Jim Lane joined Customer Development Corporation (CDC), a Peoria-based database marketing agency, in 1985 as national director of marketing. Previously, Jim worked in sales and marketing capacities for related companies in Richmond, Va., and Los Angeles, Calif. After training in Peoria, Jim opened a CDC office near Philadelphia, Pa.
Jim’s initial responsibility was to secure new client opportunities for CDC. He was instrumental in helping the company achieve rapid growth in the banking and insurance industries. In 1990, Jim was promoted to senior vice president and given responsibility for managing half of the national client services staff along with the company’s new business development efforts. As CDC continued to grow, Jim’s responsibilities made it increasingly important to spend time at headquarters. So in 1992 he was promoted to executive vice president and moved with his wife Grace and daughters Jessica, 10, and Rebecca, 9, to Peoria. Once here, his role was expanded to include aspects of operations management for the full service agency.
Jim is a 1977 North Carolina State University graduate. Though he received his bachelor’s degree in forestry and wildlife biology, business was his passion. A self-characterized people person, Jim began his sales and marketing career at fifteen selling home products door-to-door. He maintains that his intensely competitive nature and willingness to do whatever is necessary have made him successful.
In April 1996, Tom Lund, then chairman and CEO, reentered the day-to-day operations at CDC. Lund assumed the presidency on a temporary basis and promoted Jim to chief operating officer. They worked closely throughout the remainder of 1996 to hire additional senior managers and restructure the organization. Earlier this year Jim was promoted to the president’s position.
Jim’s current focus is on growth. He maintains that the database marketing industry is exploding, and CDC’s experience and integrated approach position it to maintain a dominant role. Jim’s confident in his ability to help CDC double in size over the next four years.
Customer Development Corporation is one of the best kept business secrets in the general business community. What is CDC’s mission and the nature of its business? How is the company organized?
I think that’s right, we are a well kept secret among the Peoria business community. I think it’s primarily due to the fact that we have no Peoria-based clients. Our clients are, for the most part, Fortune 100 corporations with offices ranging from New York to Los Angeles. Our mission is to help them achieve a lower cost per sale for their product or service by leveraging the data they collect on individual customer behavior and attitudes. It’s our job to distill the data, enhance the data, and manipulate it to help determine the best strategic marketing approaches. We help our clients cross-sell and retain their customers, as well as find new ones.
Our primary tactical approach is through direct mail, but we also get involved in telemarketing and other direct response media. The hottest industry term today is one-to-one marketing. We’ve been accomplishing this for over 20 years, and are arguably the only company in America reaching that degree of personalization. Our clients come to us to help them execute very complex, highly segmented data-driven marketing programs that require, in most cases, incredibly fast turnaround and a high degree of accuracy.
The company is organized similar to most advertising agencies with teams of people, highly skilled in each of the required disciplines, dedicated to an individual CDC client.
What is the background of the formation of CDC?
CDC was founded by Thomas C. Lund in 1980. Tom came to Peoria some years earlier to attend Bradley University, where he met Carol Ruppman. Tom and Carol were later married and Tom joined Ruppman Marketing where he worked until he began CDC. Tom was a former IBM sales executive and he recognized the opportunity for a service company to help large financial services organizations do a better job of utilizing their customer information for marketing programs.
The problem was, m most computer systems were designed for accounting purposes and not marketing purposes. Tom recognized this and was instrumental in pioneering the concept of database marketing. Database marketing, unlike traditional advertising, relies to a great degree on demonstrated customer behavior that is compiled and tracked through complex marketing databases. CDC was born as a company that was able to manage and analyze the consumer data and turn it into actionable, direct marketing solutions.
What can you share with us about the scope of the operation…number of employees… locations…business volume (sales)…structure…and management philosophy?
We are currently ranked as the eighth largest database marketing agency in America. Of the top ten, however, we are the only company that actually manages all of the critical aspects of the database marketing process in-house. We employ over 400 people nationally, most of them right here in one of our four Peoria facilities. In addition, we have regional sales offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Charlotte. This year we are projecting sales in excess of $80 million.
Our management philosophy is fairly simple. We seek to deliver the most “profit” effective marketing programs in the industry – consistently right and on time for our clients. We also believe that every individual working at CDC has gifts and that it is our job as managers to create an atmosphere that allows them to thrive and CDC to benefit. We try to do this with competitive compensation, a quality working environment, superior technology, and ongoing training programs.
What would be a typical week for CDC’s new president?
