May 23

List Buying: 6 tips for buying the most effective lead list

Lead Generation


Editor’s Note: Buy, build, or both? This is the eternal quandary for many marketers and salespeople looking for a reliable list to contact. In this final blog post in the series (check out the previous posts here: List Buying: 3 reasons why this tactic can be deadly for marketers” and “Buy, Build or Both Part 2: The basics of list building,” Brian Carroll provides tips for effective list buying if you choose to go that route.

Remember when you were in college, studying hours every single night so that you never had to cram when final exams came.

Me neither.

Let me clarify: I did more than my share of steady studying, but I also ended up cramming for an exam once in a while. Life sometimes got in the way of doing things perfectly, just like it does today.

So it is with list building. While we would all like our ideal customers to opt in to our lists through continuous, consistent inbound marketing, sometimes we’re going to miss a few.

Sometimes there isn’t the executive buy-in and the budget that comes with it to carry out the kind of inbound marketing campaigns that attract every prospect to opt-in. And, sometimes, there isn’t enough time.

6 tips for purchasing the best list possible

So, when you must purchase a list, I recommend that you do the following:

1. Know who you’re targeting.

Here’s a brief rundown on how you identify that ideal customer:

  1. Rank your customers by most profitable, best revenue, and easiest with which to do business.
  2. And then rank by least profitable, worst revenue, and hardest with which to do business.
  3. Now, evaluate the characteristics of the top five companies on each list.
  4. What characteristics link the best and the worst?

This information is what you need to paint a picture of your ideal customer. Take it to the next step by noting the following:

  • Annual revenue and geographic reach
  • Industry vertical, including common keywords that identify the companies and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and North American Industrial Classification (NAICS)
  • Number of employees
  • Decision-maker roles
  • Psychographics such as values, culture, and internal and external issues that influence their buying decisions

Without this basic information, don’t invest in a list.
Learn more about building your ideal customer profile in this article: “Lead Generation Checklist – Part 3: Develop and intensify your Ideal Customer Profile.”

2. Consider using these Dun & Bradstreet or InfoGroup as a starting point for general business lists.

They have all the basic demographic data you’ll typically need, but you’ll have to do more research to fit your ideal customer profile. Furthermore, if you want to reach anything other than top executives, you’ll have to add those contacts yourself. But it’s a good place to start.

3. Find a consultative list provider.

List sellers can be very pushy; look for one rewarded by how well he serves, not how much he sells. When looking at list providers:

  • Be clear that you are buying a list, not renting. Many companies only rent lists, so you can only use them for a specific period or number of times. This doesn’t work well for an ongoing demand generation.
  • Make sure it includes the right demographic data to reach your ideal customer.
  • Find out if they can create lists by both keyword and SIC code and identify contacts who have purchased products or services similar to yours.

4. Invest in the best, not the cheapest.

My team discovered through testing that the cheapest list is actually 60% more costly than the most expensive one.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

We were doing lead generation for a billion-dollar telecommunications company.

We compared the cheapest list (names collected from business cards) with the most expensive one, where data was compared against multiple sources, and names, titles, and roles were each verified with a phone call.

We made 312 phone calls with the same staff, used an identical script, and called at the same time of day. We compared the number of calls to:

  • Attain a lead – It took just 77 calls to attain a sales-ready lead with the most expensive list; it took 240 with the least.
  • Disqualify a contact – With the most expensive list, it took 90 calls. With the least expensive, it took merely 11.
  • With the cheap list, 67% of the people on the list were no longer with the company!

In a month of calling, our experiment revealed the cost per lead with the most expensive list was $373; the cost per lead with the cheapest list was $954.

You can watch more of this story here: Optimizing the Lead: Learn a data-driven optimization process that reduced cost-per-lead by more than 60% in one month.

5. Test your lists even if they’re internal.

Call about 300 contacts to find out if:

  • Review to see if there are duplicate data
  • Check if the information is current and complete
  • And confirm the contacts are actually in your target market.

If more than one in 20 fails, the list definitely needs a good cleaning before it’s used.

In the Direct Marketing News article, “Brands Enhance Lead Generation Strategies,” Michael Feldstein, Director of Marketing at Boardroom, Inc., a direct response publishing company, says he is “never sure” if a list he has purchased is accurate and current.

“That’s why we always test,” he explains. “If we have 50,000 names, we’ll test 5,000.” He says he does his best to buy names from companies he can trust and won’t preload the test with good names.

6. Make one person the list expert

You can have the best campaign, but it won’t get the results it deserves if your list is garbage. I have found that at least half of the success of an outbound campaign hinges on list quality. That’s why you need at least one person dedicated to monitoring, updating, and maintaining your lists.

