Depending on where you get your list from – organizing the data can be relatively simple, or it can be fairly complicated. Let me explain…
When you download your list from a data service, you'll get a product that is very well-organized, right out of the box. However, lists from data services like this don't always provide the most current & accurate data and when you're working with old data (i.e. – anything older than 30 – 60 days), this can definitely have a negative effect on the success of your direct mail campaign.
Don't get me wrong – I think most data services can be a GREAT tool to have at your disposal. The lists are extremely convenient to get and quite simple to sort through from the moment you download them to your computer… but on the same coin, you need to be very careful about analyzing the accuracy of the data and weighing the potential consequences of working with stale information.
Alternatively, when you purchase your list directly from the county Treasurer, the information you get from them is going to be VERY accurate (it's literally the most accurate data you can get, because you're getting it directly from the source) and for what we're trying to do, current and accurate data is very important. The downside to purchasing your list directly from the county is that you'll have to pay a much higher price for it. Not to mention – some county lists can come in some pretty bizarre formats and can take a lot more time and mental energy to sort through.
When I first got started, I got all of my lists directly from the county. These lists were great because they yielded a very good response rate – but there were times when I would have to spend the better part of an entire day organizing a single county list (which took a lot of perseverance on my part). In its raw state, some county lists can be a total mess (but on the same coin – when you know the information is going to be accurate, it can absolutely be worth the extra time and money to purchase and sort through these lists).Here's a quick overview of how to sort through a list from a data service…
As you can see, most data services clearly had direct mail marketers in mind when they designed their systems – which is great for you and me!
Why Organization Is Necessary
Until we sort the information in this spreadsheet, we won't be able to upload our list to our mail service of choice and proceed with sending our mail.
Luckily, this is really just a process of elimination. It's a matter of deleting all of the columns (vertical cells) that aren't needed, and deleting all of the rows (horizontal cells) that are either redundant, or that you clearly don't need (or don't want) on your list.
Ultimately, the goal with sorting each list is to get all of these mailing addresses organized into 6 columns:
- Street Address
- Unit #
- Zip Code
Since all of this information already lives somewhere within this spreadsheet, it's just a matter of deleting the data that isn't needed.
Things To Watch Out For
As you're deciding which recipients and information to weed out of your list, there are a few things that you'll want to keep in mind:
Don't send mail to owner occupied properties
For obvious reasons, people are MUCH less likely to sell their primary residence for pennies on the dollar. We're looking for people who own properties that they're disinterested in and/or that they can't afford to keep. Given this, I suggest that you delete any owner occupied properties (where the mailing address and the property address match) from your list.
Don't send mail to banks or large financial institutions
It is highly unlikely that you'll ever do business directly with a massive corporation like JP Morgan Chase Bank or Wells Fargo. If you see anything that doesn't look like an individual owner or small company, I highly recommend that you delete these recipients from your list.
Don't send duplicates to the same owner
You will always find that there are certain owners who appear multiple times on your list. Use the sort function to put your recipients in alphabetical order (this is explained in the video above) so you can spot them easily and delete the duplicates. There is no reason for you to send 20 postcards to one recipient just because they own 20 properties. Be smart.
Delete any addresses that simply don't make sense
You will also come across address fields that are either not formatted correctly, are missing information, or are blank altogether. If you inadvertently send mail to these addresses, they will be promptly returned to your mailbox. This is your chance to delete these entries before you waste money on them.
Remove any properties with a high tax balance
If you're sorting through a delinquent tax list, in many (though not all) cases, the list will include the specific tax amounts currently owed on each property. This can be very helpful information, because if a property has a GIANT back due tax bill (i.e. – an amount that could easily eat up your entire profit margin), this is usually an automatic deal-killer for that property, and it's basically useless for you to contact them in the first place (because no matter how you slice it, it's a bad deal). If you see any properties with a ridiculously high balance of taxes owed, it's not a bad idea to delete these recipients from the very beginning.
Remove any properties with a market value that doesn't meet your criteria.
Similar to the delinquent tax balance, many lists will also include each property's assessed value and/or market value (which is rarely the most accurate measure of a property's value, but it's still worth noting nonetheless). Why does this help? Because if you know from the outset that you're only looking for properties worth $5,000 – $10,000 (just a hypothetical example), you can use this information to eliminate any properties that don't fit inside this box. If you see a property with an assessed value of $500,000 – delete it! If you don't want (or can't afford) properties in the higher or lower spectrum, why waste your time and money marketing to them?
Take Your Time
The instructional video above goes through this process pretty quickly (because I've been through this process many, many times), but just so you know – this isn't a race. If this is your first time sorting through a list, take your time. Go slow and get familiar with this process. It's important for you to avoid mistakes, especially if this is your first time. When your list is well-organized, you're going to get a much better response, which will only give you a better sense of motivation on all of your future mailings.