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Have you ever sat near someone you don’t know, only to find out that a few hours later they moved in with you and met your parents? No? Would you find that weird? Because in a different channel, it has happened to you – and your leads – multiple times.

Long gone are the days of You’ve got mail, where the ding of an email meant something meaningful every time. Indeed, you’ve received countless emails from unknown sources, both personally and professionally. Most of the time, the messages to your personal email are pestering you about sales and deals YOU. CANNOT. AFFORD. TO. MISS, while professional ones are often trying to get you involved in some revolutionary marketing or an operational tactic to boost your business.


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I’m willing to bet a red paperclip (don’t judge; they’re valuable!) that you really don’t love receiving the emails mentioned above. Being on the receiving end, we complain about the time it takes to clear our inbox and/or unsubscribe. So why is it that we consider buying lists an option when on the sender’s side? Because it’s easy and because we’re lazy.

Most IT people are busy. And when I mean busy, I mean swamped. Sun up to sun down, knee-deep in tasks, always on call. For untrained marketers, value has to be quick and efficient, often at the cost of being effective. What’s shedding a few hundred bucks if it gets me in front of 1000 new contacts, you ask? Well, the truth is, it can hurt you badly. Here’s why.


The many pitfalls of marketing lists


First, most experienced marketers agree that email lists are not the best way to build contacts. Don’t get me wrong; we all try at some in our careers (again, easy and lazy!). But, buying a list is not a good idea because:

  1. Many emails are outdated or misspelled. They will decrease your open rate and increase the bounce rate of your emails sent.
  2. The targeting is often up for debate. You might ask for filters and a narrow client profile, but there is no way to validate that your provider has applied those parameters.
  3. The list might contain spamtraps. This is especially frustrating if you pay per email address because these were not created for communication, but to identify spammers. Once an email is sent to that fake address, it’s clear the sender was sending spam, as it’s the only way to have this address in your registry.
  4. The same email list was probably sold to other people, rendering the users behind them blind to unsolicited emails.
  5. Most mass mailer services won’t even allow you to upload the list without an opt-in or verification.



There’s a high chance that it’s illegal or verging on illegal. The laws differ from country to country, but there’s a lot to consider. Canada and Europe are the most difficult, while the US is a bit more chill.

If you’re in Canada, you need to follow Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL). This is an opt-in regulation, meaning that you cannot send marketing emails to someone who hasn’t explicitly stated that they’d be ok with it. Consent is key. You know those little boxes that say, “I want to receive your promotional emails until I die” on websites? Well, in Canada, it’s illegal to have them pre-checked. Violators can face Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) consisting of fines of up to $1 million for individuals and up to $10 million for corporations per violation. Promotional emails are reserved for those who asked for them, yielding better results for everyone. In fact:

Since its inception, CASL has resulted in improvements for both consumers and businesses. In terms of consumers:

Canadians now receive less spam. One study showed that within a year of introducing the legislation, there was a 37% decrease in Canadian-based spam and 29% less email (spam or legitimate) in Canadians’ in-boxes.


Meanwhile, for businesses:

Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of commercial electronic messages reaching their designated recipients rose to 90% from 79% in Canada (compared with 80% worldwide). The rate of commercial emails opened and read also increased to 32% from 26% (compared with 21% in the United States).



In the United States, you need to follow the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing, or CAN-SPAM Act – not to be confused with a can of SPAM.

So, the US chose to go with an opt-out approach, which makes it easier. It’s less restricting because you can send emails to anyone, as long as you:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading info in the header or subject line
  2. Clearly state that it is a promotional email
  3. Say where you are located
  4. Offer a way to unsubscribe and honor it


That’s all. So, in theory, if you are located in the US, you can buy an email list. However, this is what FTC attorney Christopher Brown had to say about email lists:

“So, in general, as long as you follow the “initiator” requirements of the Act, you can send email until the recipient asks to opt-out. But buying lists like that can be risky. There is the possibility that addresses on the list belong to people who have already opted out of receiving email from your company. And there’s a risk that the list was put together using illegal means like address harvesting or dictionary attacks.”


So keep in mind that even if it is legal, when you buy an email list, no matter what the provider promises, you never know what you’re going to get. And in this case, we’re far from the sweet chocolate box metaphor Forrest Gump was telling us about!

Penalties can escalate quickly, too.

Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $43,280, and more than one person may be held responsible for violations. For example, both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that originated the message may be legally responsible. Email that makes misleading claims about products or services also may be subject to laws outlawing deceptive advertising, like Section 5 of the FTC Act. The CAN-SPAM Act has certain aggravated violations that may give rise to additional fines. The law provides for criminal penalties – including potential imprisonment!  Source

Reputation and relationships

To be honest, the part that gets me the most is the impact it can have on your business, regardless of fines.

First, doing shady email business can get you on an email blacklist. In other words, the score associated with your domain will decrease, and you’ll end up in databases used for spam detection. This means that your emails were so often marked as SPAM that email providers flagged it as such at the anti-spam filter level, preventing anything sent from you to reach its final destination. In your business’ day-to-day, it could mean that clients you already have and exchange email with will stop receiving their ticket answers or their invoices. Email communications will become more difficult as a result.