Again, everyone who could benefit from your product and service would find you and opt-in to be on our lists in a perfect world. But the world is imperfect; all we can do is the best we can with what we have. I hope my tips help, and I invite you to add any others in the comments below.

You may also like:

Do You Expect Your Inside Sales Team to Practice Alchemy?

How to Build a Quality List and Make Data Drive Leads

Teleprospecting: When cutting response time is a priority (and when it’s not)

Ideal Customer Profiles: 5 steps to ensure your lead generation stays on target

10 Ways to Optimize Your Lead Conversion Rate

Transform Your Customer Journey and Accelerate Growth

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. These are great tips to consider when buying an email list. Another point you’ll want to educate yourself on is the sending platform you use. Most ESPs and MAs will block or ban your account for sending to a purchased list.

  2. I like #1 so much that you should write your next blog post on it alone.

    What are the common characteristics with your most successful clients? And I’m not just talking about size, sector, region, but spending habits, the technologies they use, how involved in social they are, and on and on.

    By REALLY diving deep into what make your clients, your clients…you can really target and identify those companies most likely to be future customers.

    Great post! Looking forward to follow ups!

  3. Making a business list is quite a time consuming task aside from that it requires hardwork to build such list of the your target audience. In this situation comes the role of a company who are capable of generating your needed list. Thanks for the reminders Brian. Agree to #3 and 4. And invest to a company that regularly update its database to ensure the quality of the list.

  4. Cheap now usually means it costs more in the long run. It’s important to think long term with your lead generation efforts. Are their any hidden costs that might sneak up on you to make your great buy actually cost more?

  5. Hi Brian,
    All the points you mentioned are indeed very important when buying the lists. Let me add a few more. BTW, we are a B2B list provider. (Sorry for the length of the post but all is very relevant to this discussion.)
    1. Approach the “list purchase” as if you are buying a solution and not a commodity: Please do not start the conversation with your list provider with, price as the leading question. Serious and legitimate list providers cannot quote a price without understanding your target market, decision maker’s personas, Geo, and all the things Brian talked about. Price is a function of level of segmentation, customization and quantity of data you need.
    2. How are you going to use the lists: Please share with your list provider if the list will it be used for tele-prospecting, email marketing, postal mail campaign or all? It helps list providers focus on the contact data elements that matter the most for your marketing campaign. It can also help reduce your cost. If you are going to use the list primarily for email marketing do not insist on getting 100% direct phone numbers. It is nice to have switchboard phone numbers in case you decide to call. Insisting more on higher email deliverability guarantee may be more beneficial in such a case.
    3. Invest in quality, not the quantity: All marketers want more data. Quantity is important but not at the cost of quality. Tell your list provider very clearly that you do not want inflated counts and do not sign up with the vendor just because of higher data counts. Understand the universe or market size, compare a few vendors and then decide.
    4. Give some time to the list provider to build the list: Unless you are buying standard shelf lists from D&B, Info USA, etc, please understand that it takes some time to build or customize a quality list relevant to your marketing needs.
    5. Choose your data provider that can be your marketing partner and not just a list vendor. One that can stand behind the data they deliver, can take responsibility of the data, understand your marketing needs, campaign time lines, priorities etc. Check what other capabilities they have in terms of cleansing the existing data, fixing bad data, ability to deliver international data etc.

  6. Buying lists can be a viable way to target new customers, but before making that monetary commitment, it is vital to understand your target audience as thoroughly as possible. Create in-depth buyer-personas for each target market you’re pursuing. If you don’t have a crystal clear idea of who you’re pursuing, the list you purchase won’t be at all successful in helping you reach your revenue goals.

  7. Good advice Brian

    On the issue of buying vs. renting lists, I would agree that buying a list makes sense when your audience is well-defined demographically and small enough that you can afford to reach them multiple times in short period.

    But there is a strong argument for renting names.

    In many cases, your audience is better defined not by their demographics, but by their actions – by the products they buy, the magazines they read, the trade shows they attend, the trade associations they join.

    Those profiles are not found through “compiled” demographic lists like Dun & Bradstreet and infoUSA. They are only available through “response” lists which are not typically available for purchase, only for rent.

    A good list broker should be advising on both compiled and response lists.

    Market universe size is also a factor. If your market has 50,000 prospects, but your budget only allows you to reach those prospects once a year, why would you want to purchase the list?

    By the time you get around to reaching them a second time (12 months later), a large percentage of those names have moved on.

    Wouldn’t it be better to go back and rent those names again? I would rather let the list company assume the responsibility for keeping the list up to date.

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