Marketing group plugs into BT to target business

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ONE OF the curiosities of the increasing sophistication of marketing is that the business-to-business aspect is less well developed than the personal. Consequently, as householders have grown used to "junk mail" becoming more personalised and pertinent to them, their commercial counterparts are still opening - or perhaps more likely throwing away - vaguely addressed marketing material.

A deal just concluded between British Telecom and TDS, the marketing services company, could help change all that. The agreement - the first with a marketing services organisation - will make BT's national database of business telephone numbers available to a wider audience. TDS Inform, the company's information services arm, will enhance that database (for which it is paying a six-figure sum to BT) with information from its own one-million-plus collection of business contacts, which it built over seven years; a telephone research programme designed to gain additional information; and the permission of the companies to be listed in this way.

Adrian Gregory, chief executive of TDS, says the companies tend to agree, because not only is being on the database a good marketing opportunity for them, it also puts them in a position to receive attractive offers. Fewer than 2 per cent of companies ask TDS to take them off the lists, he says.

Mr Gregory has built up TDS Inform and TDS Insight, a segmentation and targeting operation, since acquiring the basic business in 1988 from GTE, the US communications group that is a leading publisher of business directories. To him, the value of the BT database is two-fold. With 2.7 million "sites", it is the most comprehensive available, covering partnerships and sole traders as well as companies. It is also more useful than listings available from Companies House, in that it provides details of the trading bases of businesses rather than registered offices, which may be addresses of their accountants or solicitors.

Moreover, says Mr Gregory, since changing telephone numbers is one of the first things companies do when they move, the listing is more up-to- date than those that are based on accounts, which may be filed up to 20 months after the year-end.

But he is not just concerned with accuracy and the breadth of coverage. Mr Gregory sees the arrangement as helping increase accessibility to information. His company is looking at new methods of distribution with the aim of making data available more quickly and more cheaply.

It has already developed a CD-ROM with the software house Lotus that enables information about 400,000 companies to be held on the desktop. Mr Gregory sees this approach as being particularly attractive to small businesses, especially when linked to a metering device that enables users to take as much or as little information as they wish and be charged accordingly.

"Direct marketing to businesses is moving to a new plane with the hugely enhanced targeting and countrywide coverage which this new arrangement will bring," he said.

"Experience with our current million-plus coverage has revealed the frustration that many business-to-business marketers have felt concerning the generally low quality of business marketing information," Mr Gregory added.

Pointing out that the service would be available at a price to challenge existing methods of obtaining the information, such as buying lists through brokers and using Directory Inquiries, he said the initiative could boost "the whole process of business marketing, and telemarketing in particular".

As a result, TDS is in negotiations to form links with other groups interested in the expanded database once it has been launched later this summer.

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