Typically, there are no typical weeks. Our business is very fast paced and our clients demand a high level or service. We have successfully positioned ourselves as consultative resources to our clients, and thus we often are faced with the same pressures and deadlines that our clients themselves must face from their management. Our customers routinely have dozens of individual campaigns going on simultaneously. In my position, with twelve years of experience across all aspects of the company, I tend to get involved in any number of business situations on a given day. I am heavily involved with new business development – nationally and internationally, current client strategic planning, and, to a degree, operations management. I try to focus most of my time on CDC growth by directing efforts to acquire new clients and grow existing clients. But I am also very involved in growing our internal expertise through working consultatively with both our sales and client services staff. I enjoy working closely with the staff and seeing their growth as professional marketers.
What types of businesses are CDC’s customers, and who are your main competitors?
Since the business was founded, our niche has been companies that were regional or national in scope, who utilize large, usually localized, and very diverse sales distribution channels. We look for industries that maintain tremendous amounts of consumer data as a result of their transactions or the complex nature of the products they sell. We also look for companies that sell a fairly expensive or high-ticket item to the consumer. It’s these types of companies that can benefit greatly from our expertise. It’s these types of companies that much use their data intelligently to create compelling messages for consumers, who often need a two- or three-step sales process in order for them to purchase.
The best examples of these industries, and thus the most successful clients for CDC, are the consumer finance industry, the banking industry and the insurance industry. We see additional opportunities in the automotive industry, home service industry and really any industry that relies on localized sales networks to build and maintain long term customer relationships.
Our main competitors tend to be companies that specialize in one particular aspect of the integrated services that CDC provides. For example, we may compete with a database services company, or a research specialist, or in some cases a pure direct mail marketing company. There are few, if any, competitors who have fully integrated the services that CDC offers its clients. That gives us both a competitive advantage and a distinct sales challenge, inasmuch as we are positioning ourselves against the “best of breed” in each of the mission critical disciplines.
As recently named president, are you charting some new direction for CDC?
The fact of the matter is we are charting old waters as well as exploring new ones.
From about 1991 up until a year ago, we had attempted to diversify the business fairly aggressively. We stepped outside of our traditional financial services niche and gained new clients in telecommunications, employment services and even the retail sector. What we found was that these industries did not yet possess a true database marketing culture and, as a result, became sporadic users of our services. One of the real keys to CDC’s success has been to work with companies who truly understood the need to use database marketing consistently, month in and month out, as an integral part of their overall advertising mix. So in the last year, we’ve recommitted ourselves to continue penetration in our core markets. In particular, the insurance and banking industries are hungry for our mix of services and we have tremendous opportunity to grow the company within these markets.
Additionally, we have begun to redefine our company as a marketing technology developer and innovator. We traditionally looked at the proprietary technology that we built as a means to better deliver our core direct response marketing products to our clients. Of late, we have, through competitive situations, realized that our data warehouse and database query technology is, indeed, world class and presents a distinct opportunity for our company. We have, through out wholly owned software development subsidiary, released several very powerful software products and will continue to seek technology sales throughout the U.S. and, indeed, in international markets as well.
Finally, we are exploring additional capabilities such as outbound telemarketing and inbound client customer service support divisions as well. It seems that corporate America is calling for more cost effective integrated marketing approaches to help retain and grow individual customer relationships. This just happens to be the business that CDC has been in for many years.
You’ve have the opportunity to live in many communities. How have you found Peoria as a place to operated your business and raise your family?
Peoria is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. My daughters absolutely love it here and, after five years in Peoria, consider it their home. They are continually asking me to promise them that we will never move away. They are thriving in a very progressive and exciting new educational environment called Praise and Leadership Academy that was founded just four years ago here in Peoria by Tom and Carol Lund. And for Grace and myself, we have made friendships here that I am sure will last a lifetime. After living in several large cities around America, we have found that the openness of the Peoria community and the willingness for people to involve others in community activities is fantastic.
From a business standpoint, there are certainly pluses and minuses. The work ethic here is incredible. Our company is full of people who have tremendous commitments to CDC and have given us years of uninterrupted service. I find there is an honesty and sincerity to the interaction with workers here and a strong desire to support family and community.
On the minus side, for a technology drive, specialized marketing company like CDC, it can be difficult to find the type of skilled positions we require. At a time when many companies are growing their technology-based job positions, including companies like Caterpillar with their push for computer-based innovation, it can sometimes be difficult for a smaller company like CDC to compete for certain job types. We will continue to pursue candidates throughout the wonderful central Illinois university system along with offering increased telecommuting opportunities and possibly growth of our technology-based services in Chicago and other offices nationally.
Economic development is an important community priority. From your perspective, what are the community’s major strengths and where can we improve to be more competitive?
