12 Mistakes you can make when buying a Mailing List – And how to avoid them!

“A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”
Nolan Bushnell

“Sometimes opportunities float right past your nose. Work hard, apply yourself, and be ready. When an opportunity comes you can grab it.”

Julie Andrews


There are three major components to all marketing campaigns: the list, the strategy and the sales copy. There are companies with great strategy but with lousy sales copy. Others have amazing sales copy but have bad strategies. Either way, they are losing potential customers and with that, profits. BUT even with an impressive strategy and a similarly fantastic sales copy but with the wrong list, you will have no one to sell to, in the first place.

In this article we focus on the list. Your Source of customer acquisition – it might be ailing, phoning, email, SMS or fax. But for this purpose, let’s call it a “List”. The list generally refers to a list of names and addresses and/or email addresses of potential customers to whom you send advertising material. However, getting a list is different from sending spam email…which is always slightly illegal!

The worst that could happen to you when you choose to take the Direct Marketing route is that you lose money. Well, it’s not as bad as getting a dreadful disease or getting involved in an accident but it sucks just the same. Because the only reason that you entered into business is to make profit and if you don’t at least break it even in your first try, then how else do you get to try again? But if a “standard” press, ad or radio ad doesn’t work, you lose money too!

There are a lot of mistakes that can be made with Direct Marketing. You can set prices that are perceived as being too high or too low that people don’t get interested. You can also design a crappy looking mailing package that no one would dare open. You may also be offering weight loss products during Mothers Dayand Christmas season (like, who wants to diet during holidays?) But probably the worst you could do is to mail to the wrong list and “wrong” takes on many forms. So that’s why we put this together – I guarantee you will get pearls of wisdom in this simple read and then you can watch people making the same mistakes again and again because they haven’t read this!


You cannot identify your target – not even the ones you don’t want.

“The world is a much smaller place. These days, you can reach anyone, anytime, anywhere. If you know how to do it, you can expand your range of potential customers to the farthest corners of the world.”
Mike Koenigs

We’ve mentioned the Strategy earlier and it is integral to any marketing campaign to define your audience. It’s easy enough to get a mailing list but if your list does not represent your target audience, better not wonder why you receive no response at all. Be sure that your list is up to date and aimed at the needs of your prospects.

But who exactly is your target market?

Well, the strategy to getting the right list sounds simple enough, but actually defining your target and getting your hands on the list is not that easy nor is it that glamorous, as say creating a package design or a brochure. However, since it is an important part of running a business, succeeding at identifying your potential customers is simply essential.

The more exactly you define that group, the better response you’ll have. The more response you have, the more money you make. Just imagine if you send your mail out to the wrong list: airbrushed batting helmets to golfers, rock CDs to the elderly and your tattoo services to pre-school teachers – you just won’t make a cent!

The name of the game is to maximize the response rate per thousand and that is, to make a sale from at the minimum number you need to, expressed as the “break even”. One writer put Direct Marketing as “shooting fish in a barrel” where the first step is choosing the correct barrel and that is picking the correct list. Anyone in his right mind would choose the barrel with the most fish, right? And that means buying the list with the most number of prospects. You further polish your list by choosing it for being updated and the chances that you would make a sale. Remember that the more specific your list is, the better your response rate is and the more responses you get, the more money you make.

It’s that simple..if you work with someone like us.

Let’s put it this way, say you’re trying to sell weight loss pills. So you go and send mail to a list of local gym owners compiled from a registration of gyms. Well, you breath a sigh of relief because you broke even. But that won’t do. So this time, you try to mail to a list of gym enrollees. Now, these people are in the gym either to keep fit or to lose weight and your product is in an organic container as well so you get a response rate of two

percent. Now, you’re starting to smile. The next time, you send mail to gym enrollees who have purchased weight loss supplements compiled from a list from something like Consumer Survey Responders….now, the real money starts to roll in We often work with Australian Consumer Household Survey (covering over 2-4 million households).

In-house lists are best especially if the ones on your list are already proven to act on offers that interest them. However, if you don’t have an in-house list, you can develop your own or you could rent one. Once you’ve identified your target audience, you can rent a subscriber list of publications and newsletters that might interest them.


