The Truth About Lead Lists: Why They Lead to Bad Marketing, and How You Can Avoid Them
A good lead list can fuel a revenue pipeline for an entire year, but do you know from where it came, or which practices were used to acquire it? It’s time to get real about the truth behind lead lists.
Leads are the mandatory fuel on which our marketing departments run. Without leads, our marketing campaigns have no audience–and may as well not even exist. The drive to fuel our pipelines with high quantities of highly converting leads keeps most of us coming to work every day, and our level of success often determines our job security. A lot of marketers resort to a lot of shady measures to fill their pipelines with leads, and we think it’s high time marketers ditch the less than favorable practice known as buying lead lists.
Why Do Businesses Acquire Lead Lists?
Thanks to real-time sales intelligence from providers like Data.com and InsideView, marketers don’t have to rely on static lead lists to reach new enterprise leads. In the SMB space, however, lead lists run more rampant than ever. Small businesses are significantly more difficult to track online than larger enterprises, which makes them less likely to show up in online lead databases. For marketers that want to reach small businesses, purchasing static lead lists has become common practice.
Information about small businesses is just starting to move online as small business owners build Facebook pages and earn online reviews. Technology companies are beginning to use this information to provide insights about SMBs, but because these data change constantly, they’re very difficult to harness in the form of lead lists. Lead lists aren’t wired to accommodate social media, and social networks haven’t yet commoditized customer information on open markets. Unless you use a market discovery platform like Radius, if you want to find small business leads, you can either buy lists or manually mine social networks.
For most marketers–especially those that sell to small businesses–purchasing lead lists is still the easiest way to fill a pipeline.
How Do Businesses Acquire Lead Lists?
Marketers generally acquire leads lists one of three ways:
1. Buy Lists
A number of list providers, including Salesgenie and D&B, sell lists of leads based on your requested segmentation criteria. Traditionally, vendors offer leads in firmographic segments, such as region, industry, revenue, decision maker title, and company size. When you buy a list of leads, you literally buy the rights to contact data for a specified number of businesses and/or executives. List vendors sell data as a commodity to whichever paying customers desire it, and once the data is in their hands, they can do with it as they please.
2. Rent Lists
List rentals differ from list buys in two primary ways. The obvious difference is the duration of your access to the list; when you rent a list, you can only access it for a limited time. The other difference stems from the source of the data on the list. Vendors that rent lists aren’t always just list renters; they often collect data as a side effect of their primary revenue source and rent the data to supplement their business. For example, an online subscription-only publication may collect targeted contact information from subscribers that they rent to marketers who want to reach that audience.
3. Subscribe to Lists
Online subscription services, such as data.com increasingly dominate the marketing list universe. A number of technologies track lead information online as it changes to display the most current lead insights available. Marketers pay monthly or annual subscription fees for online access to lead lists that reflect changes as they occur so email addresses remain up to date, decision maker titles reflect job changes, and a number of data points that track constantly changing business insights.
How Does List Buying Go Wrong?
In the B2B Lead Roundtable blog, Brian Carroll, Executive Director of Revenue Optimization at MECLABs, recounts how he discovered that a bad lead list is actually 60% more costly than a good lead list
“The difference between the best- and worst-performing lists was almost $600 per lead.” – Brian Carroll
Besides the detrimental monetary impact bad lead lists can render on your marketing organization, four additional deterrents should scare most marketers away from lead lists:
1. Losing credibility with your email service provider (ESP)
Every reputable email service provider puts measures in place to prevent their customers from unabashedly spamming individuals who had the misfortune to land on the wrong marketing list.
Mailchimp, for example, enforces an opt-in only policy. This means you can only use Mailchimp to users that want to receive them. Mailchimp suspends accounts that upload rented and scraped lists, and the service identifies violations using a code of red flags, some of which include,
- Your most recent campaign received Spam complaints
- You appear to be “cold calling” or sending to prospects who never gave you permission
- Your most recent campaign looked “spammy” and we’re trying to prevent spam complaints
On their website, Mailchimp explicitly states that they do not allow any of the following types of lists:
- Purchased lists of any kind, even from a reputable source
- Rented lists
- Lists scraped from websites or other publicly available data
- A list of members of an association, trade show vendors, fellow industry members, etc.
