Whether in the B2C, B2B  or non-profit world, marketing professionals are tasked with generating new prospects/leads. It was never very easy, even when we knew the right titles and industries of our target audience, but it’s become even more challenging in the past decade because our methods must comply with the CAN-SPAM legislation in the U.S. and Anti-Spam Legislation, known as CASL, in Canada (which is more strict than the CAN-SPAM laws.)

How does the U.S. CAN-SPAM law (which has been in effect since 2004) impact marketing or sales professionals? Basically it means that you are not allowed to email any prospect unless the prospect 1) has explicitly opted in via your website, or 2) has been engaged in sales dialogue with your company within the past 18 months, or 3) is a current customer of your company or 4) has virtually raised his or her hand to engage with sales by submitting a registration form on your website. The following is a short primer on methods and rules for growing an organization’s email database.

Renting or borrowing

Most sales executives and marketeers want email lists, not postal addresses or phone numbers, that have fresh data.  Some vendors have a fully-vetted, updated list of opt-in names but they do not sell the list; it is an asset that has value to them (they charge a fee every time you want to rent it), and they don’t want to let their contacts to be spammed. They send your email copy on your behalf, via their email system, and you cannot actually see the recipient list.  If you rent/borrow their list, you hope that the list members like your email so much that they click and register on your campaign landing page; otherwise you’ve just spent at least one thousand dollars (usually much more than that) to get little or nothing in return. Finding an appropriate vendor that offers this type of list borrowing can be difficult, and even if you do find them, their list might be a bit “tired”of receiving email blasts.

Buying (this is a no no!)

Let me cut to the chase here; marketers should not buy lists anymore, because of anti-spam legislation. But on a positive note, it’s not such a big loss because the list vendors were of questionable value anyway. I suppose there were a few quality list vendors out there; you just had to sift through a sea of bad ones to find them. It seems that for every marketer there are at least two list vendors out there, pitching their list appending services and data. There were times when I was swamped regularly with emails from vendors who would make great claims about the “thousands of SAP users” or “IT directors in x, y and x industries!” Usually those vendors seem like fly-by-night operations from some remote corner of the earth.  There are also vendors who propose to build a list for you; but those vendors would usually find the same accounts you already have in your database. Moreover, they seem to outsource the research to some poorly paid employees overseas who know nothing about your target audience or industry.

Building/Harvesting (another no no!)

Back in the old days, with this approach an inside sales or marketing person would search major online databases to  harvest and scrape names and emails. It wasn’t free, but it could be done by a college intern or junior level staffperson for relatively low cost, plus the cost of the database subscription fee.  Several years ago, the crowd-sourced Jigsaw.com was a valuable source of suspect names.  Now owned by Salesforce.com, it is Data.com.  Since then, the rules of the game have changed. The Data.com platform could be seen as a loophole, but technically it is meant only for cross-selling or up-selling to your existing customers; i.e., to get more data about your current accounts/customers.

What about the current darling of databases, LinkedIn? The nice part about LinkedIn contacts is that most of the contact data is current; because it is a platform for getting a new job or new client, many LinkedIn members keep their profiles updated. One company that grabbed my attention (pun intended) is eGrabber, which leverages LinkedIn by offering a solution called LeadGrabberPro. However, I question whether it’s legal/ethical to email the prospects one could harvest from this platform. Reputable email service providers (ESP) won’t let marketers upload such raw lists into the ESP database, so legally speaking the most one should do is harvest names with phone numbers so that a sales executive could phone the prospects. In my opinion it’s not wise to harvest email addresses to upload them into your CRM or email database, even if members did publish their email address.

In the past few years LinkedIn has begun to monetize its technology and database, slowly increasing its monthly subscription fees to the point where it’s become quite expensive, relatively speaking. You can send InMails, depending on your level of LinkedIn subscription.  The price of a subscription that includes 30 InMails per month isn’t cheap ($900/year or $1,200 if you pay on a monthly basis.) A diligent sales rep could easily churn through 30 InMails per week, never mind per month. Recently LinkedIn began heavily promoting its Marketing Solutions for advertising reach (have you noticed the ads in the sidebar while you peruse LinkedIn?) You can send bulk InMails to targets that meet your criteria, but there is a substantial cost, of course.

In summary, nowadays we sales and marketing folks must build, rather than buy or rent, a list. We do that by offering compelling, relevant content that encourages prospects/suspects to submit their contact information via our website, and we exhibit or attend trade shows to make sales contacts.  We telephone our prospects before we email them, and ask permission to send an email. Having built a list, we can leverage it as often as we want (as long as we comply with anti-SPAM laws.)

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