6 ways to drive lead generation
Hint: it's not buying email lists
Sometimes quality is better than quantity. But when your sales funnel is dry and you’re uncertain of where your leads will come, it can be tempting to just play the numbers game.
This numbers game mentality goes something like this: the more contacts you can add and blast at once, the higher chance of hitting your quota. You bet on the notion that enough of these contacts will convert and it doesn’t matter if the majority aren’t good.
Paying for a list is the easiest way to dump hundreds or thousands of contacts to blast one email and wait for the return. That return does not ultimately yield positive or long-term results.
Before we get to how to drive lead generation if it’s not list-buying, we need to have a refresher on why buying lists was always a bad idea but that 2020 solidified it.
Why you should not buy email lists
Since list buying happens more often in B2B, I’ll start with some facts and numbers on why this tactic doesn’t work.
It’s illegal in Europe. If you’re selling internationally and could attract people in Europe, you definitely don’t want to go this route. While not illegal in the United States, there are spam laws that prohibit or discourage use, though it’s not as penalized as in Europe.
While spam isn’t illegal in the US, it definitely hurts your deliverability rate and blacklists you to the market. Even if a subscriber wanted to receive your emails, you will automatically go to the spam folder if you’ve been dinged enough.
I’m in the business of branding, which means I care about good reputations. Call me crazy, but blacklisted is not synonymous with a stellar reputation, which may be why I’m so passionate about my reform of list-buying.
So, we understand the legal and reputation risks from buying lists, but let’s look at a real-life example I witnessed.
I had just started working with a team and literally on day one, the founder and VP of sales were segmenting lists and asked for my opinion. I tried to back the train up to get as much detail as possible. I went over some basics that I’m covering in this blog post on how they acquired the names and what they planned to do with them. At some tradeshows, for example, the organizers offer you a list of all attendees whether you talked to them or not for a fee (which is not the same thing I’m discussing here since you have a common interest in the tradeshow and can ask them to opt-in during your first outreach). That was not the case in this scenario.
They bought different names for folks in their industry (very widespread) and narrowed it down by some arbitrary titles. They planned to put people into buckets based on value props they assigned by role. In theory, segmenting and then serving content that speaks to an audience’s motivation or role is a good idea. The results of this outreach: deliverability was below 80%, open rates were in single digits, and click-through-rates were non-existent.
What happened? Most of the titles were not correct so the tailored messaging didn’t pair well, some of the email addresses were not real, and some addresses went to gatekeepers or were different from the role displayed.
What’s worse is that this was a huge lift on the sales team to manually tag and label each contact to a value prop. Where they noticed emails that didn't match up, they would manually guess and fill in the address. If they noticed that the pattern for company emails is first name and last name, they would try something like this “firstname.lastname@example.org” but the flaw is that maybe he’s actually “thomassmith” or there may be multiple Tom Smiths and some numbers get attached. It’s a laboring move that offers no guarantee. This scrappy tactic may be fine for a one-off personal email, but don’t do it in bulk and apply it to marketing campaigns.
The sender scores for the sales team were all low. This means that the chance of getting blacklisted or flagged for their emails is large. A good deliverability rate should be around 98% in my opinion, and Omnisend has an average at 95% and trying to get as close to 100% as possible. Starting a campaign and first impression with low delivery is not setting the best standard for choosing you.
This also puts you in a difficult position because you’ve spent money on the list, spent money on employees laboring to clean or tag the list, and then you need to wonder do you chuck the emails or try a different technique.
My advice if you find yourself in this position is to try a transactional email asking people to sign up and opt-in to your communications. If they don’t take action, I would remove them.
Do not buy an email list and think good content will save you
When the emails fail, the copy gets blamed — not the audience. No matter how compelling your content or even product, if you are serving it to the wrong people — or worse undeliverables — you are missing the point.
Email copy sent to unvetted and random lists might as well just say: “Dear random person. We are awesome. You don’t know a thing about us, our product, or service, or if you even need us, but we are great. We didn’t take the time to research your role, company needs, or understand your pain points. We are just shooting bullets into a barrel hoping to catch a fish. Maybe you’ll be a great fit. Now it’s up to you to contact us and we’ll find out. If not, I’ll send you another 30 emails just like this asking you to buy. See you soon! PS did I mention how awesome we are?”
Here’s what happens: we tend to think that if we just had enough of a platform and audience, people will love us. That’s not the case so even when you don’t buy a list, it will take time to warm people up to you. Sure, you’ll find some people who request demos quickly but then the sale might take longer.
When you buy a list, it’s like you start cold, but have the potential to even annoy people — now you’re in the Arctic zone. People know if they signed up for your emails or not. If they have no clue who you are or what you do and they weren’t just recently searching for your solution, they will wonder how you got their email and have a bad impression of you right from the start. It takes time to warm a lead, but if you’re totally frozen in a block, you’ll need to thaw for a long time before you even get to the warm-up stage.
Email marketing in 2021
Every year I think to myself, “I hope this is the year that B2B marketing becomes more human.” I think 2020 may have finally pushed us there and MarketingProfs has released the top trends for 2021, and I’m liking the odds.
