August 13

List Buying: 3 reasons why this tactic can be deadly for marketers

Email Marketing


You’re on deadline when an email flashes across your screen. You don’t recognize the company or person who sent it. The subject line is meaningless. You instantly banish it to the junk folder and carry on with the task at hand.

Or your phone rings. You pick it up to hear:

“Hi, this is Ima Teleprospector calling from Irrelevant Company, and I wanted to find out when you might be purchasing Irrelevant’s Products.”

The interruption has made the Irrelevant Company even more so.

I wish I could say these scenarios are exaggerations, but they currently happen at offices everywhere … every day. Why? Because there are marketers and sales professionals still entrenched in the ’80s. They treat email like direct mail, where you:

  1. Buy a list
  2. Flood a certain ZIP or SIC code with a cleverly designed message
  3. Wait for the leads to pour in

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, one of the members of the B2B Lead Roundtable group on LinkedIn asked:

“I am looking for input on lead purchasing. What data should I know before I purchase a list?”

I took this question to leaders at HubSpot and ExactTarget, organizations that launched marketers into this millennium by providing tools and knowledge to use today’s marketing channels in a way they consider more effective.

Mike Volpe, CMO, HubSpot; Ellie Mirman, Head of SMB Marketing, HubSpot; and Chip House, Senior Director of Relationship Marketing, ExactTarget, agreed that no amount of data will help in a list purchase.

They have one piece of advice: Don’t do it.

Here are three reasons why (and I’m sure they could offer more, but these are enough to strike fear into the heart of any marketer):

Downside #1: You could decimate your company’s email marketing program

When you send emails and text messages without the recipient’s prior permission, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act strictly requires the email makes it clear that what the recipient is receiving is advertising. (And we all love getting email advertising, right?)

“Names on any list you purchase did not give your company explicit permission to email them,” says House. “So when you email them, it’s unsolicited spam and you run the risk of having future emails blocked by Internet Service Providers.”

House explains anti-spam organizations will seed lists with spam traps – inactive email addresses – which email deliverability experts refer to as honeypots. (Picture Winnie the Pooh’s arm, or head, getting caught in the honeypot, and you can quickly understand what these traps are meant to do.) Legitimate companies will quickly scrub these inactive addresses from their email lists after they get a bounce message, while list providers may not. And, if these addresses receive an email from your organization, it could be targeted as a spammer, irreparably damaging your future email deliverability.

Downside #2: The response rate will be nil

Mirman insists relationships are critical to email marketing success, and buying lists does not buy an instant relationship.

“There are a lot of email best practices around segmentation, behaviors, and triggers; you cannot practice any of these when you buy a list,” says Mirman. At a minimum, she says:

  • The recipient must recognize you and your company
  • The email should respond to her past engagement with your company
  • It must offer, in response to that engagement, something she’ll value

Downside #3: You’ll harm your brand’s reputation and your sales results

“People don’t like getting cold calls,” says Volpe. “And you risk having your emails end up in spam filters because people don’t want emails from people to whom they have not given permission.

“In some regions of the world, like Europe, automating emails to people without their permission is against the law,” he points out.

Ultimately, when emails end up in spam and phone calls end up in voicemail or, worse yet, in a dial tone, conversion and close rates tank, resulting in an unhappy sales team.

So what’s a marketer to do when he needs leads fast?

“Names on list are not leads,” counters Volpe. “Doing marketing right, building relationships and creating love for your company requires some work. Suck it up and do your job, and please stop giving marketers a bad reputation by cutting corners.”

To give you a full look at all of your options, on a future B2B Lead Roundtable Blog, I’ll provide actionable advice to help you get started building your list. After that, we’ll look at how to purchase a list and what to do with it, if you choose to go that route.

Related Resources:

Do You Expect Your Inside Sales Team to Practice Alchemy?

Email Marketing: Avoid the pitfalls of a direct-mail mindset

Email Deliverability: Riddles answered on spam complaints, feedback loops, and dedicated IPs

Email Deliverability: How a marketing vendor with 99 percent delivery rates treats single opt-in lists vs. double opt-in lists

How to Build a Quality List and Make Data Drive Leads

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. Great post! I hear marketers ask this question all the time, and I always provide those three reasons as to why it isn’t a good idea.

    Although your three reasons is enough, another reason I suggest marketers avoid buying lists is to maintain a clean and reliable database. If marketers are building a database full of records that no one can trust, it will be deemed useless and the trust between marketing and sales will be diminished.

    – Carol Tang at Marketo

  2. Purchasing a list is NEVER a good idea. Renting? Not good either but if you don’t have an organic list started yet or you are new to email, it is possible but you have to do your research about the list and the company. If the list is targeted, maybe, but response rates will tend to be lower than organic list. However, you may end up with some good quality leads.

Comments are closed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Related Posts