Over half of marketers cite email as the most effective channel for early stage lead generation, yet one of the biggest challenges sales and marketing teams constantly struggle with is building email lists

Would it sound too good to be true to have a giant list of contacts with your ideal customer profile generated for you overnight? While that is exactly what some companies are trying to sell to sales organizations, it is far from the solution to your team’s challenges. In fact, buying such an email list could sabotage sales and marketing efforts across your organization. 

We’ll review all the reasons you should never buy email lists, and provide some tried and true examples of how to build your own email list organically with the alignment and collaboration of your sales and marketing teams.

Why you should never buy email lists

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is receiving an email from a company that bought their data from a third party. You’ll likely feel annoyed, dismissive, or perhaps even violated that your data was bought and sold – all negative sentiment towards the email sender. 

Besides coming off as annoying at best to bought email contacts, your company could even be penalized by various systems in place by different institutions ranging from governmental privacy legislation to your own email service provider’s terms and conditions. 

Let’s dive into the reasons you should never buy or rent an email list, specifically as to how it may harm your business. 

First and foremost, it’s against the law in some states and countries. In other places, it may technically be legal, but you could still be fined. 

GDPR is a European Union law that explicitly states email subscribers must opt-in to receive emails with active consent; even if you aren’t based in Europe, if you have customers that are, you must comply with GDPR. The fines for GDPR violations are not something to brush off – GDPR fines for companies found in violation of the law with their marketing activities have ranged from several thousands to €50 million. 

The United States also has a law that regulates commercial email, known as the CAN-SPAM Act. It doesn’t state buying email lists as against the law, but it does state sending bulk unsolicited emails as illegal. Meanwhile, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is the first state law – and other states are likely to follow – that requires businesses to honor the right of California residents to “access, delete, and opt-out of sharing or selling their information.”

Your email marketing platform won’t let you send emails to bought contact lists. 

The best email marketing platforms hold themselves to a high standard, and as such many of these platforms will not let you import bought email lists. It’s against their terms of service, and you can be banned from a platform for using a purchased list. 

Your email service provider (ESP) will flag and penalize you.

Email service providers (ESPs) track the interactions of a recipient with the email. This includes the number of opens, clicking on links, forwarding to others, reporting as spam, and so on. 

If your email engagement is positive – recipients are opening and interacting with the email – then your ESP understands to route future emails from your domain to their inbox. On the flipside, if your email engagement is negative – recipients are reporting your email as spam – then future emails from your domain will go straight to their spam folder. 

Sending unsolicited emails may mark them as spam, and your ESP will flag and penalize your entire domain. In some cases, your ESP may even close your account if they suspect you’re sending a large volume of unwanted emails.  

Your email deliverability and IP reputation will be harmed.  

Email providers and blocklist providers utilize spam traps to catch malicious activity. While there are several types of spam traps, in general they use a seemingly real email address whose sole purpose is to identify unsolicited emails. 

Since you have no true visibility into how a bought email list is sourced or created, you will have warning if a spam trap email address ends up on the list. Setting off even just one spam trap can severely damage your email deliverability and domain reputation with your internet provider. 

You have no idea if the data is fresh or stale. 

Data decay is a concern even for organic email lists over time, but with bought lists,  you have no context on how fresh your “new” contacts truly are. Since you aren’t involved in the creation of a bought email list, you have no context if the data used to compile the list is fresh or stale. 

How often is contact information refreshed? How are the lists kept up to date? If your team does not own the creation of the list, you won’t be able to answer these fundamental questions.

Your response rate will be significantly lower. 

Emails to cold contacts have a notoriously low response rate, which is yet another reason buying email lists has a low ROI. This typically is because the recipient is not familiar with the sender – your organization – since they did not opt in to emails from you.

It’s important to note that even if the contact was “earned” through an opt-in list of a bought email list, if the recipient of your email did not specifically opt-in to get emails from your brand, they probably will not engage and lower your response rate.

Once more, they may mark you as spam – which hurts your email deliverability – and your opt out rate will be significantly higher compared to contacts that opted in to receive emails from your company – not the company you bought the opt-in list from. 

You’ll come across as annoying spam – hurting your brand reputation.   

In some cases, unsolicited emails can go beyond just annoying spam and can actually hurt your brand reputation with your target market. Also consider that other businesses targeting similar markets are using the exact same email list as you if the contacts are bought, so these recipients are especially fed up with unsolicited emails.

How to build an B2B email list from scratch

So what should your organization invest in to build your email list if buying a list is so detrimental? Authentically acquiring contacts to grow your business is certainly not easy, but thankfully there are some tried and tested as well as up and coming ways to organically build your email list. 