Second, buying lists affect the entire reputation of your business online, in the relationships you currently have and the ones you are trying to establish with leads. People can start labeling you as a spammer, which no one wants to be associated with. It’s a little bit like trying to use steroids as a professional athlete. You know you shouldn’t be doing it, but you’re looking for quick gain and a fast impact. The consequences of being exposed can be catastrophic for your career! You don’t want to lose your integrity. And using bad marketing practices is a quick way to reinforce the fact that already, people distrust advertisers and marketers even more than the US Congress.

Another point: brands are stuck in a perpetual dating app lifestyle. We tend to judge them very quickly based on how they look and what they make us feel. That right or left swipe is just a few text lines away! So if the first time you reach a lead, you move too quickly to business without learning about them first, your success rate will be low.


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Better alternatives to reach people’s inbox

Let’s face it, I know it, you know it, but I also know you don’t want to hear this. The best way to get into people’s inbox is to build lasting tactics and campaigns that take time and make you build true, solid relationships with your clients and potential leads. It won’t happen in a flash. You won’t get 4000 email addresses overnight. BUT the ones you get WILL know you and be interested in what you have to say or offer. Here are a few tips you can put in place to help you build lists, the non-steroid, honest way.


Tip 1: It always starts with good content

If we had spoken before, at our Accelerate Cloud Summit, a past P.A.C. or through a marketing consultation, you’d know this was coming. Great, helpful, value-added content is the one thing I preach to whoever will hear it. Modern marketing is permission-based marketing, meaning that your first goal is to help prospects by providing enough information to guide them along and, if it’s a good fit, lead them to your sales funnel. So, if you think about your ideal customer and tailor your message to their needs, it only makes sense that they’ll want more. They will even look for a way to give you their contact if you provide them with value!


Tip 2: Spread those forms around

You can use online forms in many areas. There is no one-size-fits-all. You’ll want to study your online presence for opportunities to add a form. Obviously, the contact us page comes to mind. That one is easy as pie. But there are more!

If you have a blog, you can create a one-field subscription form to collect email addresses and send your latest articles to your readers.

If you have white-papers that are good enough to put behind a form, go for it! Although, make sure that the content you hide behind a form is valuable enough to your lead to ask for something from them in return. I recommend you tailor the form to the perceived value of the asset. For example, a relatively simple, informative ebook could ask for email and name only. As you create content further down the marketing funnel and develop more useful content pieces, such as Excel templates or tools that can help them accomplish something, you can “increase the price” and add more fields. Don’t be afraid to provide something closely related to the problems you can help solve for their business. If you try to teach or help them do something alone, and they fail or lack time to execute, they’re more likely to come to you for help later. Empowering your leads is a great way to build trust and thought leadership.

If you offer any type of free consultation or customized assessment as part of your service offering, please put that online behind a form! I’ve seen Managed Service Providers do that at the operational level without thinking it needs to be on their website. That is an amazing way to generate engagement and email addresses, as well as qualified leads.

Heck, be direct! Add an opt-in form to your website, even if you don’t have a blog! You can add it to your footer, or on specific informational pages. It won’t be the tactic that gets you the most emails, but the ones you get will be interested in hearing what your newsletter or emails have to say for sure!

Have a monthly or quarterly newsletter? Yes, use a form to sign up for that, too. If you get foot traffic in your shop, print a poster highlighting the benefits of subscribing, just to make sure the less tech-savvy people are aware they can give you their contact.


Tip 3: Be clever

Don’t think like a salesperson who wants contact. Think like a user. In your consumer life, where have you given your contact info to a business before? When you see a way you like, take some notes and see if or how you can do something similar. It’s smart to reuse ideas you like! For example, you can hold a contest, or have a business card box and hold a ‘free lunch on us” monthly draw. Make sure that the contest is somewhat related to your business and the value you offer. I’ve seen gyms offer summer passes to the zoo. Yes, their social following jumped from 500 to 1500 likes, but out of those extra 1000, not many were qualified leads who were interested in what they had to say. Make sure that the new contacts you get are relevant for your business. If you offer workstation installation, hold a contest for an awesome, fancy monitor, or one of those super techy Surface Hubs. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either. People love goodies. A Fitbit, an Apple Watch, a Google Home: anything tech-related will do.

You can also leverage tools you might already be using. For example, lots of people use automated chatbots on their social platforms or websites now. If you do, make sure to ask for the user’s email, and then don’t forget to add it to your database.



If you’ve read this far, I want to say thank you! I hope it means you found the content informative and helpful, and that it ties in with the “it starts with good content” part of this article! Building email lists is no easy task. Just like meeting people in real life, you need first to be polite, respect boundaries, and make sure there is a value in the relationship. Be practical about it, and remember that you don’t want to do anything to your leads that you wouldn’t want in your inbox!

Don’t forget to get in touch with us through social or LinkedIn if there’s a specific subject you’d love to read about in a future post! Until then, stay engaged. I recommend you take a look at our Partner Program Benefits Guide to make sure you’re not missing out on everything Sherweb has to offer!

Written by The Sherweb Team Collaborators @ Sherweb