Doesn’t it seem like you receive emails filled with tips and tricks promising to grow your list all the time? Sure, there’s lots you can do – from adding forms to your website, pop-up windows and refer-a-friend campaigns – but, while these are great tactics, each one of those efforts are only going to drive small numbers of new names for your database.

What do you do when you need to significantly grow your database?

What do you do when you are starting from almost nothing? What if, to meet your goals, you need to double or even triple the size of your database?

Here I outline three different methods for significantly increasing your relevant contact database. However, each one has advantages and disadvantages. Your strategy is going to depend on your budget and needs.

Purchasing contacts – In this approach, use a reliable and reputable vendor and tell them exactly what you want. You choose the job titles, segments, geographic breakdowns, industries, size of company, etc. You’ll even get to preview the data to make sure it’s what you want before buying. (Note: It can take time to manually review 1000s of preview contacts but I really recommend doing this to increase your quality). The great thing about this methodology is that it’s usually pretty inexpensive (starting around $0.30 – $0.50/per lead. AND the ability to pick just the contacts you want is also great advantage.Sounds great, huh? Well, unfortunately it’s not perfect. There are two potential problems with this approach.

  1. The first is that the data isn’t perfect. Sometimes the titles are wrong, or information such as revenue and employee size is missing. When you’re dealing in that kind of volume, you’re not going to get perfection. This is another reason why you need to use a reputable firm. It’s worth it to pay more for better quality. Good vendors in this space not only make the best efforts to sell high-quality data but also provide you with the ability to replace any bounces and overall replenishment as your data ages.
  2. The second issue is that the people whose contact info you’re buying aren’t hand raisers. In other words, they haven’t indicated any interest in the problem you solve or in buying your product. If your product category isn’t well known, or if your company itself is not well known, you’re fighting an uphill battle with these kinds of contacts.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to go with a high-quality data provider. There is a huge difference between vendors. Our clients have had success with companies like DiscoverOrg and Netprospex/D&B. They cost a little more than some others but the data validation processes as well as added functionality (such as automated Marketo connectors) are well worth the slightly higher price.

Custom List Builds – One of the newer ways to build your list is specifying the types of contacts that you want and then either searching out these contacts on the internet or hiring a third party to do so. Mechanical Turk (by Amazon) is one vendor that allows you to create a project and have independent contractors bid to take your project. The costs can be very low, such as $0.50 per contact.

The next level of custom list builds is using a vendor like SMARTe. These guys will take your criteria (company names and job titles, etc) and for as little as $5 each, give you phone verified contacts. Now take just a minute to think about that. When we were buying contacts we might pay $0.50 each. With these “phone verified” contacts we are paying 10x more. However, the old adage is true here: you get what you pay for.

Purchasing bulk contacts is going to have a lot more garbage data and phone verified contacts are going to be a lot higher quality. It still doesn’t make them a hand-raiser. There is still no guarantee they have a need for your product or are even ready to move into a buying cycle. But at least you know the data you have is solid and you can reach them with it.

Paid media – There are tons of different paid media channels to explore: retargeting, pay-per-click, social media, content syndication are just a few.

And there are a lot of different vendors for each type as well. However, this strategy helps you build a database filled with “hand raisers.” In most cases, if your ad and offer are designed correctly, people who respond to paid-media campaigns are clicking on your promotion because they have interest in your type of product/service AND they are providing their contact information at the same time. The cost for B2B leads using this approach can vary from $30-$700 per lead depending on how qualified or targeted the lead is. But while the cost is the highest of the three options, these contacts are going to be of the highest quality.

Also because these contacts are filling out a form with their own information, it’s more likely to be accurate. (I am not saying that people don’t fill out forms with false information. They definitely do. But most will provide you accurate titles, company names and email addresses.)

For many of these, you will also need to create content offers to leverage in these programs. This can be an additional cost for your company, on top of the cost-per-lead. Often you’ll need to put your content-marketing hat on and create content that’s relevant to your business as part of these programs.

This helps you position your company as a thought leader and/or helps readers/prospects do their jobs better. This approach helps you capture the hand raisers, so to speak. You can do this through retargeting, pay-per-click, social media, content syndication, and many channels to find leads that will respond to your offers.

Build your strategy.

Even though there’s a tradeoff between the costs and quality between these options, I recommend that you look at a combination of all three: purchasing contacts and list builds and paid media.

For example, you can start with a small budget focused on paid media. But no one has enough of a budget to do it all through paid media. So, simultaneously work with a vendor to create a list of verified contacts from an “ABM” or target account list. Once those are in-house, you may want to supplement with a large volume buy of contacts.

Below I have developed a framework to help you understand all of options and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

For each strategy (Contact purchase, Custom List Build, Paid Media) I have give a score from 1 to 3. A “1” means that the strategy is strong on this dimension.