Juntae DeLane has my favorite prediction in the article: that B2B marketing will resemble B2C marketing, citing the fact that LinkedIn (primarily a B2B favorite) just added stories to its platform signaling the importance of human interaction and connection to stories and real-life instead of just dry stats.
Overall, suits will become shirts, sales pages will become stories, and stiff brands will become more personal. — Juntae DeLane
In 2020, people lost real interaction with others. It’s one of the biggest needs of people now. Marketing must rise to meet those needs by showing more personalization and understanding of knowing an audience and how they want to communicate. Buying a cold list that is unvetted and then sending out your “buy me” email was always wrong but now it’s ignorant.
We need to stop thinking about the numbers game and look at the needs and motivations of people and how our solutions can make a difference.
Gone are the days of blanket copy to widespread lists.
Let’s recap: who shouldn’t buy lists?
If you’re wondering, this sounds great but maybe it doesn’t apply to me, here is a helpful guide for knowing if list-buying is wrong for your bottom line.
You should not buy a list if any of these ring true:
1. You have a long sales cycle
This is the biggest trap for buying lists. You want to cut the sales cycle and you fall into the numbers game mentality. You’ve got to play the long game if you want to win big. You can shorten the cycle once you start building relationships and showing value.
2. You are selling services (I’m looking at you SaaS)
I like to say if you aren’t selling deodorant in the desert, you have some work to do and need to be intentional in your marketing efforts. It’s hard in SaaS where there is a tendency to believe your product is super in demand and you are the only right solution.
Founders need to take off their blinders and realize they may need to do some education, nurturing, and not expect a quick purchase. Potential buyers need to realize they have a problem, understand how your product works and relates to others (even if different from you), and how long it will take to learn and implement.
Stop marketing like you are selling deodorant in the desert.
3. If you don’t know your exact niche audience and what motivates them
There may be a very specific niche and a company that developed a list-generating service that is sure to help deliver quality contacts ready to hear your offering. I think it’s doubtful and you should be cautious — if you think you’ll just buy some names and segment from that and pick your message, you will find low engagement rates.
4. If you are a global company or doing business in Europe
As a startup founder, you are likely a risk-taker. That’s awesome! I would caution that taking a risk with getting shut down and unable to reach people is not one you should take given other options listed below. International laws get tricky with emailing and there are harsh punishments in Europe that do get applied.
In the social media world, it’s a big, red flag to buy followers. The reason is that it makes you look popular, but when you really look at the stats, engagement and conversion is relatively low. Some of these followers are bots or are not engaging or interested in buying from you. This looks like vanity metrics and doesn’t pay in the end.
Buying email lists is the same. You might look at the data dump as a large number of potential leads but they are not qualified or even interested in you. It’s setting you up for an even greater uphill battle, one you cannot afford if you already have a long sales cycle.
What can you do instead to boost lead gen?
Collaborate with another company and offer a joint marketing piece. During COVID-19, zoom fatigue is real so if you choose a webinar, make sure it’s a little bit extra on the compelling side. This isn’t just finding the most willing participant and going for it on a whim. You should choose a partner who can enhance your brand reputation. They should be willing to promote you on social media and have engaging audiences. You should look at what you both bring to the table and maximize your efforts and offers. This partnership should be mutually beneficial and well-planned.
Earn some PR. You don’t have to be on the front page of the New York Times, though it’s a fine goal to have. Look realistically at your target audience and pitch your story to bloggers, relevant trade publications, and freelance journalists at major publications. This will also build up your brand reputation. PR hits increase your reach to new audiences while also confirming your credibility.
Find your champions and use them. Did you have a customer and champion who left a company? Reach out and see if their new company is an option. Having others share testimonials or refer you is one of the most powerful ways to multiply your leads and build your credibility.
Place an email sign-up form on your website. Organically growing your list is always better than buying. Yes, it will take time. But when you take that and add contacts into a welcome email drip campaign, you can introduce yourself, give them value, nurture them, and sell along the way naturally as you build the relationship. I also like to put an exit pop-up to give people a chance if they missed your form (typically people place it on the footer and a user may not scroll that far).
Establish a strong lead magnet. Similar to the above, if you don’t want to just collect emails and you have an influential giveaway or download, you can use that to collect emails. The lead magnet should not be random and un-relatable to your product or service. For example, if you are a tech company and your solution helps hospitals with revenue management, I don’t think they need a guide on how to clean their hospital during COVID from you. The piece should give value but show that the company needs your services and why they should keep you around. It should also be an easy lift to complete.
Take the budget you would have spent on buying a list and test out social or Google ads. If you had a lead magnet or social post that did well organically, put some money behind a target audience and drive to get more email addresses. If you have strong website hits, try retargeting people and put your offer in front of them knowing they showed interest already. Adwords can get expensive if you don’t have a good niche, but if your website and user experience are effective, that can grow leads.
Not having in-person events during 2020 certainly damaged lead generation for many companies. Don’t be tempted to fall into the numbers trap because of that and buy a list hoping you’ll see results.
Start with what you have, grow your reputation, deliver value, share stories, connect with potential buyers on a deeper level, and know your audience.
If you require consulting for your lead gen strategy or copywriting, contact me to discuss a custom plan that works for you. You can also subscribe to my quarterly emails with tips and trends to scale your business.