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Build Your Own Cold Email Lists and Take Control of Your Email Marketing

Cold email hero

To find success with digital marketing, it’s important to consider as many available avenues as possible. You typically don’t want to specialize in just one form of lead generation – you want to cast a wide net and experiment with different tactics so you can be resilient if one or two of your channels suddenly stop producing results. Today, let’s talk about a sub-category of email marketing that’s often referred to as cold email.  

For many in this industry, cold emailing isn’t the favored approach for bringing new leads into the fold. The presence of the word “cold” in the title doesn’t convey a positive impression. It’s notoriously difficult to get responses when sending out cold emails, and the time you have to put into the process might not be justified by what you make from it in the end. Modern customers don’t like to be interrupted, and they certainly don’t want to be bothered with more emails that are asking them to buy something they don’t currently want or need.

So, should you give up on cold emailing entirely? If you can refine your approach and build lists of contacts that you know might be interested in what you do and sell, it might be possible to get some positive results from this traditional technique. Let’s take a closer look at this subject in the article below. 

Starting with a Warning

Before we get into the details of how you can go about building an email list, the first thing we need to discuss is the option of buying a list of emails. There are plenty of companies available who are ready and willing to sell you a collected list of emails that you can use to drive your email marketing campaigns. 

On the surface, this seems like a great idea. These lists tend to be pretty cheap, and you can hit the ground running. Simply write some emails, enter the addresses that you purchased, and sales will follow – right? Not even close. 

There are countless problems with purchasing email lists and you should rule out this strategy right away. Some of the issues you are going to encounter with this approach include –

Cold email problems
  • Low-quality lists. Do you know what companies do with high-quality email lists? They use them to promote products and services. Those kinds of lists aren’t for sale. Instead, what you are going to find on this market are low-quality lists that are full of old email addresses and people who won’t be interested in what you want to sell. You shouldn’t expect to get even a fraction of the results that you would get from a good email list when you are using a random list that you purchased on the cheap. 
  • Deliverability issues. When you send out emails, you can’t be sure that those emails will actually land in the inboxes of your targeted recipients. First, the email service provider has to decide if the message should even be delivered, and based on your reputation as a sender, that answer might be no. You’ll be taking a big risk when trying to send out messages to this kind of list, and you might degrade your sender score in the process. It’s just not worth the risk for the modest return you might be able to achieve. 
  • Reputational harm. When we zoom out to take a look at the bigger picture, sending out random emails to promote your products or services simply isn’t good for your business. If you are trying to grow a brand and build trust in the marketplace, sending out completely cold emails to purchased lists is a bad way to go about it. At best, you’ll get minimal response, and at worst you might annoy people who will be turned off by your company and won’t consider making a purchase in the future. 
  • You will likely be labeled as a spammer. The General Data Protection Regulation is a comprehensive data protection law that was implemented by the European Union (EU) on May 25, 2018. It has a significant impact on how businesses and individuals handle personal data, including in the context of cold emailing people. It’s not a law in The United States yet, but it’s likely coming. Under this law, you need consent from the person you’re sending an email to, as well as many other requirements. Non-compliance with GDPR can lead to substantial fines, which can be a significant concern for businesses.

If you take away just one thing from this article, let it be this – cold email lists aren’t worth your money, let alone your time. This is one of those things that falls into the category of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Marketing just isn’t as easy as buying a cheap list of email addresses, sending out a quick message, and watching the money roll in. Leave that fantasy world behind and start to put together a better plan that has a chance of producing results. 

The Basics of Building a Cold Email List

Okay, we’ve established that purchasing a cold email list is a bad idea and should be avoided. With that in mind, you are left to build your own list of email addresses that you are going to approach with a cold message. There is no doubt that this is going to take longer and will require more effort than just buying such a list, but the result should be something that serves you well and can lead to some valuable leads for your business. 

It would be great if we could point you toward one single cold email list-building strategy that was sure to work in all markets or niches. As you might imagine, however, the real world isn’t that simple. You are going to have to take some time and try various methods of building lists of prospect emails before you can settle on a formula that seems to provide good results. The list of points below should help you get started by offering up some of the basics of this process. 