Alignment between your sales and marketing teams will be especially important for building your email list from scratch. Given that your marketing team has the best insights on messaging and they are likely managing other lead generation campaigns, they can help align their campaign objectives and outcomes to provide information to help the sales team – like generating leads to help build an organic contact list. Let’s dive into a few ways to organically build your contact list with the help of a few examples. 

Add highly visible opt-in forms and chatbots throughout your website. 

Given that your website is one of the most valuable assets to help your team generate organic email lists, your website’s user experience should utilize highly visibly opt-in forms with relevant calls to actions throughout. There are multiple types of opt-in forms, like pop ups triggered after certain behaviors or floating bars that are always visible.  

Chatbots are a more advanced way to collect contact information in exchange for providing targeted information to potential leads. 

For example, Workboard utilizes an AI-powered chatbot that, through a few simple questions, helps the user navigate to the information they are looking for. This also helps the company identify if the potential lead is still within the research phase (e.g. asking for more information) or is looking to purchase (e.g. requesting a demo) based on the types of questions they ask. 

Drive traffic to targeted landing pages to capture email sign ups. 

Landing pages are typically where users “land” on your site from a marketing campaign. They have limited navigation and are meant to generate leads by promoting specific products, services, or solutions.  
Creating landing pages specific to your target audience is key. Splunk, for example, has dedicated landing pages by industry and product function to showcase their solutions to specific targeted audiences. The more targeted and personalized your messaging, the higher the page’s conversion rate and the more contact information you’ll harvest. 

Create a newsletter to attract subscribers.

If your marketing team is attracting your target audience with useful and engaging content on a regular basis, then be sure to offer them a newsletter sign up form so they can always be in the loop. 

The more touch points these top of funnel leads then have with your brand, the more likely they will be receptive to being contacted by sales. Zendesk includes newsletter subscription optin forms throughout their site as a footer, including the home page.

Gate high value content to exchange knowledge for contacts.

White papers, guides, templates, and even webinars are a great way to showcase your valuable expertise in exchange for their valuable contact information; gated content is also known as lead magnets. 

HighSpot not only offers robust resources for their audience, but they also have live and on-demand webinars that go beyond product demos. Such resources help demonstrate your brand’s industry expertise, making them great lead magnets. 

Offer free trials and demos. 

Everyone likes free. Prominently showcase a free trial or demo of your product or service to help identify contacts that are closer to making a purchase than those signing up for a newsletter or webinar, who are likely still researching their options. 
PandaDoc prominently offers a free 14 day trial of their solutions on their home page. Leads that sign up for trials and demos are often automatically assigned to a sales rep that can help nurture them to close a deal.

Take advantage of AI software to find contacts hiding in your inbox. 

While these are all viable ways to build your B2B list organically, they are time intensive. And outside of lead generating marketing campaigns that also take time and marketing expertise, there are a few new ways to build an organic email list with the help of AI. Utilizing AI technology not only helps your team identify the right time to go after the right leads through automated lead scoring, but it can also help your sales and marketing team generate more leads.

With People.ai, businesses can automate contact capture and avoid the pitfalls of manual data entry. By tapping into the inboxes of the entire GTM team, not just your sales reps, your organization can unlock thousands of contacts that would have otherwise never made it into your CRM. 

The best part? People.ai associates activities and time spent with these contacts so you always know exactly where they came from and why they’re making their way into your campaigns. Plus, thanks to AI-powered title classification, you’re not getting 50 different titles surfaced in your CRM. People.ai will condense and group contacts around common titles.

SmartContacts filters out private data in accordance with GDPR compliance and collects relevant contact information that is sitting in your team’s inbox. It then ensures these contacts are kept up to date so your team does not have to manually purge dated data. Working with your CRM, SmartContacts also track all touch points. 

These contacts are associated with a higher sales conversion rate due to their quality and relevancy–these contacts are often key decision makers within buyer groups at organizations that match your ideal customer profile.   

With People.ai, PTC was able to unlock new contacts from the inboxes of their 6,000 employees that would have otherwise never been systematically organized into their CRM. SmartContacts sourced 75,000 marketable contacts from their sales team’s inboxes on – 40,000 of those contacts were found on the first day of implementing People.ai. This information helped inform PTC’s intent scoring model and gave their marketing and sales team a more robust perspective on who to engage within an account.  

While your marketing team is likely doing a lot of time consuming campaigns to generate new leads and contacts, your sales team can help grow your email list by utilizing AI-powered software like People.ai to help find contacts that are likely to convert. 

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