Five Ways to Optimize Prospect Lists


Five Ways to Optimize Prospect Lists

Doug Barth Prospect List expertThe most common misconception about lists, or marketing databases, is that they can be transformed into being clean and fresh… in a one-shot effort.  In truth, all data is flawed.  In the results of a recent account penetration survey* 73% of marketers said their contact database needs work.  Even the largest lists companies in the world internally meet and gnash teeth over how bad their own data are.


Data is a moving target, since individuals move, change jobs, and make mistakes.  The accepted industry notion is that data “decays” at about 3% a month.  So a third of your data is potentially in need of refreshing every year.

So what’s a marketer to do?  It comes down to, you do what you can, and you abandon hopes of perfection.  Sounds defeatist; not at all.  Seeking perfection gets in the way to the true objective:  developing lists for marketing campaigns that are optimized for maximum impact.

So let’s reduce this to what marketers CAN achieve, and not what they WANT to achieve.


  1. Determine what is the next, most pressing usage of your names.  If you have a BIG need – like your boss wants to see a lot of unqualified downloads – just buy a cheap email list and dump your message upon it.  That’s not marketing, that’s carpet-bombing.  If you have a legitimate, thought-out project coming up, determine how many names you really need.  It’s often less that you think.  If you have a goal, i.e. 200 responders, estimate your response rate and work back from that.  If its 2%, you’ll need 10,000 emails.
  2. When you determined how many names you’ll need, start listing the attributes of a good responder.  What is the level of the individual (Director, VP)?  What industry do they work in?  What size company (revenue or # employees) do you want?  Are their geographic restrictions i.e., Canada only?
  3. Pick and prioritize what you really need.  If you’re doing an email-only campaign, do you really need postal addresses?  Do you need phone numbers?  (If “yes” to that, do you need direct dials or just the main number where that individual works?)
  4. Select a legitimate vendor.  This can be hard, as there are a dizzying number of email providers out there, and their quality can range from the excellent to garbage.  How do they build their data?  Do they phone-confirm every name, email, etc.  That’s the gold standard.  What accuracy rate do they guarantee? Look for a rate of at least 95%.  Work back from there.  Big, crowd-sourced databases can only be 60-70% accurate.  Is that good enough?
  5. Be super clear on when you need the data delivered.  Then build “air” into the schedule.  If the vendor promises all the names on the 15th, add 5 days to the schedule.  Can you use a list that is delivered to you in chunks of, say, 500 a week?  If so, the vendor will appreciate knowing your flexibility.  And always remember to give your data partner a break.  We’re seen a perfectly clean database delivered to a client in December, and when they get around to using it in August the clients gripes about bounce rates.


The bottom line is that data is like sushi:  great on Day One, downright toxic months later.  Build it when you need it.  Be clear about exactly what you need.  Check references.  But disavow yourself of the notion that your marketing database can receive a one-time makeover and then be usable for the next year.  Anyone who suggests that’s possible does not have your best interests in mind.


*Source: Target Account Penetration Strategies, GatePoint Research 2011.

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