We don’t all live in an opt-in world

The first time I had a boss ask me to import a list of trade show registrants to our database, I was pretty confused. The whole idea of marketing, I futilely tried to explain, is opt-in. People get to know you and like you and choose to receive emails from you.

Yea, you can imagine how well that went over. Needless to say, I did the import and started learning the art of emailing a cold list.

As I’ve learned more about B2B marketing, I’ve since come to realize a few things:

  1. A lot of businesses prefer opt-out marketing.
  2. It’s not always a bad choice.
  3. It’s not as easy as opt-in.

The Gray Area

Dealing with a purchased list is a tricky choice if you are the marketer. I find people with marketing backgrounds are more interested in creating opt-in lists while those from sales backgrounds are much more likely to look for cold lists. It makes sense, really – a lifetime of cold calls and you aren’t going to see anything unusual in cold emails.

As the marketer, you may find yourself wistfully reading Hubspot’s blog and dreaming of beautifully segmented lists, full of people eager to get your next blog post.

Sigh. I’ve been there.

Before I get into how to cope with the cold list – and what to tell your boss – here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The CAN-SPAM Act is okay with opt-out. This really surprised me – I had thought you had to opt-in for it to be legal. Not so. You need to have your address, you absolutely need a way to unsubscribe, and you need to be honest about the purpose of your email. So relax about that.
  • The GDPR makes purchased lists a no-go in the EU, or if your database has any EU residents in it. So, if that’s the case for you, just stop with the purchased lists. Let them go and move on.
  • Cold emails may be the only way to get started. If you have a business to grow and no one knows about it and you have bills to pay, you might not want to wait to build your list one person at a time.
  • Marketing automation providers pretend opt-out marketing does not exist. They know it does but they act like they have never heard of it – and they will come down hard if your list acts too cold.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Cold List

Do Your Research
Your first job is to learn as much about the people on the list as you can, so you can tailor content to them. You might not know much, but you likely know where they work and what their job title is, so you can deduce a lot from there. If you have a conference list, you know even more about their interests. Plus, the conference website likely has information on what topics were presented and who the speakers were. All of that can be useful in creating relevant content.

Next, if you are not already familiar with it, review CAN-SPAM meticulously. It is not hard to follow the guidelines even on a cold list, but you want to make sure you are completely in compliance.

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Tailor Your Content
You did your research, now use it. It is even more important to have engaging content with a cold list than a warm one, since they don’t know you and are not likely to cut you any slack. You are making a first impression and, given they don’t know how they got on your list, weak content would be like showing up to a Board meeting in clothes you pulled out of the hamper.

Ask them to do something small. These people are very unlikely to be ready to buy from you but – if they like your content – they may be okay with sharing your link, filling out a survey or posting a comment. A great suggestion from Yesware is to add in the phrase, “If you’d rather not, I understand. I appreciate your reading this far!”

Obviously, you also want to make sure your email looks professional. Plain text or HTML – it needs to look legitimate.

How You Email
One approach is to warm up your list in small chunks. This gives you a chance to see if your list is going to respond well, before you find out otherwise the hard way. If you see you are getting a lot of hard bounces, you can advise your boss that the list isn’t good and could impact your future deliverability. Same thing if you get a lot of spam complaints; the last thing you want is to be flagged as spam and blacklisted.

Transform Cold into Warm
Getting people to click and share is definitely a sign that your list is warming up. Sometimes, though, you need to be more straightforward. So, if your boss will let you, consider emailing your list and asking them if they would like to opt-in. If you give them good reason – such as, excellent content or a fresh perspective – you might find many of them do.

You can also create a re-engagement campaign to clean out your list. For instance, every 3 months you might email those on your list who have not clicked or opened anything and ask them point-blank to opt-in and, if not, they will be unsubscribed. It’s bold, but it’s worth considering if you want to clean out your list.

You Can Handle This

Dealing with purchased lists is just part of life as a B2B marketer. It may not be as fun as a list grown organically – but it can get there. Work hard and give it time.