Are business directories worth the money?

23 September 2015 Sean O'Mara

Business directories are potentially the least glamourous element of B2B marketing and lead generation. They’re long, repetitive and dry. You’ll find no share-able infographics or Tweet-able memes here my friend. Just raw business data. Lots and lots of it.

But as with most business assets, it’s what you do with them that counts. So before you dismiss the humble business directory out of hand, it’s worth considering that boring may actually be good. Boring may be profitable. Accuracy, well organised data, relevance, phone numbers; hardly stuff to get you in a Red Bull advert, but you might make some sales.

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Types of business directories

  • Local business listings – Think Thompson Local, Touch Local or your local newspaper’s proprietary listing. These are, as the name suggests, generic business directories defined by location. Useful for consumers and b2b marketers alike.

  • B2B marketing databases – These are more in-depth, customisable and expensive. Big companies like Experian and Convergys Intelligent Contact are dominant in this sector while smaller players like I Love Data and The Media Octopus have carved out profitable niches of their own.

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  • Industry or sector specific business listings – Trade publications typically dominate the industry directory game. Look at PR Week (public relations), The Grocer (food and drink retail), Rig Zone (oil and gas pipeline) or Clothing Register (clothing manufacturers) for examples.

  • Aggregated business intelligence – Business intelligence specialists like our good selves (shameless plug) provide a wider scope of information with more granular detail. So whether you want to know who the founding director of a small bicycle parts retailer is, or whether Experian’s profits are increasing, we’ll have that info.

Who would use a business directory?

  • Sales and Business Development– The most typical use of a B2B directory would be for lead generation, prospecting and sales.

  • Research – If you’re thinking of expanding into a new sector or launching a new product, a business directory will instantly give you access to all of your likely buyers and likely competitors.

  • Marketing – Pitching B2B services to key decision makers in any sector is immeasurably more simple with the the help of a business directory.

What would they use a business directory for?

  • Lead generation – Got a product or service to sell to businesses? You’re going to need some leads.

  • B2B marketing – Want business to know you exist? An email broadcast to an industry specific directory should do the trick.

  • Data cleanse and enhancement – Worried that your existing marketing and sales information isn’t up-to-scratch? Purchasing a directory and using that info to cleanse and enhance your own should help you sleep at night.

  • Data suppression – A bit less common but hugely important. Don’t waste time and money targeting the wrong business (and annoying them or worse, getting in legal trouble); use a business directory to suppress records in your current file and focus only on who you actually want to reach.

  • Data brokering – In the business of business data? Remember, data is nothing on its own. It’s what you do with it that counts.

How does it all work?

A business directory is simply a collection of data. It is only worth the investment if it is fresh, relevant and accurate and that investment will only provide a return if you use your data wisely. There are effectively two ways to acquire a business directory; purchase or rent.

Owning the data gives you unlimited use and typically earns you some degree of exclusivity, meaning your competitors won’t be able to use the same data set in the same format, at least for a while.

Renting typically means non-exclusive use for a limited period of time. This option is cheaper but it’s essential to remember that data rental is a secondary market to data sales. That data may have already been used and the people on the list may have already heard from your competitors.

Summary – Are they worth the money?

Good quality business directories and business intelligence can be had for around 5 pence per lead for basic information and upwards of £1 per lead for more granular info. However, only you can decide whether it’s good value or not. This is why measurement and tracking are essential.

If you earn £100 for every ten leads you contact, business directories are 100% worth the money to your business. On the flip side, at 5p per lead, if it takes you an average of 21 or more leads to make a sale worth £100, the data is costing more than it’s earning. It’s all about lowering the cost of sale and using the data wisely.