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Marilyn McCray
Marketing Writing Social Media
Austin, Texas
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Help! We need a bigger list

What not to do. The search for the perfect list is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail.
Written Apr 22, 2010, read 982 times since then.
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The drama continues.  The well-meaning sales manager takes her seat at the conference table.  This time it’s the hot seat.  The results are in from the last email campaign. Customer service received numerous calls demanding to be taken off the email list and removed from any company database after receiving the ‘valuable offer’ email.  Some objected to the hard sell approach while others wanted to know why they received the email in the first place since they hadn’t signed up for marketing email.

Now it was time for the report from the marketing manager.  The metrics weren’t good. The SPAM complaints had reached an all time high.  Even more important more than 50% of the email remained unopened.  In the past, the email campaigns had been well received and the click-through rate was good.

The well-meaning sales manager looked down the conference table and demanded more action.  Sales are still down. The numbers are still down.  This time she was taking no prisoners. “What we need a bigger list.  After all marketing is a numbers game,” she said looking at the marketing manager.  “I’ve heard that there are companies that have lists for sale.  Find us a bigger list.”

All eyes turn to the marketing manager again, who had been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Here it came. Yet  another  rerun of so many other meetings and more  flash backs to conversations with sales managers, high priced consultants and others who wanted to misuse one of the most cost effective marketing tools available.

The marketing manager took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. “As we’ve just seen, sending marketing messages to people who don’t want to hear from us was not a huge success.  Buying lists is even less likely to get the response you are after. I really don’t think this will be a good use of our resources.”

The warnings about the consequences of this action fell on deaf ears and the marketing manager was once again instructed to go ahead and find the bigger list then combine it with the new and improved list that had just been created in-house. Reluctantly, the marketing manager started searching for the bigger list.  First, he contacted the list house the company used for direct mail.  Yes, email addresses were available for purchase.  Looking at the sources the company had used for the direct mail, he pushed the button.  Thousands of new email addresses would be available.

Next, he found a broker specializing in email lists, all kinds of lists. After describing the company’s products, the broker came up with the ‘absolutely perfect list.’  But since the broker owned the list, he would have to be in charge of sending the email.  Thousands more new email addresses. The numbers were growing.

The email is configured with a heavy sales pitch. It went to the broker to send to his ‘absolutely perfect list’ and the thousands of new email addresses from the direct mail company were added into the new and improved in-house data base.  Once again email was blasted out. “It’s a numbers game.  I just know it,” the sales manager uttered as once again she walked away, with even greater visions of upward trending graphs in her head.

Two days after the blast, the sales manager confronts the marketing manager about the campaign.  “In all my 30 years in marketing, I’ve never seen such poor results,” exclaimed the well-meaning sales manager. “No one clicked-through from the new lists. Get that list brokers on the phone.  They must have given us the wrong lists.  That list broker probably didn’t send it on time. Get him to send it again.”

The marketing manager reviewed the report from the list broker and made the call. The list broker informed him that he got what he paid for – thousands of names for one time and a report after the send.  The email was indeed sent, the open rate was extremely poor and there were NO click-throughs. Sorry, the list house was not responsible for productivity of the list.

The other list from the direct mail house did somewhat better but the results weren’t great.  Since these people may have received some direct mail from the company, maybe they knew the company. Hard to know because, all the marketing manager was able to buy were email addresses and the complete database did not belong to his company.

Thousands of new email addresses were not the answer. It was a frustrating, expensive exercise that did not achieve the results.

The takeaways…

  • The further away from your core base you go, the less likely people are going to care about your message or your company.
  • People on these lists opted-in to something, but for what? They may have opted-in to ‘receive offers from one of our valued partners’ off of a campaign sent by another company with nothing in common with your products or services.
  • Even worse, that company sold the lists and you don’t even know how many times.  What are the people on the list receiving? Are they suffering from email fatigue?
  • Continuing to market to people who don’t want to hear from you would seem to be a venture with diminishing return.   Not only do you miss your audience, but most of these people could care less.

The search for the perfect list is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail.

Go back to the basics. Know your audience.  Learn as much as you possible can about them.  It’s not the number of people on your list, but who is on your list. Make friends first, and then make offers.  They will tell their friends

Learn more about the author, Marilyn McCray.

Comment on this article

  • The Web Tools Guy / Speaker and Sales and Marketing Technologist 
Redmond, Washington 
Miles Austin
    Posted by Miles Austin, Redmond, Washington | Apr 22, 2010

    Marilyn, Great article that I think plays out in hundreds of businesses every week.

    How do you recommend building a list the right way?

  • Marketing Writing Social Media 
Austin, Texas 
Marilyn McCray
    Posted by Marilyn McCray, Austin, Texas | Apr 22, 2010

    The first thing to do us understand the beauty of Opt-in or permission based marketing. Put information on your website about your email - is it informational or based on special offers. Then create an easy to use sign up form. Make sure your emails have a forward to a friend feature so your subscribers can be your evangelists. Sweepstakes entries can be another great source of subscribers, but you must have a check box that clearly states that their names will be entered into your database. Think about every opportunity you can to recruit. A sign up on your Facebook Fan page is great. You can also use your email to drive fans to your Facebook page. If you provide content that your audience wants, the list will grow.

  • Marketing Writing Social Media 
Austin, Texas 
Marilyn McCray
    Posted by Marilyn McCray, Austin, Texas | Apr 22, 2010

    The first thing to do us understand the beauty of Opt-in or permission based marketing. Put information on your website about your email - is it informational or based on special offers. Then create an easy to use sign up form. Make sure your emails have a forward to a friend feature so your subscribers can be your evangelists. Sweepstakes entries can be another great source of subscribers, but you must have a check box that clearly states that their names will be entered into your database. Think about every opportunity you can to recruit. A sign up on your Facebook Fan page is great. You can also use your email to drive fans to your Facebook page. If you provide content that your audience wants, the list will grow.

  • Washington Federal Assistant Manager 
Bellingham, Washington 
Susan Templeton
    Posted by Susan Templeton, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 23, 2010

    Thank you for your clarity about not going beyond your core. I turn down about ten offers a week from list sellers. Imagine me blasting out thousands of emails for my personal mortgage consultation. I'd die if so many people responded at once! BTW: How do you view the lead generators who also promise the moon?

  • Marketing Writing Social Media 
Austin, Texas 
Marilyn McCray
    Posted by Marilyn McCray, Austin, Texas | Apr 23, 2010

    Blasting out thousands of emails does not guarantee that you will receive a huge number of responses. Usually the only one who wins with this approach is the list broker who has already taken your money.
    In some businesses, lead generators are valuable partners but before going that direction, I'd find someone who has had a successful relationship with that company. I would recommend staying with your core contacts. Asking for referrals from those people will probably be most productive.

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