How to Evaluate Service Bureaus (1,440 words)
This approach, however, can be likened to carefully shining a rotten apple. I recently chatted with a direct marketer who uses this same service bureau for his merge/purge processing. When I noted that his vendor has the most sophisticated merge/purge software in the business, he said the quality of the algorithms is irrelevant because his account manager at the bureau is a simply a button-pusher.
The marketer said he'd gladly trade a couple of percentage points of scrubbing prowess for a company that would act as a truly proactive and innovative data-processing partner. All in all, the marketer said he is disenchanted with this blue chip service bureau, and is looking to make a change.
New Paradigm Needed
This direct marketer's complaint is similar to what I've heard from others. It's apparent many such firms have evolved to optimize the processing of standard, batch direct mail jobs. However, they're not adept at responding with creativity and innovation to one-off, ad hoc requests, which are the norm in today's demanding, ever-changing database marketing environment.
Many service bureaus have become large, unwieldy battleships. There's a shortage of nimble PT boats—firms that recognize there's a solution to just about every data-processing problem, and that often it's just a matter of mixing available applications with some creative thinking and custom programming.
Consider the example of a modestly sized, pure-play cataloger. It uses a service bureau that says it specializes in working with small catalogers. Recently, an unusual opportunity arose that required: multiple distance calculations from each customer's residence to specific, physical entities scattered across the country; and the creation of intricate, distance-driven analysis files.
This is a type of project with which retailers and retail-oriented service bureaus are familiar. However, it generally has no application to small, pure-play catalogers. So this service bureau didn't possess the files required to do the work.