Collecting data is comparatively easy these days, with computer databases and plenty of easily accessible information around, giving lists of names and addresses. The trick is to come up with new and creative ways of allowing people to access that data.
Thomson Directories won last year’s top award from the Directory and Database Publishers Association (DPA) for its CD-ROM called Business Search PRO, which provides more than 2 million listings of businesses in the UK. Its format was found by the judges to be “precisely focused, very focused and fast”. New subscribers pay &£99.95 (plus VAT) for the CD, which is updated every six months and costs &£59.95 for each new version. It has been running for five years, and is now on version 11. Business Information product manager Naomi Wallens, who is in charge of the product, says Business Search Pro was entered for the awards in two previous years, but won this time because of improvements that have been made to the service offered.
“In the past, we have evolved the product through data enhancement, but the ones I have looked after have evolved more fundamentally. We have listened to what our customers asked us to put on the CD-ROMs, and I can’t think of one enhancement that was not a result of customer research,” she says.
There is only so far you can go with adding new data, be it financial information or the names of senior decision makers. What users really want is new ways of accessing that data so that they can use it as an all round business tool, says Wallens.
Version 10, which won the award, included a telemarketing function, which is used by 53 per cent of customers according to research carried at the beginning of this year. They pay an additional charge to use this function, which allows them to use the CD-ROM in telemarketing drives, and has added benefits such as being able to note which numbers they need to call back and then issues them with a reminder.
Other results from the research indicate that there has been an increase in the frequency of the CD-ROM’s use – 64 per cent of customers said they have successfully increased their customer base as a result of using the system. Some 74 per cent of customers said that the service paid for itself very quickly, three quarters said that it is an essential tool for their business and more than half said it was the best of its kind in the market.
Business Search PRO works in a crowded market, up against competition from three other players Yellow Pages, Dunn & Bradstreet and the 192 telephone directory service. Each new edition sells some 3,000 full-price copies to new subscribers, and some 7,000 copies are sold at the discounted rate to existing users. But Wallens refuses to divulge how much money the CD-ROM makes from the services, which are paid for through top-up credit vouchers, such as using the telemarketing function.
The CD-ROM information is taken from the Thomson Directories’ database, and verified daily through up to 3,000 follow-up calls each day. The target market is for sales and marketing professionals in the small to medium-sized enterprise market. But Wallens adds: “As we learn more about our customers and broaden our customer base, we find more and more that the versatility of the CD-ROM makes it suitable for companies of any size, location or any type of business which is looking ultimately to find new business.”
It has long been predicted that CD-ROM technology would be outstripped by the internet, leaving the disc to disappear into the obscurity of old media. But the Web is not yet powerful enough to allow quick access for all needs and the gradual take-up of broadband does not look like it will come to the rescue any time soon. The CD-ROM also has the advantage of being able to provide Web links so people can click straight through to a website that interests them. For the time being, it is clear that directories publishers will continue using discs as an important way of distributing their data.