Buying Lists? 6 Rules to Help Protect Your Business

With so much emphasis placed on the different opt-in techniques companies use to build lists, it seems counter to the trend to be talking about purchased or rented lists.

But as anyone who works in marketing can tell you, the list business is alive and well, because it needs to be.

For any company that’s not generating a mountain of traffic through their website and newsletter opt-ins; for any company looking to grow beyond its current customer and prospect base; and for any business branching into new markets, without partners or a large enough advertising budget - purchased lists might be an unavoidable necessity.

Here are six rules to help you use this source responsibly, protect your business, and avoid wasting money and destroying your sender reputation.


1 - Examine your sources

There are hundreds of list vendors around the world and the quality of their product varies greatly, so this is one place where you don't want to head for the bargain basement.

First, you need to determine how your vendor is building their lists. Many lists are scraped from the web. Industrious little bots visit thousands of sites, collecting email addresses, names, and where possible- titles.

Other companies sell event-based lists, which, at least in theory, offer the advantage of compiling names that are related to each other and to the market the list purchaser is targeting.

Publishers build great lists - but they are also rarely sell them. Why sell once when they can rent those names over and over?

Many companies have discovered that their immense customer bases offer an outstanding secondary income stream. And there are companies whose entire business is built on creating lists that they do their best to manually verify with detailed information on individuals and businesses to allow their customers to target with a reasonable expectation of accuracy.

You need to know who you are buying from and how they have created their lists to understand what you can expect by way of accuracy, the likelihood that names have opted into these lists, and of course the age of the data you're buying.

2 - Select titles that are relevant to your offer

Think hard and long about who will realistically want to see your message, and don't ever fall into the trap of believing that someone in a job with absolutely no bearing on what you have to sell is going to forward your message to the right person.  That is a dangerous fantasy. They'll either ignore you, delete you, opt out or flag you as spam, and frankly, at that point you deserve it.

3 - Verify your emails

Regardless of your source, verify the email addresses.  There are list hygiene and email deliverability services available and while they’re not perfect, they will help protect your business by finding at least some of the seeds, spam traps, or simply invalid emails.

You absolutely must clean your list before it goes anywhere near your database. Sources include Informatica for email deliverability and Webbula for hygiene.

4 - Format consistently

Look at how your data is formatted with the future in mind. 

Depending on the quality of the source, many lists come with an abundance of information. If you choose to import directly into your database or CRM, you'll have to not only select the fields you want to import and match them accurately to your own field names, you'll also need to ensure that the formatting is compatible.

If you're importing information you'd like to be able to sort on, at some point in the future, that can turn into a major pain when there is nothing consistent in your data. Think job titles, industry descriptions and revenue.

Just imagine how you’re going to search for a revenue range ‘>$1 billion’ when that information was entered as ‘$1,000,000,000+’ or ‘$1-10BB’!



5 - Label your source

If you are importing data into your own CRM you need to know where every name came from. Label each unique source so you can track the performance and accuracy of different sources.

Now - you've done your best to buy a quality list. You've selected your target audience carefully, verified every email address and ruthlessly removed anything that wasn’t certified as both deliverable and safe. You've selected exactly which fields you're importing, you know you can match them to your own fields and you've formatted everything so that one day, you'll actually be able to sort on that field. You've labelled your source.

What next?


Nothing says time killing, revenue sucking, confidence-annihilating data with quite the same intensity as going to all this trouble only to import duplicates into your CRM.

You might be planning to import new leads, but you'd better be sure that you don't already have those names as contacts in your CRM. They might even be customers and won't your Sales VP be thrilled when you start emailing your biggest customer with lead generation campaigns!

Or, they might exist as leads in your CRM, but there's no guarantee that your marketing automation software will catch the duplicates before you hit ‘Send’. And it’s even less likely that your follow-up callers won't deliver the same messages to the same person often enough to make sure that they’ll never do business with you.

So just make sure you dedupe all the data before it reaches your system. I use CleanImport.

Struggling with purchased lists? We have solutions to help you make sure only valid, relevant, and unique data makes it into your CRM. Need guidance implementing any of these 6 steps for your recent lists? We’re here to help!