List Research: Using SIC codes to find business lists

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1

When you research business lists for direct mail or email, you usually start with the SIC code.

SIC, which stands for Standard Industrial Classification, is the universal coding structure for all businesses and organizations in the United States.

(A newer, more comprehensive directory called the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) is also available, and may be the directory of the future.  But more people are familiar with the SIC code.)

Businesses of all types, as well as non-profit and government institutions, are identified by a particular SIC number – which can then be found through a logical categorization.

If you’re not familiar with the SIC Code Directory, you can find an online version here:  http://siccode.com/en/siccode/list/directory

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2

Here’s a quick overview.

The first level of the directory is shown above to the right (Exhibit 1). This shows the main categories of business types.

The numbers to the left represent that range of 2-digit SICs for each business category. So Agriculture SICs range from 01 to 09.

When you find your 2-digit category, you can then drill down to something more specific – to a 3- or 4-digit SIC.  In some cases (but not all), you can drill down as far as an 8-digit SIC.

To demonstrate this a little further, let’s look at an example of different types of Manufacturing firms.

Click on Manufacturing, and you’ll see a whole list 2-digit Manufacturing SIC codes (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3

Let’s say we are trying to reach businesses that make furniture.  We can find it under SIC 25

After you click on Furniture and Fixtures (SIC 25), you have a  few options (Exhibit 3).

If you are looking for Household Furniture, you can see it as at the top of the list (SIC 251).

Drill down a little further (Exhibit 4) and you will more options – different types of household furniture.

Exhibit 4

Exhibit 4

So you can see, you can narrow your search to find the industries you want – and most importantly, remove the industries that are not applicable to your needs.

Keep in mind, in this example, we are looking for companies that make furniture – not sell it.

To find businesses that sell furniture, we would need to go back to beginning and start searching under Retail to find furniture stores.

We might also want to search for wholesalers of furniture which again means going back to the beginning.

Of course, this is just the beginning of the process for researching business lists.  You will also need to factor company size (by sales volume or number of employees), location (zip code) and job title. A topic for another day.

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."

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