It’s OK to Buy A List

list buying myth busted

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten rather tired of reading resolution blog posts about the dangers of purchasing a list for marketing efforts. Somewhere in our quest to drive inbound marketing we’ve made list purchasing a shameful practice. It’s something that happens in dark corners of the office with hushed tones and hidden purchasing codes never to been admitted over a networking lunch. Well I’m here to bust the myth that list purchasing has no role in today’s marketing landscape.

I’m a list buyer and I’m not afraid to admit it. There are plenty of good reasons to purchase a list for marketing.

  • Lists help you plan. If you are going after a new segment of the market they help you identify potential buyers, scope out the scale of your marketing efforts and  estimate how much revenue you are likely to produce in a given period of time.
  • Market research is a fantastic way to use a purchased list. Need to know more about your buyer? Curious what offers they may be interested in purchasing? Want to test the effectiveness of your messaging but you simply don’t know enough people in your target to collect meaningful data? Lists can provide a great channel for learning.
  • Accelerate awareness. If you are confident you have a good offer and conversion rates from your database are solid, but you simply don’t know enough people to feed the nurture pipeline lists can help you accelerate awareness while other content strategies and communication plans are maturing to peak performance.

There are equally many bad ways to use a list. Avoid these practices that have given list buying a bad rap.

  • A purchased list is not a list of leads. It pains me to even need to say this but I see it over and over again. Sales needs more leads so marketing buys a list of contacts and sends it to them to start making phone calls. Whatever you do, don’t do this!
  • Buying a list does not give you a license to spam. Too many people buy a list and without considering the audience start blasting various emails aimlessly hoping to interest readers. If at first they don’t respond, try, try again should not be your motto.
  • List purchases are generally cost-effective so marketers sometimes make the mistake of using a list in place of other marketing tactics to save money. In fact, a list should be used as a complement to other efforts such as content syndication and SEO, not a replacement.

Once you’ve balanced the pros and cons of using a purchased list as one tactic in your campaign there are a few things you should consider.

  • The source of your list is a consideration often overlooked. Does the provider have rights to share the data? Is the data verified and cleaned on a regular basis? If you can’t get a straight answer to these questions look elsewhere. Just because the data is cheap, doesn’t make it a value.
  • Think carefully about your target audience. List brokers have robust capabilities for filtering data – by geography, title, company size, industry, etc. Use them!
  • Work with someone who has guarantees. Any reputable list provider stands behind the quality of their data.
  • Be prepared to give and take with your new list. These individuals have not reached out to you. If you want them to read your content and engage be prepared to give them something of value. After all, you must build their trust, they don’t know who you are. Think about it this way – if someone knocks on your door do you let them into your house? Not without credentials. Email communication and phone calls are the same. We are intruding into their daily lives – be prepared to earn their respect with compelling content, strong value propositions and clear call to actions.
  • Have your suppression list ready. Just like you don’t want to pay for data you don’t need, don’t pay for data you already own.
  • Honor unsubscribes. That means taking them off your email distribution, but also taking them off your call lists. It’s the second half that often gets missed.
  • Set expectations on list performance. A purchased list will not perform at the same level as an organic list you have built over time. Open rates, hard bounces, click-thru and shares will be lower so plan accordingly.

The next time your tempted to purchase a list don’t feel guilty just be smart about it.  List myth, you’re busted!


  1. Editorial note: Lots of discussion on this topic via Twitter so I thought I’d mention list purchases should only be considered where local laws allow opt-out practices, or where the list provider can prove their names opted-in to be shared.