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It is an old saw in the Yellow Pages business that the industry's three greatest strengths are its sales force, data collection and ability to publish a virtually error-free directory. Like most businesses, Yellow Pages looks simple from the outside but is very complex as you peel back the layers of the onion. Each of these elements requires a level of sophistication that makes the difference between success and failure.

My first job after school was at the health care and consumer packaged goods company Johnson & Johnson. When I told a successful businessman for whom I was going to work, he looked at me and said, "Do you know why that company is so successful?" I said something about the quality of their products, and he gave me one of those looks that experienced people seem to throw at rookies. "The best quality products and services in the world don't do you any good if you don't have distribution, and that all starts with the sales force."

I learned from carrying a sales bag just how true that is. Knowing your own product is important, but knowing the needs and requirements of the customer you are talking to is equally critical. Companies like Profile America do an excellent job of providing the sales force with information they need to call on businesses in different industries. Our trade associations also provide valuable data, most recently the syndicated research results. Charles Laughlin, TKG SVP and Yellow Pages program director, recently wrote an Advisory summarizing the presentation he made at the YPA annual conference in Orlando.

Based on Local Commerce Monitor Wave VIII research, there is a significant difference between the media habits of newer businesses and older ones. Not surprisingly, companies that are in a growth mode tend to spend more money on marketing and use newer technologies. As Charles writes: "Younger businesses want media that are targeted, measurable and flexible. It's not that older businesses don't want these things, but they tend to emphasize such media less."

That is not to say that younger businesses will all be going to the Internet. The research shows that they "have an open mind toward both print and online Yellow Pages and are far from a lost cause." As Charles says, more and deeper research is needed so that we can treat each customer for what it is: a unique entity.

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