Three painful lessons I learned building B2B lists

Building lists is a mundane, underappreciated task that can be done by anyone. That's what I thought when I started list building. I was the whipping boy, the new guy who had to do the work no one else wanted to do. My perception changed when time after time, things went awry. Sales development was upset with me, my manager was upset with me, and my fellow marketers were upset with me.

A list is the lifeblood of a marketing campaign. But how do you make one? You can do it yourself, get someone to teach you, or get someone to do it for you. I'll be telling my story about the challenges of doing it yourself.

The three painful lessons I learned about the dangers of bad lists:

  • high back end cost
  • you waste your team's time
  • you ruin your reputation (or your client's)

Inconsistent data is a nightmare on the back end

When I make a list, I will either be copying and pasting ad nauseam from company websites or using software like Seamless.ai or D&B Hoovers to find my information. The problem with this is that some people might call their company Acme inc, Acme Inc, or Acme Service Incorporated. Titles might be CEO, chief executive officer, and my favorite Sr manager, Senior manager, and Sr Mgr. All these might mean the same thing, but when you need to know who is looking to sign up for your call to action, what do you do?

Make sure there is some continuity in your name scheme. That is key!

Make sure all instances of "Incorporated" are either fully spelled out or abbreviated. That goes for every list too. Make all C-level executives abbreviated or spelled out. Choose how you will spell out "senior" in both manager and vice president titles.

All of this makes it easy to pull records from whatever CRM you use. Yes, you might have a unique field like email or name. You might have automation that tells you when people are warming up in your sales funnel. But with clean data, you can make a report in seconds, pull prospects for data analysis, and add people to projects with ease.

If someone looked at one of your lists, it should be easy to replicate the process. That replication will build your company faster.

You waste people's time with bad lists

I was starting to feel confident in my list building at a certain point in my career. I could throw together a contact list that would fuel a marketing campaign for over a month in about a day's work. It took time for me to figure out what this should look like.

There is continuity in how to spell names and titles. The phone numbers are all formatted the same. I spell out titles like "Vice President."

But if you don't spend more time learning about your target market, what happens?

The tragedy ensues when I submit my list, and the campaign starts. This company isn't the right fit. Why is this title even here, were things flung around liberally during this perilous time?

I wasted the time it took to check email, call, and I had to remake a list because the one I made was garbage!

If you did a cost analysis, it would look like this. The cost for me to make the initial list was about 10 hours of work. Then having operations process it into a CRM and make sure it functions with our different automation and software. That was approximately 5 hours. And to top it all off, calling on the list which stopped at 10 hours.

I wasted time, money, and resources building the list. I looked like a fool, and I was the one to blame, which brings me to my next point.

You ruin your reputation (or your client's)

When I send an email that provides value to a prospect, I take the time to develop a targeted message. One that calls them to action.

Sending out a message to someone who doesn't care for the offer or need the service makes you look foolish, or if you are an agency - makes your client's brand look foolish.

For example, let's say I need to get some cold prospects for my new software as a service business. My target title is Lead UX designer. So I look up "designer" in my database and pull everything I've got. I end up making a campaign of people who are either the right fit or they're a bunch of artists, interior decorators, and creative directors. Not good.

The root of this problem lies in the title versus the prospects real role and function. But more importantly, this mistake has just burned more people on the concept of email marketing. That is the same reason we no longer answer phone calls from numbers we don't know. We believe that someone's trying to waste my time, and I'm not letting them.

When you email poorly developed list, with your signature attached to it, the prospect probably didn't know about you. But now they want to avoid you actively. You hurt your brand and your image.

Final Thoughts

I went through all these things and more, but these were some of the most pertinent things I ran into. These problems either had the most cost impact or gave my team and I a roadblock in communication.

In the end, I've grown me as a professional through the process. I messed up a lot. But I gained more knowledge fast from it. So learn from my mistakes and recognize that your list is essential to your marketing success. Nurture it with an appropriate amount of effort. Make or update your process to include a safeguard to protect your brand. It will give you a firm foundation to build your company.

Patrick Giles

List-building expert by day, guitarist by night, Patrick's marketing skills are best described as smooth jazz.

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