29 April 2007

Real World Access (23)

One of a series of articles about where Microsoft Office Access applications have found a real-world niche.

 George Hepworth's Affinity for Access

mail distribution My client, a large, successful, insurance brokerage, markets its products through partnerships with several Affinity Groups. Affinity Groups — typically banks and credit unions, professional and social organizations — provide us their member lists. We solicit those members via a mass mail program and pay the Affinity Groups a fee for each sale made to one of their members. One database, split into an Access front end with a SQL Server back end, supports the entire operation.

We scrub the Affinity Group member lists to remove ineligible members and add them to the Access database to be included in future mailings.  At this time, the main roster table in the database has approximately 2.15 million active members.

We mail only to active members, but for business reasons, we have to maintain transaction history on all members who have been included in previous mailings, whether they remain active or not. Members become inactive for a number of reasons: the one we all hope for is that they become “Sold”. When sales are made, the Affinity Group to which that person belongs receives a fee for that sale.

The main transaction table in the database contained well over 1,110,000 transaction records as of the date this was written. It is growing at a rate of 6,900 to 200,000 records per month, as new mailings go out to members in targeted areas. Mailings must be targeted to areas where we have a strong sales agent available to service responses. Therefore, we have filters in the database so that we can select members on the basis of 5-digit ZIP code (e.g. 12345) or 3-digit ZIP code (e.g. 987) to target those mailings geographically for specific agents in that area.

Keeping the list fresh is also important. We’ve learned that four mailings a year from us is the maximum desirable frequency. We filter available names in a potential mailing by how long it has been since that member was last mailed to keep mailings fresh.

One feature of this Access application which makes it different from many mass mail programs is that we also track follow-up activity and results for each agent and each individual member. Agents report their activities with each member on their prospecting list twice a month. Every response is recorded as a follow-up activity transaction in the database along with the final disposition (e.g. Sold, Not Interested, etc.) for that member/prospect. We also track individual sales so that we can pay the Affinity Groups the appropriate Referral Fees as they are earned. And, of course, we track success rates and payment history for each agent and each group.

Weekly reports on all agents and all groups go to sales and program managers. Reports are generated as PDFs and Excel spreadsheets and emailed automatically to the current distribution list.

It all works extremely well. In the world of mass mail, where a response rate of 0.5% is considered a great success, our Affinity Groups average response rates from 1.2% to as high as 3.5%.

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