Is it Ever OK to Buy a Marketing (or Sales) List?

by Josh Barney

Buying a marketing list is easy (literally anybody can do it!) but does that mean it’s worth the money?

A ready-made list can be extremely tempting for businesses operating with sales and marketing staff, especially when leads are running low. There are few things worse than having a team ready and raring to go, but no leads to chase…

…so, you should definitely go ahead and buy a list, right?

In a moment we’ll examine list buying, but before we kick into gear, let’s take a quick look at what buying a list actually means.

The ‘list’ is a fundamental element of 99% of businesses. It’s a group of people who businesses market (or sell to) because they are known to hold (some kind of) interest in your brand, industry or product.

When businesses buy a list, they effectively take a shortcut to sales and marketing leads, instantly purchasing a set amount of names, numbers and email addresses.


A Shortcut

should you buy a marketing list

As with most things in business (and life) shortcuts rarely create a solid long-term base for success. Instead of doing things the correct way, they form a path to the ‘promised-land’ with very little work or effort.

In other words, the time saved providing staff with names, numbers and email addresses will probably cause more harm than good in the long-run.

That sounds like a very sweeping statement, so let’s analyse why…



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When you buy a list you receive a list of names and numbers/emails who DO NOT know who you are and have never expressed any interest in your business. In other words, they’re unqualified.

Think of it like this, have you ever received a phone call from somebody asking if you’d recently been in an accident? Or if you’d been miss-sold PPI? Or received a million emails from companies you never knew existed?

How did you feel when you received that communication?

A lead from a bought list has absolutely no reason to want to listen to marketing or sales communications from a random business.

And if they don’t want to hear from you, what happens to your chances?

Even if you buy a list that you believe to be qualified (because they’re all supposed to be involved in your industry/product) you’ll soon find out how many emails and calls you’ll have to make just to get one follow-up!

Imagine how much more successful you’d be if that time was spent talking to people who were interested?


People Are Smart

should you buy a marketing list

When you’re sitting on the other side of a telephone or computer, it’s easy to see your list as a bunch of names and numbers, but they’re not, they’re people and people are smart.

They eventually figure out what’s happening and can be completely turned off before you’ve even opened your mouth.

In the past it has happened to (direct) sales letters, door-to-door salesmen and recently, telesales.

After the huge success of telesales in the 80’s/90’s and 00’s, people are now afraid to answer the phone to unknown numbers and they’re even more frustrated when they answer and have a script reeled off to them.

People are wary of calls from unknown companies. The unqualified, bought list creates this effect, whether you’re calling or emailing them.

Think about it like this, if somebody answers the phone or opens your email and the first thing they think is ‘what does this person want from me?’ you’ve got a mountain to climb before you’ve even started!

Leads should be excited about hearing from you! They should want to open all your emails, answer all your calls, even reach out to you!



A list that is sold is very rarely exclusive, despite what the seller might tell you!

As the list isn’t yours, it’s likely that others have it too, but what does that mean?

Marketing and sales communications from other companies!

It really doesn’t matter whether you’re in the same industry as anybody else who’s marketing to the bought list. If the lead is receiving tons of marketing and sales communications, what do think their attitude will be like to more?

Imagine that you’re at work and the phone rings, it’s somebody trying to sell something. You hear them out but decide that it’s not quite right for you, ten minutes later the phone rings again and it’s somebody else trying to sell something completely different. Do you think you’ll have the same amount of patience as the first call?

A bought list guarantees a lack of patience as well as interest.

It’s all very well being a belligerent marketer or salesman and declaring that you’ll keep calling anyway (this is a good attitude BTW) but when you call people from your bought list, you’re actually damaging your brand and both the short and long-term success of your company.



should you buy a marketing list

The more you’re rejected, the harder you’ll have to work…

…the harder you work (calling and emailing), the more you’ll annoy people.

What do you think this does for your company’s reputation?

The aim of your business should be to create happy customers (so they buy again and recommend you to others) a bought list does not provide you with this opportunity.

In the past it was enough to call and email people who didn’t know you, but the world has moved on. Reputation is crucial and the internet has made it incredibly easy for people to discover how others leads have reviewed your communications.


So, What Should You Do?

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Imagine a beautiful, rose-tinted world where your leads are actually excited to hear from you, where they instantly relate to your brand after five seconds on a call (or as soon as they open your email), where they know the product you’re about to pitch before you even start…

….or better still, where they actually reach out to your sales team!

Outbound sales and marketing is tough enough, but buying a list will make your life 10x harder.

The digital world has enabled marketing and sales to move the way of inbound. That means people ‘coming to you’ with their contact details (you still have to take something to them first!) and it’s very possible!

It takes time and effort (initially), but anything valuable does!

The key to everything is value, positioning and expertise (with clear branding). If you’re able to generate your own list using these three factors, you’ll own a list that’s only value limitation is the skills of your sales and marketing team.

The actual generation and population of your list will be powered by a lead magnet (you can find out more about these on our Lead Magnet Checklist) and the distribution of this lead generating content (usually digital advertising, check out our Paid Traffic category).

The sooner you hone in on these two steps, the sooner you’ll put the bought lists behind you!

BTW: There’s tons of content about lead generation on our blog. You have no excuse! Don’t be lazy!



Anybody can be lucky, be in the right place at the right time, have something handed to them or find a gap at the perfect moment, but not everybody can make a serious success of it. Those business owners who buy lists will fail sooner or later…

…and those who are able to put it in the past and attempt to generate their own leads and sales will succeed.

A list that is bought is not worth the money, or the time and effort of your sales (and marketing) staff.

Would you rather own leads that don’t want to hear from you? Or leads who’re looking forward to seeing their phone ring?

And please, before you leave this article telling yourself that it’s impossible to build a list in your industry, just remember, that’s nothing more than a weak excuse.

Have you ever bought a sales or marketing list? What was your experience like? What percentage of people did you convert? Let us know!

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

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