Building your in-house list

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The experts concur: In-house lists can be more effective and provide better ROI than buying or renting third-party lists. But what's the best way to build your list without buying addresses on the open market?

There are quite a few options, said Chris Baggott, co-founder and CMO of ExactTarget, based in Indianapolis, but forget quantity. Quality is your main concern.

"Many clients have a goal of getting a huge opt-in list," he said. "I have one customer who told me, `Our goal is for our e-mail list to reach 30 million addresses.' What kind of goal is that? People often get blinded by the size of their database rather than the quality of the names on it. It's a poor marketing strategy."

With that in mind, here are seven tips that will help you add qualified addresses to your list at minimal cost.

n Make it easy. Too many b-to-b marketers make it hard for people to opt in, said Tricia Robinson, VP-marketing communications for Atlanta-based Socketware. Prospects should be able to find an opt-in link quickly.

"The sign-up box should be on the Web site and needs to be more than just a text link. There should be a fill-in box on every page, not just on the `Contact Us' link," she said. "It's usually so buried-an afterthought."

Written or printed collateral should also prominently display opt-in opportunities. Letters, company e-mails, trade show booths and white papers are all marketing opportunities-as long as you put your information out there.

n Rent lists-but not the kind you'd think. Sales acceleration company Eloqua uses telemarketing and direct marketing to get in touch with its customers' prospects. The company rents lists from more traditional list brokers such as trade show purveyors and trade magazines. Off-shore call centers handle the grunt work, which typically results in a 25% to 60% acquisition rate.

"We charge $3.50 to $5 per contact. In terms of a qualified lead, you're paying less than $100 per lead," said Mark Organ, CEO of the Toronto, Canada-based Eloqua.

Don't have a call center of your own? Try sending direct mail that touts your message and opt-in link.

n Use append services, but do so carefully. Companies such as Ac-xiom, Experian, InfoUSA's Yesmail and ReturnPath's NetCreations can take names and addresses and convert them into e-mail addresses. This means you can target specific companies or verticals, contacting them once and asking them to opt in, said Bill Nussey, CEO of Atlanta-based SilverPop. "If you go after companies that you already have relationships with-your customers, for example-you can say, `We've enjoyed working with you. Click here if you want to get involved.' "

n Tap your friends' friends. Co-registration programs can put your brand in front of a completely new set of eyes. You can buy space on a third-party site or do a reciprocal deal with a partner or customer.

When going the third-party route, make your offer as clear and detailed as possible. Because companies get paid every time they send an e-mail address your way, there's a tendency to downplay what people are actually signing up for, said Deirdre Baird, president-CEO of Pivotal Veracity. "In an effort to increase the volume, they might not make everything completely clear," she said. "Insist on creative control so the third party isn't using the carrot and not sharing what's coming behind. That can lead to the customer perceiving your message-even though they did opt in-as spam."

Reciprocal co-registration programs work well because someone your potential customer knows and trusts is making an introduction.

But, Robinson said, "Never let your customer list leave you, and get and archive opt-in time/date stamps so you have a paper trail showing the response."

n Let your sales force sell your e-mail marketing program. Every salesperson in your organization has a database chock-full of leads. While you can't market to them directly without permission, your salespeople can act as your liaison, encouraging and supporting your e-mail efforts.

"Have your salesperson either send an e-mail or a more formal letter asking if that prospect wants to opt in," Robinson said. "It's free, and it's coming from someone that prospect already knows and has contact with."

n Find sponsorship opportunities. You can get people to notice your e-mail message by sponsoring someone else's, Baird said. "There's a great opportunity to advertise in another company's e-mail stream. People do read ads, especially if those ads are synergistic."

Consider paid newsletters because they usually net higher responses, she said.

n Make your message catchy. Viral marketing was all the rage in the late 1990s, but abuse made it much less desirable. It shouldn't be, Robinson said. "Change the paradigm for b-to-b," she said. "Make it `forward to a colleague.' And give your customers the opportunity to send a personal message with your marketing message," she said. Another tip: Make sure the message looks like it's coming directly from the forwarder.

Last, don't forget to reward your best evangelists, she said.

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