ensure they send relevant content and not too frequently as this will lead to higher unsubscribes and complaints.
The bottom line with using bought lists is to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are targeting. Consider what they would be interested in receiving, how often, the creative used, etc.
9 - What would you consider a good outcome from an email campaign to a bought list? Can you give us some numbers on that?
Currently, we average between 80% and 84% email delivery, with a 7% to 15% open rate and a 0.1% to 5% click through rate. That said, it is possible to double the open and click through metrics by doing follow up emails and putting careful thought into the message and offering. The final response rate will depend on factors such as the industry being targeted, the appeal of the message and offering and having a clear and appealing call to action.
10 - Is there anything else you would like to share?
In light of the perceptions with buying a list and the introduction of POPI, many people are understandably sceptical of buying lists. However, using a bought list in the right way can have enormous and immediate benefits for a business from allowing a sales team immediate access to prospective clients, to allowing marketing teams to communicate with and pre-qualify leads.
Bought lists allow companies to spend more time closing sales rather than wasting time trying to uncover prospects and when bought lists are used in the right way, with carefully crafted messages that appeal to their target audience, they can make a big difference to the bottom line of most businesses.