You don’t have pre-conceived notions of the best method to communicate

Most people actually do not have a strategy on how to use direct marketing to achieve specific business goals. Even if you’ve identified your target market and have the list, they won’t automatically buy from you if you don’t know how to “talk” to them. If you’re one of those who have no idea about what to do, start with identifying what specific goals you want to achieve with Direct Marketing: do you want to generate leads or do you want to find partners or do you want to solidify business relationships? Next is to identify time frames for achieving these goals. If you stay on a method that’s not working for so long, you’re actually losing money on the sales opportunities you could have made with some other method. If it does not work, you better try some other tack or modify. For example, you may target to have five prospects in a week and turn one of them into a new customer. Start measuring your results and see what’s working and what’s not. Is your product appropriate to the type of list you have? Are you targeting the proper audience or are you using the correct method to reach your target audience?

Direct Mailing might be the best but so might a combination of email, phone or fax. You can develop a system on how you could best close sales either through the phone, the Web or face to face. Remember, some methods are not just effective for some businesses. For example, wedding cakes get sold better over the Web than over the phone or through Direct Marketing. Try to get familiar with all forms/ media to communicate to have better options. You can’t do all of them, of course, and neither should you. Concentrate on a communication method that is (1) accepted by your target audience, (2) something that you are or can be really good at, (3) something you can sustain over a long period of time and (4) something that you wouldn’t put a lot of strain on your budget. Better yet, ask your prospects what works for them. Not only will you get it accurately, you are actually giving them what they want.


Present your product as “me-too” – the same as everyone’s. No chance to stand out.

“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
George Washington Carver

How do you think you would sell something if there are some 50 companies that sell the same product or service as you? And what if you were able to buy the same list as your closest competitor? But before you completely give up on your business, think about all the other products that have competition but are getting a larger share of the pie. The secret is not really to have a completely unique product but to have what is called a Unique Selling Position (USP). Ask yourself, “What would make a customer want to do business with you rather than any other business in your area?”

There are many other ways to develop your USP. Just remember these three things:

  1. Keep your customers in mind by offering the best benefit for them.
  2. If you can’t create something new, make something better.
  3. Guarantee whatever you sell and what you offer.

Here are some concrete things that you could do for your USP:

  1. Offer the largest selection of products or services. If you’re running a veterinary service, you might want to include a pet grooming service or pet accessory shop with it.
  2. Offer an innovative product or something that has a lot of uses. If you’re selling organic food, you can accentuate on its health and medicinal benefits so it comes out that you’re not just selling healthy food but something that also heals.
  3. Offer superior customer service. Going beyond what your product offers makes your customer come back for more – even if you might charge more that your competition. You could offer home service or expert consulting that could help your customers before and after you have made the sale.
  4. Stay in a convenient location. Convenience stores can charge a bit more than your regular supermarket or grocer but still people go to them because they are just around the corner and are open even on unusual hours.
  5. Offer the best price depending on your target customer. If your products are directed towards the high-end but less number of customers, offer your services at a higher price and you are offering prestige. If you’re looking for the average bargain hunter, then set a price lower than average but without compromising your profits.


Be in a mad rush – must have the list “now or sooner” – have to get it out yesterday.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
Pablo Picasso

Trying to shoot in the dark and hope that you hit something is crazy, right? But demanding a list pronto but without some form of a plan is just about the same thing. You get a list now and then what? Most of the time, you get so preoccupied with the day-to- day running of the business that you forget the Big Picture, the Plan, your strategy that will bring your business to the next level. As discussed earlier, strategy is one of the elements of a successful business. Part of your strategy is identifying your target market which we have already discussed earlier. Another part is examining your competitor/s and the other is analysing your own position in the market – how to make your campaigns better and more profitable, when to do them and how to do them.

Here are the elements of a strategic plan:

  1. Know what you want. You have to set targets like how many do you want to send mail daily and how many do you want to convert into sales? How much income do you want?
  2. Specify what you will do. Define roles and spell out what you will do to achieve your goals.
  3. Establish timelines. Specify when you want your goals and objectives to be reached and commit to that.
  4. Create daily action steps. Define what you want to be done daily and actually do them immediately.
  5. Spell out your goals. Everyone in your team should know what your goal statement is, when they should be done and what they can get when they do.


Expect one campaign will bring in the business – with no follow up or planned measurement of response.

There are many ways to make money with your business but not every method there is will work for you, your business or your product. Just because you earned a few bucks on one campaign does not mean that this will make money each time or even most of the time. The good thing about direct marketing is that you can actually track whether what you’re doing is working or not – and knowing this is crucial. The success (or failure) of your marketing activities is where you base your strategies. Let’s say you want to sell personalized t-shirts. They were a big hit when you sold them at the last college fair. You even had a few organizations order a few pieces. When you started selling them online, you started selling less.