  • Get permission. This is the hardest part. You should ideally get permission from the receiver before sending them an email. For many people, this alone will stop them in their tracks. Unfortunately, assuming that someone is interested in what you’re offering won’t suffice. Ideally, someone is actively agreeing to receive information from you and that part is where you’ll need to have a solid process and approach in place. This part is not currently required by law in The United States as of 2023, but it’s ideal. At a minimum, you need to make sure that you communicate a clear reason to send emails to people on your list and then clearly provide a way to unsubscribe if they decide that they’re not interested.
  • Quality over quantity. Don’t measure your cold email list-building efforts by the raw number of email addresses you manage to add. This is the mindset that is taken by spammers and people who purchase emails, as they think that more simply must be better than less. That’s not the case in this game, however, and just racking up email addresses without stopping to consider if they might be a good customer that’s interested in what you’re selling will be nothing more than a waste of time. Instead, concern yourself more with the quality of the email addresses and how the people behind them might want to interact with your brand.
  • Experiment with prospecting tools. There are many email marketing tools on the market today that specialize in helping you build cold email lists. Try some of these out, but don’t assume that they are going to be an instant solution to your needs. You’ll still need to obsess over the quality of the leads you find here and you might notice that some of the tools work better than others in your niche. 
  • Explore LinkedIn. You will certainly want to spend plenty of time on LinkedIn as part of this process. This platform is great for seeking out connections with people who might be interested in your goods or services because so much professional information is gathered in one place. You can perform various searches based on criteria that you set and the deliverability of messaging through LinkedIn can’t be beat (although you may need to pay to send these messages if you can’t make a connection first). 
  • Validate the addresses. Once you have begun to build a list of quality email addresses, it’s worth your time to take the step of validating those addresses before you send messages out. There are plenty of verification tools available on the web, and many are free to use. This step will let you cut out the addresses that are bad for one reason or another, and as a result, your deliverability numbers will improve and you should remain in better standing with your email provider.
Cold email basics

One Critical Key to See Results

Earlier, we talked about how the one thing you can’t afford to do when it comes to email marketing is buying a cold email list, as that list just isn’t going to deliver value to your marketing efforts. On the flip side, if there is one single thing that you should do for cold emailing, it’s to take the time necessary to personalize each message

Sending out a blast of emails that are all the same to a list of cold prospects is going to get you nothing but crickets in return. You can send out something like a templated newsletter to a list that has opted-in, as those people have already identified themselves as wanting to get your messages. In this case, however, you are sending emails to people who don’t even know who you are, so the only way you stand a chance at breaking down their walls and making an impression is if you customize the message in some way. 

To customize your emails, you need to take the time to get to know the person on the other end of the address. Research that person and their business and figure out what it is that you might be able to use to make a connection. This will look different for each message you send, and it’s going to take some time to do it right. That’s why we pointed out earlier that this process is more about quality than quantity. You aren’t going to be able to send tons of messages while personalizing each one, but the ones you do send will be more effective. 

A Better Way to Use Email

So far, we’ve been talking about cold email, and there is certainly room in most marketing plans for some cold email outreach. With that said, cold email is not the highest form of email marketing. The fact that the word cold is included is not ideal when it comes to modern marketing approaches.  Instead, building an opt-in list – or a warm list – is going to give you the opportunity to find far greater success and close many more deals. It takes time and effort to build an opt-in list from scratch, but that investment of effort is worth it in the end. To be successful, you might even consider referring to this form of awareness as simply email outreach and to make sure that the person on the other end is at least somewhat familiar with who you are. They may not be actively ready to buy, but at least your connection is not cold.

A better way to use email

When you ask people to opt-in to your list and you give them the chance to unsubscribe whenever they no longer wish to receive your messages, what you are left with is a list of addresses that you know are interested and ready to consider your offers. That’s a powerful thing for a marketer and it can be an ongoing source of steady income when used correctly. Simply adding an email opt-in form to your website is a passive way to gradually collect email addresses over time, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how quickly that list can grow on a busy site. 

Is cold email going to work well enough to serve as your only form of consistent lead generation? Probably not. As mentioned in the introduction, it’s a blend of marketing techniques that is usually going to lead to the best results, so keep an open mind, continue to explore a holistic marketing strategy, and perpetually experiment with various options to bring in new customers and clients.

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About Julie Mamula:

Julie Mamula helps execute campaigns and strategic deliverables in a timely manner and at an exceptional level. She loves using the many concepts and strategies that she’s learned in her 25 year tenure in marketing to make clients’ strategies more successful.

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