Buying a Lead List: the Pros, the Cons, and the Things That Might Land You in Jail

Okay, jail’s a stretch, but buying lead lists is still risky business.

However, 68% of businesses are struggling with lead generation, so it makes sense that purchasing lists is still a common B2B practice.

So if you’re going to do it, this guide will help you do it well.

When to buy a lead list

Any online research will tell you not to buy a lead list, and for good reason: They’re risky, costly, and the accuracy of their data is dubious at best. That being said, lead generation still needs to happen, and companies like DiscoverOrg and LeadFuze are thriving in the current market. Comprehensive organic lead generation strategies aren’t always an option, and companies still need to close deals.

Especially if this is your boss

So if you’re planning to purchase a lead list, we’re not going to shame you. It happens. It is important, however, that you understand exactly what you’re getting yourself into. In order to get the most value from your list, you’ll need a clear and concise plan for the data you obtain.

How to buy a lead list

Know who to target

The first (and most important) step in buying a lead list is understanding who you’d like to target. If you purchase a lead list comprised of generic contact information, there is no guarantee that any of the contacts will be interested in your offer. By performing targeting before purchasing a list, you’ll be preemptively eliminating (and not paying for) uninterested leads, thus getting the most “bang for your buck.” If you don’t already have your target market figured out, now is the time to do so.

A good way to tackle this is to rank your existing customers in terms of favorability, including profitability, acquisition cost, and the amount of time it took to move them through the pipeline. From this list, you can extrapolate more nuanced psychographic and demographic data, which will give you a much clearer idea of which types of companies you’d like to target. A good list vendor will work with you to help you get the specific data you need.

Pay more for a better list

If you’re going to pay for a list of leads, the cost will vary based on several factors:

  • The number of leads
  • Targeted nature of the data (B2Bs in a specific industry may be more expensive than just a general “business” list)
  • The type of data (e.g. just email or other stuff like annual revenue)
  • Accuracy of data (double-verified email, contact is in the same position, etc.)

Many companies opt to buy a list of 10,000 or so leads, divvy them out to reps and keep contacting the names until they know the data isn’t accurate or they’ve closed-won or lost.

That said, more and more lead list companies are moving to a monthly/annual payment model. These revolving plans (in many cases) allow lead data to be constantly refreshed and more accurate than a stale list of leads that’s been sold to anyone who asks.

So, for a few hundred bucks, you could get a one-time list of 10,000 contacts (where up to 50% are no longer good). Or, you could get a month at a lead data company, like LeadFuze, for around the same cost. (That plan is for a month of unlimited leads.) A reputable company will update their lead lists regularly to ensure that their contacts are as accurate as possible. And you can tailor specific searches to find the most targeted leads to pitch (things like: industry, company size, ad spend and even the technologies that companies are using).


How to use a lead list

Seeding a campaign:

Your list is cold. Essentially you’ve got names and contact info within your target market, and that’s it. If your goal is to end up on the email fail list (or the email blacklist), just mash out a template and send it to everyone. If selling to win is your thing (it should be) start the prospect research process before you even think about contacting your list. Each bit of info you gather during your prospect research will bring you closer to your prospect, and closer to winning the deal.

Related: Nutshell Head of Growth Mike Carroll explains how to warm up your cold outreach

Soft outreach:

Popping up cold in someone’s inbox or answering machine is already a stretch, in terms of sales tactics. Do everything you can to make your offer “soft” and easy to handle. That means sending someone a link to a four-page web form is a no-no.

Otherwise this is what your prospects will say.

A better strategy is to try to position yourself as an advisor to your lead by simply sharing information or opening a conversation about a topic related to both of you.

Prospect research:

Consider your list a starting point: not every contact on the list is going to be a viable prospect. In order to maximize your outcomes, you will need to disqualify the leads manually. (Unless you have a CRM that automatically scours 99 different channels for you.)

Check out LinkedIn and company websites to determine if the data on your list is accurate. Is the lead still in the same position with the same employer? Did the company move? Is the email address valid? Even with a purchased list, the goal of your outreach is to form authentic 1:1 relationship, and that starts with getting the details right.


For startups:

Lead generation is among the millions of challenges startups and small businesses face. Most startups’ marketing and lead generation efforts are minimal, as they haven’t had a long stretch to develop an effective marketing strategy yet.

The “official” lead list generation strategy is to create a warm lead list organically through gated content and forms on your company’s website. Unfortunately, this isn’t always feasible.

When a content strategy is impossible and the bills need to be paid, many startups will purchase a lead list to keep the pipeline full. If this is your course of action, remember that purchased lists are a temporary measure to get your startup to the next level. The best practice is to leverage the new customers that your lead list generates—the revenue, the customer stories, and the social proof—to create new marketing content. When placed strategically behind forms to capture user data, this content will be the driving force behind your list generation going forward.


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Be cautious!

If you’re going to reach out to a purchased lead list, you’ll need to be careful. There are numerous ways to get yourself (and your company) in trouble. Too many strikes and you’ll be facing hefty fines, and potentially even jeopardize your entire domain.


Brush up on your CAN-SPAM knowledge, because the CAN-SPAM act is the end all be all of digital commercial communication. The CAN-SPAM act covers a multitude of topics, but its rules on email marketing and communication are crystal clear. Its fundamentals boil down to:

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information like altering the “to” and “from” to falsify a conversation record
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  • If your message is an advertisement, you need to say so
  • Your postal address always needs to be included on any commercial communications, including emails
  • Recipients need to be able to opt-out of future communications
  • If someone breaks the law on your behalf, you’re still in trouble

We are begging you to read the rules yourself before sending cold emails to your lead list, because you might find yourself on the hook to pay $42,530 penalty per email if you are caught breaking the rules.

Unsettling Fact: CAN-SPAM is an acronym that actually stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. ☝🤓

Spam traps

A spam trap is an email address solely for catching spammers. They look like real email addresses, but have never actually been used to send emails, and have also never been published anywhere on the web. If someone scrapes the target domain for all its email addresses, the spam trap email address gets scraped with them.

Fortunately, a savvy salesperson will never be duped by a spam trap, because savvy salespeople are prospect research experts and know exactly who they’re emailing. If you can’t find the human being associated with the email address in question, don’t email them. Better safe than spammy.

Related: 5 messaging differences between a savvy salesperson and a serial spammer

The verdict

Is buying a lead list the right move for your company? The answer is usually no, but in some cases, there may not be any other reasonable options. To put it simply, lead lists are extremely risky and can very easily hurt your business. If you don’t take care to follow all the laws and all the best practices, you won’t get anything out of your investment.

This guide is meant to be a resource for startups and other small businesses with minimal marketing budget, who need lead lists to stay afloat. Business lead lists typically range from 15 to 40 cents per name on a list of 100 names, which is hardly comparable to the cost of implementing and staffing a marketing strategy. Please do your homework, follow the best practices, and handle your data responsibly.


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