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Eight Questions to Ask When Buying a Marketing List

by Chris Golec  |  
August 24, 2010

Targeting the right audience is the key to success for any marketing campaign. Up-to-date contact information, valid email addresses, and the tools to segment a list accurately are must-haves for any marketer, yet they are by no means assured in the lists purchased from business-contact vendors.

And as every marketer knows, limited list filtering and segmentation options, as well as inaccurate data, all negatively impact a campaign's response rates.

Putting together a list of viable prospects, and ensuring that information about them is accurate and relevant, can be a daunting task. There are a myriad of list and contact vendors in the marketplace today, each with its own set of data.

But buying a marketing list that you have confidence in does not have to be a stressful process if you ask the right questions before you make a decision. Here are eight questions to ask vendors before buying a list.:

1. What makes your data unique?

There are many data providers out there, and many pull from common sources, such as Dun & Bradstreet/Hoovers, Jigsaw, or Infogroup. It is important to ask what makes the data in the list you are considering unique, and then determine whether it will complement your current database and serve the campaign you are considering.

If the provider partners with leading data companies, find out whether they also pull from smaller publications and data companies that might help to "fill in the blanks" on their business contact records.

2. How often do you refresh your data?

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Chris Golec is the founder and CEO of Demandbase (, a technology company that enables B2B companies to turn Web traffic into sales. Reach Demandbase via and 415-683-2660.

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  • by karin Tue Aug 24, 2010 via web

    Chris, very good article. We have a long list of checks and balances for list rentals, newsletter sponsorships, etc., to make sure that we are reaching our target audience and spending our marketing dollars wisely, but other than a few tried and true sources, we still have trouble finding good quality lists. It used to be much easier, back in the day before everybody and their brother jumped onto this bandwagon. I'm wondering if there is a good source that you can recommend.

  • by Bill Kaplan Tue Aug 24, 2010 via web

    Nice overview, Chris, provided one is looking to buy a direct mail list.

    If you're looking to do your prospecting by email, however, it's a completely different game. The first question to ask in this situation is whether the vendor is willing to sell you email addresses. If they are, stop there and move on.

    No legitimate data providers will sell these opt-in email addresses as it runs afoul of industry best practices and is in violation of their data license agreements. Experienced marketers know that if an email list can be bought, it was either not legally collected in the first place (e.g. scraped from the Internet in violation of federal CAN-SPAM laws) or the file was built by sites that swap email addresses or download one's address book. In each of these cases, the files will contain so many problematic, bouncing, or spamtrap addresses that you will surely get blocked or blacklisted once you start messaging these results.

    If you're looking to prospect by email, there are many companies that will perform an email list rental for you. Be certain to vet these companies very carefully and understand that email list rental is not for the faint of heart. Most companies' opt-in databases are mediocre at best and generating a positive ROI on email list rentals is still a rarity.

  • by Karin Wed Aug 25, 2010 via web

    Bill, this is what I have found. I thought there might be a quality list rental company that I'm not aware of, though I think I have worked with or vetted most of them! Those that I've found to be the most accurate and effective are subscription lists of organizations, web portals, newsletters, etc. that offer quality information to our target audience. Those subscription lists are typcially opt-in for the list owner, and we are permitted to market only to those contacts that have agreed to receive information related to their interest. But they can be expensive.

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