I seem to be getting this question a lot lately, where owners of technology companies get impatient and want to take a shortcut by “buying” a mailing list.

There’s an easy answer to the question (Is it OK for a technology company to “buy” a mailing list?) and a more complete answer. Let’s start with a more complete answer.

You’re Not Really “Buying” a Mailing List

In most cases, whether you’re dealing directly with a mailing list compiler or going through a mailing list broker, it’s more like you’re renting or licensing the right to send to that list either once or for a time period, like a year.

Most reputable list owners won’t even turn the list over to you as the renter. They’ll only release the list to a bonded direct mail house.

So it’s a real misnomer that you actually own an asset. Typically the only kinds of lists you can acquire like that come from very dubious sources or are complete garbage from a recency-of-verification standpoint.

Sure, there actually can be cases where you’re “buying” a prospect and customer list from a technology company – such as when you’re actually acquiring their entire business – and the CRM system comes along with the business entity purchase in a merger/acquisition context.

You Can Send Postal Mail

If you rent a complied mailing list that includes full name, company, mailing address, phone number, and email address, you absolutely, positively can send a postcard or letter through postal mail.

From the standpoint of Inbound marketing, you can use very targeted direct mail postcards to promote a top of the funnel lead generation offer – such as a free white paper or eBook.

So the entire purpose of the creative is to drive the reader of the postcard to your landing page, where the reader converts to a lead. Once that happens, assuming the landing page copywriting is clear, you’ll generally have permission to email and/or call the prospect.

You Can Call (Probably)

Now, the part about calling may depend on where you’re located. In the USA, for example, there are both federal and state regulations on who you can and cannot call.

Generally, there are more restrictions if you’re selling to consumers, as opposed to businesses.

But if you have some business relationship with a prospect or customer, there is usually a permissible window where you can call.

But Can You Really Email?

However, owners of technology companies end up in hot water when they mistakenly assume they have permission to email recipients on a mailing list that they “bought” – more like renting.

Again, federal (CAN-SPAM) or state regulations may come into play, but for the most part, if someone didn’t give you their permission to send them an email, you generally cannot legally email that person.

When the email is highly individualized and personalized and a one-time message, there is usually no high risk of problems. For example, if you meet someone at a networking event and email a personalized thank you note the next day, it’s very unlikely that person will hit the SPAM button.

However, if you decide to add that person to your email list without his or her permission, you may be in for some trouble.

Moreover, if you “buy” a list of 1,000 CFOs and decide to add all of them to your email newsletter list, all it usually takes is 10 or 20 of them hitting the SPAM button, and you’re getting nowhere near anyone’s Inbox for weeks, even months. And you may even have legal liability.

Spam is spam. Just like some people at the gym think their sweat smells like a bouquet of flowers, there will always be egomaniacs that are in denial that their spam is, in fact, spam.

A permission-based email list generated through your own Inbound marketing and landing pages can be a very valuable marketing asset. However, if you try to take a shortcut and “buy” an email list, you’re just asking for trouble.

In this post, we looked at whether it’s OK for a technology company to “buy” or rent a mailing list – and what specifically you can and can’t safely do with that list.

What kinds of campaigns does your firm run with rented mailing lists? Have you ever gotten into hot water with cold calling or emailing people whose permission you didn’t have? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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