Buying Contact Lists: A Bad Demand Generation Strategy

Every marketer gets at least one email a week from a company offering X number of contacts from various job titles. This practice has accelerated due to the rise of account-based marketing (ABM), with vendors slinging lists of contacts from specific businesses promising an ABM panacea.

The idea is that, once you fill your prospect database with contacts from target accounts donning specific job titles, all you need to do is schedule a few emails, drop some content on them and then sales can quickly follow up to create an opportunity, because they’ve determined the company is a target account. Of course, it’s not quite so easy as that.

This modernization of the old “batch and blast” technique typically produces the same results that caused B2B marketers to abandon email spamming years ago (during the early years of email marketing automation): little engagement, even less conversion and compromised brand reputation.

Based on the carnage we see from using lists buys as part of a B2B marketing strategy, here’s why you should rethink your demand generation efforts if they include buying lists of cold leads: 

1. harms your brand image and reputation for little return

List buys may have a new “data” spin on them with the promises of intent and account-based data, but the fact remains – you’re buying cold contacts who haven’t expressed any interest in your solution. This effort simply fills your database with names.

So, when you email them, it’s tantamount to ringing their doorbell at 7pm to sell them a magazine subscription. Email blasts or cold calls are rarely effective at generating opportunities. In fact, this list-blast approach pushes potential prospects further away, leaving a negative brand experience and decreasing the likelihood these individuals will ever engage.  

2. Wastes database storage space with useless contact data records

Database usage is somewhat of a hidden cost when it comes to your marketing automation investment. While there are numerous pricing models, nearly all take some sort of data usage into account, such as number of contacts in the database or even the number of emails sent. This list dumping practice is actually costing you more money than you get in revenue creation and burning resources to manage the effort.

To underline the point, a SiriusDecisions report found that, on average, 25% of B2B marketing database records are inaccurate, further diminishing any impact from list buys. But even this estimate may underestimate the problem. As Justin Gray, CEO and Founder of B2B marketing consultancy LeadMD and respected Marketo expert, stated:

“We commonly use the 50% rule – i.e., 50% of your data is old or useless and data degrades at 22% YOY without some sort of augmentation. You can directly apply those metrics to marketing automation ASP. $50k spent on Marketo or Oracle Eloqua could easily be up to 50% wasted due to dirty or bad data.”

3. Lacks marketability without appended (or augmented) data

Let’s give these cold contacts the benefit of the doubt and optimistically assume that many of them would engage with your brand if provided the right content on the right pain point. Unfortunately, the data you get with a list buy rarely provides you with enough information to select the right content and offers to put in front of the contact.

Marketers usually must allocate extra budget to append required data that will allow you to properly identify their needs and calibrate your engagement tactics accordingly. More than just extra investment, this requires additional resources to coordinate and execute. Why not just invest all that time, energy and budget into initially identifying and engaging decision-makers with your branded, top-funnel marketing content in the first place?

4. Hurts sales’ confidence in your demand generation efforts & lead quality

Needless to say, if you apply a weak lead nurturing and scoring plan to your list buys, you inevitably hand off unqualified leads to sales. And this then initiates a vicious cycle of negative consequences to the business, specifically:

  • Sales loses faith in marketing’s ability to support sales pipeline growth requirements
  • Sales then stops following up with the leads they get, undermining marketing’ performance metrics
  • Poor performance results reflect badly in front of the executive team, which then results in underinvestment in the marketing function as a whole
  • Marketing is then further hamstrung by fewer available resources
  • Pipeline contributions further decline, and so on

5. Makes you vulnerable to data privacy non-compliance and Resulting fines

Data privacy regulations are an increasingly important consideration for B2B marketers and list buys represent everything that will destroy your compliance with them. The poster child for data compliance is the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

With this sweeping regulation coming into effect May 2018, it’s important that marketing organizations understand exactly how contact data is captured. GDPR is a regulation covering all EU countries, requiring organizations to acquire “clear affirmative action – freely given, specific, informed, unambiguous agreement by the prospect to have personal data processed.” (SiriusDecisions Data Privacy Compliance Core Report, 2017)

For B2B lead generation, this means both marketers and the third-party lead vendors fulfilling their paid campaigns must get a written consent for each purpose of lead use. Further, organizations must maintain documentation “that lists the personal information it collects and processes, the location of that information, the purpose for processing that data, records of consent received from prospects, and documented processes followed for the protection of personal data.” (SiriusDecisions Data Privacy Compliance Core Report, 2017)

Since you’d be acquiring these contacts after their private data was captured, it’s very difficult to be assured the list provider used tactics that are compliant to proliferating data privacy regulations.

B2B marketing is difficult, and it doesn’t seem to be getting much easier. On the surface, list buys seem like a quick, efficient way to top-load your marketing funnel. Unfortunately, any quick gains to your lead volume metrics are quickly and dramatically offset by a waterfall of negative consequences to your company.

Great marketing teams scale sales pipeline and revenue by creating smart strategies and executing them with efficient, tech-supported processes, fueled by quality data. List buys don’t fit into this winning equation.

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