Is an email address a lead?

“Right, let’s be really clear Mike. We need to call these subscribers. They’re email addresses in a database, not a lead.”

“OK, so what would you qualify a lead as?”

Jim was a slightly short, blonde sales manager. He was a pretty good salesperson (i.e. he would be above his number on average days) and rose through the ranks to sales manager. Although a great salesperson does not a manager make.

Jim replied to my question “A lead is a database entry with more than just an email address. It’s a name, an address, phone number, company information, size, turnover, company position, job title. It’s more than”

Recently, Jim and his team had bought 10 000 database entries. That database included all the information Jim was talking about above. But it failed to pass a CRITICAL metric in my eyes, as a lead.

Every single one of those names was a cold database entry. None of them had heard of our company before.

I can buy 10 000 leads

Sometimes, our customers (both yours and mine) are going to ask about buying data or buying lists. It seems faster and easier than building a list from scratch and data companies will tell you ANYTHING you want to hear, to sell their data.

Jim, the sales manager I was working with, was unconvinced that the data I had collected manually was worth anything.

“You’ve collected 100 email addresses in 2 months Mike. I can buy 10 000 leads for the same price AND get my guys to call them today”.

I was becoming frustrated that Jim couldn’t see my point of view. He was desperate to buy a shitload of data and get his guys to start calling.

“Our data is clean. Legally obtained and has every aspect you’re looking for. The leads are qualified and expecting a call from your company.”

Every data company ever.

Let’s be categorically and explicitly clear. Buying data of ANY sort is a false economy. The ONLY time buying data makes sense is to get more information on your CURRENT list.

Buying new leads, email addresses and names doesn’t work. It doesn’t return ANY results and isn’t worth the effort.

If you want your sales team calling 100 people a day, and you need to feed them data, then go for it. But it’s not going to be worth it.

No one needs to listen to you

Have we earned the right to sell? That’s Mark, my CEO’s mantra.

Have we earned the right to ask for the sale? No. You haven’t. Simple as that.

Consumers and customers have SO much choice now that we don’t have to listen to salespeople. I don’t have to wait for sales teams to email me to solve my problem.

“Business buyers are using digital channels to form opinions about major purchases and do not reach out for information until 57% of the purchase is complete.”

CEB Marketing Leadership Council

Reaching out cold to people that you’ve BOUGHT isn’t going to get you anywhere. They’ve already started making decisions and by cold-sales emailing, you’re not doing yourself any favours.

“Jim, this is a false economy. I’ve got 100 people who signed up and subscribed off their own back. They’re clearly interested in one of our products AND know who we are now. 10 000 people on a list isn’t going to help us.”

What really pissed me off, during that whole conversation, is that I could SEE sales people not making calls. Through the window, I could watch the bullpen and see the sales men and women flicking bits of paper to each other.

Jim piped up “Mike. You don’t get sales. We need data. We need names. We need people to call. There are 15 sales guys and girls out there. I can’t divide up 100 leads to 15 people.”

“Jim. That is bullshit and you know it is”. We could use our CRM system to see that on average, the sales team made 10 calls a day each. 10?! They weren’t even exhausting their current database.

“The problem” I continued “is that your guys aren’t willing to follow up with what they’ve got now. They don’t deserve new leads. They haven’t called ANY new customers this quarter and we can see that here.” I was starting to lose my rag.

We looked over the data and saw that NO current customers had been called in the last 3 months. None.

I felt physically sick. I could see this and I was a “marketing automation specialist” with “no sales background”. What the fuck was Jim missing?

“Jim. Let’s look at our options. We have current customers. Current leads. Current subscribers AND current data. Why aren’t we calling these people? People that know us?” I carried on “I know why they don’t want to call. Because they don’t like rejection. They’re lazy and they don’t want to make calls. So asking for new data and complaining about the quality of the current data is how they look productive.”

“We don’t know WHY people aren’t buying. The sales team isn’t calling and asking WHY they didn’t buy. They’re not discovering any more information about the companies and leads they’re calling up. Buying data is WASTED money Jim. They’re not even following up with current leads. Jem (our data specialist) tells me that there are 25 unsent or unfinished proposals. 25 people have said ‘Yes I’ll buy’ and we’re not even servicing them. Don’t buy new data while we still have money on the table.”

Jim looked at me for a bit. Maybe he was coming round?

“We’re buying the data Mike.”


So what do we do instead? If we’re not buying data, how can we get leads for customers (and ourselves) without buying data?

First, I want to clear up some of the terminology.

Prospect – lead – sale. That’s as complex as it gets.

Some people have questioned my definition of subscriber to lead. How can someone who just gives me an email address be considered a lead?

They might not be. Just like someone who buys, as a customer, might not be a subscriber.

Someone who subscribes to your email list, might not even be a prospect. Sure, we have warm leads and cold leads. I would argue that a lead that subscribes to my email address is a warm lead.

Someone that has just subscribed and given us some data, but not engaged much, is still a cold lead.

A prospect is someone that I think is right for my business. I think they’d make a great customers but THEY don’t know who I am yet or they’re not connected to me.

Think about prospecting in terms of gold. Prospecting is where you go to areas where you THINK you’ll find gold. It’s where you think you’ll find customers.

When you find a clue or a gold vein or a lead, that’s an indication that you should dig further. A subscriber might be a good example of a new lead.

Bought data, is at best, a list of prospects. That’s how it should be treated.

Cold-emailing a list with a sales message or offer, doesn’t convert. It’s spam and will be treated as such.

Think about getting a number from a friend of someone who is single. If you asked them to marry you, via text, what would they say?

A qualified lead, someone who has clearly demonstrated that they’re interested, is worth it’s weight in gold.

I have customers where I’ve known the bare minimum. Budget, decision maker, needs, timescale and suppliers.

I could have 10 000 database entries of company size, turnover, employees, position and title. But they’re no more qualified than EVERYONE else who doesn’t know I exist. Just because I know who they are, doesn’t mean they know or care who I am.

Not all email addresses are created equal

We can’t even use bought data for remarketing if we wanted. That was the biggest problem in my eyes. We’d have to get their traffic to the page anyway.

Bought emails can’t be used effectively UNTIL they know who we are. Simple as that. If you’ve called them, offered them something, invited them to a network event and THEN followed up via email – different story.

The truth is that buying data is wrong, because people don’t use it correctly. They think it’s a short cut.

I equate buying data to buying a course. Buying a course doesn’t make you do the thing. You have to invest twice. First time to buy and second to invest time into learning.

Buying data requires you to buy it and THEN use it properly. You have to make human calls, reach out and invite people to events. You can’t make sales to cold lists. It doesn’t convert. We’ve tried it and it sucked.

Ever bought data or had a customer insist on buying data? What did you do when it didn’t work out? Have you ever done it and it’s worked? Let me know in the comments below.

Mike Killen

Mike is the world's #1 sales coach for marketing funnel builders. He helps funnel builders sell marketing funnels to their customers. He is the author of From Single To Scale; How single-person, small and micro-businesses can scale their business to profit. You can find him on Twitter @mike_killen.