What you need to do is to start with a list and then try to find out how to get the most out of it and that means, getting a high rate of sale from what you have. You need to know if the amount you paid for the list is worth it or if you’re just wasting your money and time.

How do you measure if your Direct Marketing campaign is working?

One simple measurement is to follow a campaign and see which one gets the most responses. This is easy because you can track who and how many people are receiving your mail until they actually respond to you. If you are making more money than you have actually spent on your list and your marketing campaign, then you are on the right track. If not, then you should start making adjustments. Test, test and test your campaigns until you come up with the perfect blend.


Do not research what your clients think about the Offer – what would initiate inquiry from prospects – make sure it turns them on to act now.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”
Peter F. Drucker

One of the biggest mistakes that many entrepreneurs make is trying to figure out what they want to sell. This, by itself, is already tough. There are thousands or even millions of possible products and services to offer. However, the most important thing to decide is actually which market or niche you are going to target. Once you’ve identified your target, you will know who they are, what they want, what they need and what possible solutions you can offer for these needs and wants. When you’ve narrowed it down to this, it should be much easier to figure out what to sell.

You could start with making a list of the things you are interested in and choose from there. Making a list would be better than zeroing in on a single passion because this will give you options. You have to understand that not because you share a lot of passion with a lot of persons, it doesn’t mean that these people will buy what you’re selling. Teenagers are segment that is fun to target because they are interested in a lot of things like music, fashion, gadgets, etc. But do they have the money to buy all these stuff they’re interested in? Now, let’s look at the 40 to 60 year olds. They’re a bunch with a few interests but have enough money to fund these interests. Now, which segment is better?

However, when you start narrowing down your options, don’t just think about how much money you can make from them. Before doing so, think about what they need or what they want. Ask the question, “What can I do for you?” Ninety-eight percent of the time, this gets a higher response rate than simply selling something you think they need.

Communicate with your customers. A good Direct Marketing campaign should tell the customers what they want to hear and not what you think they want.


Deal with someone who OWNS a database or has a vested interest in supplying that, over perhaps a better choice they will never hear about.

“Everyone lives by selling something.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Walk into a Ford Dealer. Ask them what they can recommend for your purposes. Guess what they are going to recommend? A Ford! (Or something else on the Lot they are under pressure to move!).

You might say they are slightly biased but its in their interest to sell you what they make the most money on – it might be a good buy – but it may not.

We approach our Business the same way. That’s why in 22 years, we have never taken ownership of a particular file or course – because what’s good today may have a successor tomorrow. Our ability to pick the eyes out of what’s commercially available and give you the “crème of the crap” (Lairds saying that to prove a point – nothing we sell is crap!).

No point in spending a first rate price for a second rate product.


Apathy – frankly, it can get too hard and too confusing putting a Direct Marketing Campaign together – as an alternative to the “same old press ad, magazine ad” – then have to rely on your existing sales channel to ramp-up sales with existing clients, obtain new clients, etc in their spare time.

“Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hopes. When my attitudes are right, there is no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me.”

Charles R. Swindoll

Let’s say you want to convert five prospects into two sales in a week. So what would give you the best return on your investment of time and money? Should you get a new list? Write more sales copies? Whichever way you choose, you have to be there and participate in the process.

You say you don’t have an extra hour to work on your campaigns or to find new clients? But think about the hours you spend on Facebook or watching TV? Did you know that the average American spends 1,745 hours watching television in a typical year – that’s about five hours a day.

Yes, there’s only 24 hours in a day. You don’t need to put every hour to work but you can use the hours into something that will make your direct campaign goals into reality. The best time is now and there’s no excuse not to do something.


Rely on a salesperson at your List source, who doesn’t understand Direct Marketing – has little experience (and doesn’t care anyway) so cannot relate to the best “product” for you.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forgot the errand.”

President Woodrow Wilson

Anyone can set themselves up as a listbroker – say wonderful things about themselves and promise the world. So there’s good and bad eggs in our industry. List brokers can be found in the phonebook and on the Internet. Many are able to provide you with incredible information but some are out to make a fast buck. There are brokers out there that could provide you with a list but do not really know what’s best for your business. A reliable list broker will take the time to do research on the best possible mail list that will target your customers. They could offer invaluable insight on the industry, experience and research on choosing, implementing and analysing the list you need. These list brokers may charge you more but you could have higher rates of return with the list that they provide so they could end up costing less in the long run. One great way to check out the credentials of the person or company you are talking to, is to do a Google search.

