At ESM Inbound, we are often asked about email lists. How to build them, how to use them and how to optimise them. We love these questions – great email list management is a vital part of an effective marketing campaign.

On occasion, we are asked if we can provide email data. The answer? 'Are you sure that's the best way to market your product or service to your customers?'

Just blindly reaching out for email contacts – any contacts – who you can email to start encouraging sales is a tempting reaction to needing to increase email marketing performance, but it isn’t always the most ‘inbound’ or customer-first approach. As Corey Wainwright at HubSpot says:

‘That's the mindset many marketers find themselves in when they're on the phone with a list-purchasing company: we need new people to email to support our sales team… Yes, thousands of contacts are a credit card swipe away, but your email marketing program – a critical part of a well-rounded inbound marketing strategy – can seriously suffer.’

In this blog post, we’ll explain why you need your own email lists; not those supplied by a list-purchasing company, and how to get the most out of the contacts in those lists.

Building a relationship of trust

Think about your own email inbox for a moment. Ask yourself – 'How much do I trust the people who have sent me these emails?' How well do you even know the senders?

The emails you trust most probably come from: family, friends and (hopefully!) colleagues. In other words, people you know: people you gave your email address to and asked to hear from. ESM Inbound MarTech Consultant, Matt Nortje, explains other factors that damage trust when you buy lists:

‘Those lists do not factor in people moving jobs or changing job titles, so there’s a strong chance the information you have is either incorrect or outdated.

The inbound methodology is built around attracting people before engaging with them. We focus on nurturing people through valuable ideas, strategies and, of course, content.

Businesses need to think of their relationships with customers as partnerships. You wouldn't want to work with someone who doesn't share your same ideologies or common goals. So why would you waste time and money buying lists of people who haven't expressed an interest in you?’

Without first establishing a relationship of trust, your beautifully crafted and sincere email becomes indistinguishable from the spam.

Why trust is important when selling to customers

Trust is important when selling to anyone. When you put yourself in the position of a seller to someone in the position of a customer, it’s normal to expect suspicion. Wise, hardworking people do not willingly part with their money, and from the off, unless you show you are a trustworthy, knowledgeable person who has the customer’s best interests at heart – they aren’t going to want to work with you.

In a recent Forbes article, Randy Illig explained the psychology behind trust in a buyer-seller interaction:

‘In a low-trust sales relationship, buyers work against their own interests by withholding the very information sellers need to be helpful: key players, criteria, budget, decision-making processes. They think the seller will use this information against them, instead of using it to craft the best solution.

But in high-trust relationships, the customer sees the seller as an advisor. Buyers answer questions, are forthright and share information freely – because they know the seller will use it to help them. Trust becomes a competitive advantage.’

By taking on the role of ‘advisor’, giving value without extracting it, you are far more likely to earn a prospects’ trust, than if you barge in unannounced.

Additionally, businesses have a responsibility to keep their workers safe. This ranges from providing a safe work environment, right through to ensuring that employee data is kept secure. So think about the implications of you sending an email to prospects who never gave you their email address. In other words, accessing their email address without their consent.

What message does this send to recipients about the value you place on keeping data secure? If you want to be an advert for your own services, values and integrity, then approaching strangers via a form as personal as email isn’t the way to go about it. Yes, they might be reading your email, but they certainly aren’t going to trust you enough to work with you once they close it.

Building your own email list

Now consider the alternative scenario. You offer prospects something of value in exchange for their email address and an agreement that you can send them more information in the future. You could be offering a free ebook, a guide or anything that your buyer persona would find genuinely useful. They’ll be more than happy to exchange their email address for that.

You can then keep in regular contact with that prospect. You can send them links to additional resources and monitor the content that they engage with. With every email you send, you get a better idea of that person’s needs and interests. The result? Your emails become more relevant and your audience values receiving them.

Yes, this is a slow-burn approach: it’s not as fast as sending an email to a huge list of purchased data, but it’s certainly more effective. Would you rather sell to a warm list of prospects who trust you, or to a cold list of people who will be sceptical about even opening your email?

Making it happen

So, how do you provide those valuable offers and get those email addresses? That’s achieved through a combination of regular blog posts, informative pillar pages, and a network of landing pages and pop-up forms – all designed to meet the needs of potential customers and prove the quality of your products and services.

The most important factor in this equation? Yep, you’ve guessed it – trust.

  • Make sure that your landing pages describe your offer accurately, and adhere to all the best practices of this format. Nothing breaks trust faster than being mis-sold to (even if the only currency being exchanged is an email address). 

  • If you say that your offer will show prospects how to improve money-handling processes in their bank, then you need to be sure that the resource you provide genuinely contributes to that. 

  • As a rule of thumb: underpromise and overdeliver.

To take it to the next level, be sure to encourage prospects to share the resource with their colleagues. People within your targeted industry tend to trust others like them in similar roles and sectors. They likely share resources with one another in Facebook groups, across social channels and internally with their own teams. Make it easy for prospects to share your pillar pages, landing pages and blog posts and you’ll be rewarded with a steady stream of email addresses.

With all that in place, your next conversation with a digital marketing agency won’t be ‘Can you provide us with a list of email addresses?’. You’ll be asking ‘How can we make the most of our customised, highly targeted and valuable list of contacts’ email addresses?’. How much more could you achieve if that was your company’s starting point when marketing to your target audience?