The major strengths would seem to be a very stable employment base afforded by the major industries that are resident here. This certainly helps provide a foundation of stability on which other companies have grown and thrived. I think the area is seeing slow but sure growth in the service related industry sector, evidenced by the growth of companies like CDC, Ruppman Marketing, RLI and others. The commitment to the arts, the quality of area parks, the safety of our neighborhoods and the overall relaxed atmosphere of this community are fantastic. I only wish for New York bread, rare roast beef, and a few more great restaurants.
As someone who travels extensively, I would of course love to see better airline service in the region and have long lobbied to anyone who would listen the merits of a central Illinois regional airport that could provide the traffic to create a fairly substantial hub for major airlines. Coming from the East, we are used to driving an hour to the airport for direct routes to major cities. And certainly, as a homeowner and resident of the city of Peoria, I would love to see our new leadership continue to push for an expanded economic base to allow for some relief in the real estate tax problem. Of all the communities I have lived in, including the Northeast, the real estate tax is by far the highest I’ve experienced and certainly presents a deterrent to families settling in Peoria.
You are active in a number of civic and educational organizations. How would you rate the quality of business leadership? Political leadership? And volunteer resources of the community?
I have had the opportunity to meet many of the business leaders in the community and have been extremely impressed with the quality of their leadership. Certainly that quality has been evidenced by the profitability of the companies in the area and their continued growth prospects.
As far as political leadership, it was really exciting to see the quality of participants in the latest mayoral race. Still, viewing myself very much as a newcomer to the area, my impressions have been that Mayor Maloof provided a spirit and a conviction for moving ever forward that was critically needed throughout the turbulent times of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in this community. And further, that the new leadership in both the mayor’s office and the city council seem to be poised to seize on that foundation and help take Peoria on a faster, more progressive march into the next century.
It’s a very exciting time for this community. Since arriving in Peoria I had had, for the first time in my career, the opportunity to contribute as a volunteer in a number of organizations. I have enjoyed it immensely and have been amazed at the number of people who consistently give time, with little recognition, to the community. The spirit of volunteerism and cooperation here among the non-profit organizations, the arts organizations and the social organizations is unprecedented in my experience. My only regret is that I do not have time within my schedule to give more and be a better member of some of the boards and committees that I have had the opportunity to work with.
CDC is on the leading edge of new business technologies and trends. What advice would you offer young men and women who are thinking about what careers to pursue? What are the best qualifications for potential CDC professional, technical and support personnel?
It’s no secret that U.S. consumers, for the next fifteen years at least, will continue to demand higher levels of product and service quality and that successful companies will understand that value of building and maintaining long term relationships with their customers. The types of skills that will be required to help companies maintain these relationships will be varied, but all of them will require expertise in interpersonal communications and customer relationship building. And most will work off of platforms supporting information technology that allows fast decision making and interactive customer dialogs. I would urge young people to look to build their track records in communications and maintain a thorough understanding of the computer-based technology that is so much a part of all our lives now. Those same qualifications are the types that we look for in CDC professionals across practically every job type.
Additionally, I think, young people have to identify companies that can reward them financially over the long haul, and emotionally on a daily basis. To be lucky enough to find a business, as I have, that you feel passionate about at 8:00 on a Monday morning as well as at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon is truly the goal for all of us. And when you find that opportunity, you invariably become successful.
How do you keep current with business trends and opportunities?
In my position, I get the opportunity to talk with clients and prospects across the nation and, indeed, have traveled to South America and Canada to preach the gospel of database marketing. Anyone who has met me knows I enjoy talking and sharing ideas with friends and colleagues. Our business is very much one that is driven and flavored by human behavioral trends and I study those trends every day of my life.
Additionally, I speak at conferences and trade shows throughout the country and I am an avid reader of direct response marketing and overall business publications. More and more we are turning to the Internet to find information on a variety of focused topics for us each day.
How do you handle the demands of a growing business and raising a family?
It’s not easy. But I have always followed the old adage that you work hard and play hard. And, fortunately, I’m a naturally high energy person and I rarely sit still. I feel guilty if I am not juggling two or three tasks at the same time. That’s both a blessing and a curse, as I probably don’t relax as much as I should. As far as my daughters go, I just try to be a part of any aspect of their life I can. And that ranges from taking them to school whenever I have the opportunity to taking them to the dentist if my schedule allows. We enjoy playing together, talking together, doing homework together, cooking together or just about anything that allows us to spend time. It’s a matter of making the family a priority and allowing the extra time to enjoy them. Grace loves to travel, and whenever possible she joins me on the business trips to warm places.
I have an incredible opportunity at this point in my life and I am thankful every day for my family and friends and for the change to help CDC continue its growth. The way I look at it, this is my time in the sun, and energy and enthusiasm are not a problem. There will be plenty of time to rest sometime down the road. IBI