It seems harmless enough and everybody does it. Here is one example of how buying leads could kill your business. If you're thinking that's hype, how well do you think your business would fare facing the inevitable multi-million dollar lawsuit? In case you missed it,
A Chicago father whose daughter was killed last year in a car accident, received a direct mail letter from Office Max addressed to:
Daughter Killed In Car CrashOr Current Business
Anyone of my clients or subscribers can tell you that there is another self-inflicted direct mail mistake that is far too common in that “addressed to” field. You can read more on that crippling mistake here.
For a corporation as big as office max, this can take a toll but will not likely end the business. A small business getting such negative publicity alone could be devastating. As I said earlier, combine that with the inevitable lawsuit and your business would have little hope of surviving this wholly avoidable mistake.
Even though this problem was exposed in a direct mail campaign, the lesson applies equally to email marketing and that's the lens we'll be looking through.
It's not likely that a corporation as large as office max would ever gather or add such information to their database. That would have happened at a much lower level and with another company where such information would be relevant like a lead broker for a funeral home, personal injury attorney, or insurance agent.
It could have just as easily been some small business that wanted to keep information on customers to know where to tread lightly. In any case, that information was sold along with other people's data that could have included other issues. These are just land mines you, your in house staff, or the wrong marketing contractor have unknowingly planted in your database waiting for the most inopportune time to explode in your face.
The power of email marketing is having a list of people who WANT to hear from YOU. A list of people you bought will most assuredly have also been sold to others. Yours is just the latest in a long list of businesses the people on that list don't want to hear from.
In fact, being just one of many businesses they don't want to hear from puts your business at risk. People on purchased lists get pounded with so many offers that they are often downright pissed. So much so that they will mark your emails as spam and cause you grief with your service provider. Being tagged as a spammer means even the people who want to hear from you that you legitimately have on your list might not get your future emails. It's just not worth it.
The only way I endorse adding people to your list is when they specifically give you permission to contact them. They sign up at your location or an event, fill in a form online, or agree to the terms of your promotion. All are instances of them giving you permission to send them an email. Remember though, they can rescind that permission at any time if they don't like what you send. So you have to focus on them, their wants, and their needs if you want ongoing access to their inbox.
In no situation do I ever suggest or endorse a client's use of a rented or purchased list. Not even to start, “prime the pump,” or drum up new business. I constantly have clients challenging this policy with the exact same statement: “But my business is different…” NO particular or special situation makes it ok to buy or rent a list.
Start with gathering the only relevant data you need for every person, a first name and a valid email address. If you have more, make sure that the field names coincide with the field names in your system. We can see from the Office Max example how some systems can just add a field that doesn't fit in the system after the rest.
Manually entering people into your system from physical sign up cards in your business or at an event should be as simple as possible. That is not the time or place to try to gather the maximum info from your prospects. Let your system do the work of learning about your prospects. Stick to just name and email.
You'll find a whole lot less wasted time and frustration when someone gives you a bad email with all that other information. Whether they misspelled it by mistake or did it to pull your chain doesn't make a difference because you did the work of entering all that info for nothing in either case.
Buying a list of people to market to can have far greater losses than just poor conversion.
You need to build a list of people who want to hear from you.
Knowing how to use your system can save you tons of time and frustration.