Makes Interesting reading on some folk, particulary ex bankrupts in Australia!


Believe a very cheap list is as accurate and representative and a “normal priced” one.

“You get what you pay for… Or you should!” Laird Marshall

Expensive lists are expensive because mailing list companies actually buy them from the companies themselves. Telecommunication companies, pharmaceuticals, sports companies sell their customer lists and these don’t come cheap. However, you can be guaranteed that these are reliable and accurate lists.

However, you better start asking questions when the list you’re getting are cheaper than the others. These could be dated and inaccurate lists that are rarely reliable. They could come from public records where the names and addresses are dated and rarely reliable.

But before that, you need to know what you can afford to pay to get a customer. You might be getting a list that’s too expensive that you are spending more for it than on the other parts of your campaign. If you’re flying blind without knowing these numbers, then you could either end up spending far too much to get a subscriber and go broke, or decide a marketing campaign is not working when it really is.

Lists are usually rented for one-time use only. List owners have a method of monitoring their list and if you try to use it a second time without paying for it, you might just hear something from someone’s lawyer. You can also get one for multiple use but again, you have to pay premium for those

Most lists come with a test quantity…..between 1000 and 5,000 names and for budgeting purposes, you could cost them at about $300 per thousand – some may cost more though and some cost less. Compiled lists cost less at about $160 per thousand. Compiled lists are those lists that could come from public or proprietary sources like phonebooks, trade show attendees, car registration or association memberships. Since you cannot tell the response rate from this kind of list, they cost less.

Response lists or lists of people who have responded to offers and promotions and data banks are more expensive since they offer segmentation and demographic information. These types of lists can start at $400 per thousand. If you want to filter your list according to state, gender, income and other segmentations, then each would add anywhere from $5 to $15 per thousand…. you have to be ready to pay more should you want higher sales percentages.


Neglect to always take some or all of the data with the phone numbers if you can to follow-up (if you don’t need them, and the campaign works, great! If not, you can find out why they haven’t responded and change your approach and “package”).

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!” Madam C.J. Walker

Did you know that four out of five sales are made after the prospect had been contacted at least five times? Even if you get the best list that money can buy, you won’t get a lot of sales with a single shot campaign. Once a prospect tosses your postcard or deletes your email, he’s gone – and so it your chance for a sale. However, you can bring them back by creating a follow up series. With a series of creative mail, you can convince your prospect to read and consider your offer. Following-up is an age-old selling technique. Ever got a catalogue after visiting a store or a postcard inviting you to an exclusive sale? That’s how stores and some direct sellers follow up.

The good news is that we can help you avoid the drama of choosing from the most of your list selection options. There are so many changes constantly in our Industry, its not easy keeping up, so for goodness sake, be assured that we will do our utmost to make sure your Campaigns are well orchestrated.

MISTAKE #12: (Ok, 10 wasn’t enough!)

Most list suppliers are only interested in a quick and easy sale of what they want to push and their commission from your money – if there are any problems, they don’t want to know about it, let alone fix it.

Believe it or not, the list industry is big business, really big business. They sell or rent lists to earn and if they don’t sell you something where you don’t make any form of profit, then they won’t have any return business and eventually lose customers. No list broker would want that. So before you think that every list broker is out there to earn a fast buck, here are a few tips:

1. Ask marketers with similar business or services as yours about their list brokers. 2. Speak to the list broker or brokers of your choice and see whether they can still

take the volume of business you need..and have a clue about what you want.. 3. List brokers also have specialties like business-to-business or business-to-

consumers like catalogue or newsletter publishing. Find out what you need for

your business.
4. Discuss with your list broker how much you can afford and what you plan to do.

Your broker could help you decide on the list types depending on your budget and campaign plans. The more information about your company that you tell your broker, the better recommendation you could get from them.

A list broker receives about a standard commission of 20%. So if you rented a list of about $300 per thousand, your list broker would receive 20% of that amount. A reliable list broker is not out for a quick sale. Given the correct information about your company and the market you want to reach, your list broker could actually help you find define the list that your business needs.

Thank you for reading this article. If you think we’ve got it wrong, or perhaps have something to add, we welcome hearing from you – phone call us or email us direct