  • Interest – Likelihood to be in a purchase cycle (i.e. be a “hand-raiser”)
  • Cost – This refers to the cost per contact
  • Accuracy – This refers to the likelihood that the data you receive is correct. While vendors providing contacts in bulk make every effort to ensure their data is accurate, my experience is that there are more errors in their data than the other strategies.
  • Targeting – This refers to your ability to purchase only the contacts you desire. With most paid media channels you can do a pretty good job of targeting and some are now offering to deliver only contacts for your target accounts (ABM). In these cases, I would give paid media a “1” instead of a “2.”
Interest Cost Accuracy Target
Contact Purchase 3 1 3 1
List Build 3 2 1 1
Paid Media 1 3 2 2*


So, how are you building your database or keeping your lists fresh? I’d love to hear.




I’d like to welcome a guest blogger, Paul Gustafon from TDA Group. TDA Group is the premier B2B content marketing for high tech. TDA Group plans, creates, and manages content marketing programs that help maximize the return on marketing investments—and accelerate sales.


Congratulations, marketer.

You’ve implemented your shiny new marketing automation (Marketo, Pardot, HubSpot, or some similar tool). As part of the demand-gen effort, you’ve built personas for the purchasers and influencers involved in your buyer’s journey. You’ve created lead-generation campaigns and assets to capture and incubate leads. As a result, you’ve captured some marketing-qualified leads, and have even transferred some sales-ready leads to your sales team.

But something is amiss.

Your marketing engine just isn’t living up to expectations. Sure, you’re doing A/B testing on the creative, and seeing some performance improvements. But overall, the opportunity pipeline should be much bigger, and more actual sales should be closing much sooner. The marketing engine isn’t firing on all cylinders. Management is not happy.

So where’s the problem?

Start with personas. If your personas are based on opinion rather than fact, you should revisit them after reading this post by our partner, Ardath Albee.

But let’s assume your personas are solid, research-based representations of buyers and influencers and they accurately describe which informational needs are most relevant at each stage of the journey. If so, your content may not be getting the job done. Maybe you’ve got the right assets, but the wrong timing. Or maybe you have the wrong assets altogether.

It’s time for a tune-up. You need a lead-gen content audit.

What does a lead-gen content audit accomplish?

A lead-gen content audit can evaluate how well your content serves the informational needs of your personas at each stage of the journey, identify content gaps, and flag areas where you can repurpose existing content to accelerate the journey.

A prerequisite for a lead-gen content audit is crisp messaging for each persona. By “crisp messaging,” we mean a clear marketing positioning statement, an understandable value proposition, and differentiating claims and proof points. Creating assets without thinking through the messaging for each persona is putting the cart before the horse. Your target audience won’t respond to assets or offers that are not tuned to relevant pain points or interests. In those situations, you may need to refresh your content to better support your story and meet the needs of individual personas.

There are a myriad of ways poor content execution can gum up your marketing automation system. We see some companies struggling with this part of the puzzle because the people creating content aren’t in touch with the folks running campaigns. In some companies, these people are split into separate organizations that compete internally for headcount, influence, and budget.

Not an ideal situation.

What goes into a lead-gen content audit? 

When TDA conducts a lead-gen content audit, we collect and discuss your personas, explore the information needs of your highest priority audiences, and examine the buyer journey as implemented in your campaigns. We also review messaging by persona, and help select the content assets to be included in the inventory for the audit.

The size of the inventory can be broad or narrow, depending on your specific situation and budget. The inventory can include web pages, emails, videos, and other content used in your marketing automation system, as well as assets used by your sales team or business partners.

Experience suggests the effort required to find a golden needle in a haystack full of all of your old assets is rarely rewarded. While a light review of a large inventory can identify background materials for new assets, more frequently it results in a list of content that should be retired.

For each asset included in the inventory, TDA editors evaluate the content against specific criteria that includes how well the asset supports the messaging you defined for each persona, where in the buyer’s journey the asset will be most effective, which segments it best serves, which messages it delivers, and so forth. The evaluation also identifies gaps where assets are not available and areas where assets are being misused.

This information becomes key to prioritizing and focusing your marketing spend on content that’s most needed to reach your audiences. It’s also critical for building an editorial calendar so you can plan and execute content that best supports the journey as defined in the marketing automation system.

Using off-target, unfocused, sub-optimized, or misdirected content in your lead-gen initiatives is akin to putting cooking oil in your car’s gas tank. The car may run, but not well. You may start down the highway while all looks good until suddenly the engine starts sputtering and spewing smoke. Think of us as the experts, the diagnosticians and mechanics who can help you tune your content marketing engine for a high level of effectiveness. Stop in, and we’ll check that warning light.

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