To Rent a List or Not to Rent a List: Getting Real About Outbound Email

Small businesses, start-ups, mid-sized companies, and even enterprise-level organization all face this question at some point {or again and again at different stages of their growth}: should we assign any of our limited budget towards paying someone for email addresses?

We Need More Names on our email list

The thing that tends to spark the email list rental conversation is simple: We need more names.

When we say we need more names, we really mean we need more business. We need to be emailing more people; driving more people to our landing pages; driving more leads into our sales funnel; bringing in more customers.

The world has shifted to inbound marketing -- the business attracting the audience in via the stuff the audience is looking for. And yet, there's still a place for outbound marketing -- the business reaching out to the audience. Sending unsolicited emails to people who didn't know they needed you would fall into outbound marketing. And, especially for small businesses who don't yet have the luxury of tens of thousands of names of people who've happily handed over their email addresses through successful inbound marketing practices, outbound marketing is a necessary thing.

How Can We Get More Names to email?

There are two options: purchase a list or rent a list.

When you purchase a list:

You pay a vendor for a list of email addresses for people who fit a certain demographic, then email those people via your own ESP (email service provider).

Purchasing a list is not a good idea. It's shady. You don't know where these email addresses came from, but it's quite likely the people who own them didn't sign up to have their addresses sold to you and a hundred other companies. It's risky. If your email inspires a bunch of spam complaints or other delivery issues, you're risking your own standing as a trusted email sender and could even get blacklisted. It might not even work. Because if you're using a reputable ESP, you might not even be able to send to your purchased list via your platform. 

When you rent a list: 

You pay a vendor for the opportunity to have that vendor email your content out to a list of people who've agreed to receive third-party content from them.

Renting a list, though not all marketers agree, can be a helpful way to grow new leads. Because you're not sending the emails yourself, you're not risking your own standing as a trusted email sender and there's no chance of running into issues with your ESP. However, you're paying for a whole bunch of names with the chance of only seeing a small fraction of them actually increase your overall email list size.

Choose your partner wisely. It should be a name that is trusted by your target audiences, and that you can trust to have followed clear opt-in practices so that your recipients know they've opted in to receive third-party information. Weigh your cost carefully against the potential total value of the leads you might stand to receive.

How to Ensure Your email list rental is Worth It

OK. You're ready to consider renting a list. You'll need to weigh your investment against your potential gains. How? Consider these stats from Mailchimp (click the link for stats unique to your industry):

  • Average open rates are around 20% 
  • Average click rates are around 2%
  • At best, you're looking at a conversion rate of 10% (per MarketingSherpa via Pardot)

What does all this math mean? (I know. I went to music college. But bear with me.)

If you rent a list of 5,000 names, you can hope that, at best: 1000 people will open the email, 20 of those people will click through to your website, and 2 of those people will convert on your website (fill out a form to give you their info and allow you to keep sending them stuff.)

So. How much are those two people worth? Does their potential value outweigh the cost of the 5,000 names? What if you're renting a list of 10,000 people?