Mailchimp’s policy is just one example of the type of reception lists have amongst email service providers. If you want to build an audience of engaged customers, buying lead lists isn’t going to get you very far.
2. Ruining your email sender score
An email sender score is like a credit score for email marketers. Sender Score is a service provided by Return Path to gauge the credibility and reputation of email marketing. Sender Score looks aggregates data “from 60 million mailboxes at a variety of ISPs, spam filtering, and security companies to determine your reputation.” The more often your email address gets flagged as spam, the worse your sender score. Your email sender score matters because email services such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook, and others often look at your sender score to determine whether to accept your emails or banish them to the spam folder.
When you email purchased lists, you can’t guarantee the veracity of the contact information they contain, so you may rack up a dreadfully high bounce rate. You also risk spam flags when you email people that have never heard of you and do not anticipate emails from you. If you ruin your sender score because you sent a few emails to a few bad lists, you lose the privilege to reach the inboxes that actually do want to hear from you.
In addition to ruining your Sender Score, you also risk getting caught in honeypot traps and labeled as a spammer. Organizations dedicated to preventing spam and tricking hackers use honeypots as decoys to engage and deceive hackers and spammers. If you purchase or list a list of questionable repute, you may unknowingly market to honeypots and get flagged as a spammer.
3. Flooding your CRM with duplicate data
As adoption and use of customer relationship management systems like Salesforce.com grows, organizations wield increasingly volumes of customer data. When marketers upload lead lists into their CRM systems, they often create duplicate records of existing accounts–usually with marginally different details.
Consider three separate records for the same individual, Jennifer Jones, Marketing Lead Generation Manager at VIP Productions. It’s very difficult for a CRM system to recognize that these three records all identify one individual, so over time, a CRM system may build up tons of duplicate records.
De-duplicating and scrubbing data lists is never easy. As marketers upload new data into their CRMs, they inevitably duplicate a collection of records.
Duplicate data aren’t just an obsessive compulsive data organizer’s nightmare; duplicate data can impact conversion rates, sales forecasting, and revenue projection. Superfluous data lead to inaccurate reporting, which can have a tremendously harmful effect on your entire organization’s health.
4. Annoying the people whose business you want to earn
Perhaps the most obvious and egregious violation that lead lists incur comes from their inherent purpose.
It’s a bit counterintuitive to send unsolicited messages to our coveted prospects inboxes and cold call them with no forewarning. Unless you know exactly what the people on your list want, your marketing messages will probably burden them–even if they have an acute need for your offering.
So How Do Modern Marketers Acquire Legitimate Leads?
Fortunately, the solution to the problem of lead lists finally exists. So how does it work?
Build Laser-Focused Market Segments
We have to start thinking of our customers in very specific terms. Many organizations that offer resources to small businesses lump every single small business into the same category based solely on company size. This type of targeting pits entrepreneurial startups on the high speed growth track alongside the locally owned corner bakery that’s been selling the same scones to grandmothers for forty-five years, and intends to do so exactly the same way for the next forty-five years. Company size is no longer a sufficiently informative lead attribute. We can actually tell a lot more about businesses from their likelihood to adopt social media and their average review ratings. Modern marketers understand this, and use big data about small businesses to hyper-segment the right customer markets.
Craft Highly Targeted Campaigns
Laser-focused market segments and psychographic targeting go together like milk and cookies. If you create laser-focused market segments, you have to craft hyper-focused marketing campaigns to go with them. For instance, if you define a new market segment as restaurants with four and five star reviews, you can and should create a marketing campaign that speaks directly to restaurant owners that deliver high levels of customer satisfaction. The message these restaurants want to hear is much different from the message you would send to restaurant owners with average online review ratings of one or two stars. Hyper-targeted segmenting offers flexibility on the campaign creation side.
Only Add New Leads to Your System
Marketers can completely eliminate the burden of duplicate data with a few nifty tech tricks. The Radius application, for instance, can hook directly to your Salesforce account to tell you exactly which businesses in our lead database are new. With this type of technology, marketers never have to add duplicate data to their CRM. Ever.
The modern marketing world looks very different that it did before we had marketing automation and customer segmentation platforms. Lead lists emerged as a solution to the problem of limited data availability in the small and medium sized business segment. Data availability is a decreasing problem, and we have to adjust our marketing strategies so that we don’t rely on the same old tactics in an entirely new arena.
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