Should You Ever Buy an Email List?

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I can just hear you saying it right now: “C’mon, buying email lists? Are you crazy?”

As every internet marketer and CAN-SPAM article will tell you, buying email lists is shady for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, sending unsolicited email can get your IP address blocked, resulting in a suspension of your email privileges.

However, if that is the case, why does almost every major corporation and even smaller business habitually buy, rent and use email lists? In all the companies I’ve worked, not a single time did I hear of anyone being reprimanded for spamming customers online. How did these companies “get away with it?”

Reason #1: By buying from quality sources

Quality email list vendors like Data.com (now part of Salesforce), NetProspex and MeritDirect have been around for many years and are well-respected in the sales and marketing world. Likewise, databases such and D&B (Dunn and Bradstreet) and Nextmark are reknown for their attention to detail and quality information. 

How do you determine if a list vendor or database offers quality information? The seller should be transparent about how specific contacts were acquired; for example, MeritDirect describes how its b2b Base accumulates contacts via a collaboration between the company and Experian. MeritDirect’s b2b Base also contains several years’ worth of data mining information built through direct business mailings.

Reading online reviews of individual vendors is another method you can use to research who is worthy of your dollars. Of course, nothing beats contacting the companies directly and asking them flat-out how they built their lists.

Reason #2: By customizing emails

If you know how your contacts were gathered, you also know how to approach them during your first, second and follow-up emails. Obviously, the last thing you want to do is hit your list with generic and hard-sell emails that are likely to result in your messages being instantly deleted or marked as spam.

However, let’s say you know that the email list contacts you purchased were accumulated via an online consumer survey about exercise routines. In this survey, 50% of respondents answered that they run once a week. Additionally, 75% of respondents noted concerns about uncomfortable running shoes and/or running injuries.

Using this list, you could craft an email that would target runners with a title such as, “Looking for running shoes that won’t result in an injury?” Within that email, you could showcase your footwear products and also include a blog post outlining stretching techniques for reducing running injury. Your landing page would be very soft-sell and maybe just ask the reader to click on a “Learn more” call-to-action (CTA) link about common running injuries.

You could then refine your email list by dropping the non-responders and emailing only those recipients who had opened your email and clicked on the enclosed CTA.

Reason #3: By sending small batch emails

Another way to trigger your email recipients’ “spamdar” is to email many different contacts at a single account or business field (e.g., accounting, IT). Rather than hitting your entire list with a massive batch email that may actually get little or no response (or even worse, a spam alert), you’re better off targeting a few individual contacts at separate accounts with a specific message.

By sending off just a few emails, you don’t “use up” your entire email list when trying out new messages and sales tactics. You can try several different iterations of an email until you achieve an optimal response rate while systemically working through small segments of your audience.

How many individual contacts are needed to calculate statistical significance and determine if your message is good enough or requires additional tweaking? Believe it or not, you can actually create A/B split tests and run them on sample sizes containing as few as 10 recipients per test group. To check for statistical significance, use this handy online A/B calculator to determine the confidence level (i.e., p value) of your data.

Reason #4: By maintaining detailed records

With the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) rolling out July 1st, email marketers are well advised to keep detailed records of how they acquired each email address. This is because the biggest change under the CASL is express consent, or the requirement that the email marketer disclose exactly why consent is being requested and who is making the request.

In the past, implied consent was sufficient for scraping and using email addresses when users clicked on a banner ad, for example.

With detailed email acquisition records in place, “offending” emails can easily be culled or reaffirmed if the legislation changes or mandates new exclusion criteria. This sure beats losing an entire email list simply because you didn’t maintain a thorough audit trail.

Detailed records are also required because the CASL (and CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S.A.) requires that unsubscribe requests be promptly complied with. Going forward into 2017, marketers must affirm or reaffirm that their email recipients have provided express consent to receive correspondence.

Buying email lists: Always a bad idea?

Ideally, organic email list growth through voluntary website opt-in is the best method for collecting potential customer information. However, when first starting out in your business, it takes a long time to build up contacts. Purchasing an email list or two provides a quick and dirty method for getting started with web advertising and promotion. Furthermore, purchased email lists can make for a great source of curated customer information and even so-called ‘warm leads.’

2 Comments

  1. Cindy Metcalf says:

    If you are a starting business or expanding into new territory, you don’t really have a choice. Just acquire a list from a reputable source and hire an email service to handle the email for you. Beginners should never attempt to do this on their own. There is too much at risk. You really have to know what you are doing if you are a business owner.

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  2. Great write up. I have had luck with buying/rent lists for my home based biz. Thanks for the extra resources.

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