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A 5-Step Process for Building a “Rent-Free” B2B Lead Generation Mailing List

by | Apr 12, 2010 | Direct Mail, Mailing Lists | 1 comment

Most B2B technology companies wait for prospects to come to them – to find their website, respond to an ad, visit them at a trade show, etc. – before adding them to their mailing list. This is the “opt-in” method. Most of the rest will mail to rented lists, and then add the respondents to their “house” list.

But there is a third list-building method that has major advantages over either opt-in or renting.

Building by hand, through research, is the best way I know to build a precision-targeted mailing list. It turns the targeting of your list into an exact science. And precise targeting has proven to be the best way to drive high response and ROI with direct mail and email.

When you hand-build your mailing list, you get to choose every single name that goes in it. So you can match the names on your list to your ideal customer profile, something you can’t do that with either an opt-in list or a rented list. That means that even though your hand-built list is likely to be smaller, the names on a hand-built list are much more likely to respond to your offers and become customers.

According to Bob Bly, author of The White Paper Marketing Handbook, most B2B lead generation mailings yield response rates of one-half to three percent. But copywriting coach Chris Marlow reports that small businesses using hand-built lists sometimes see response rates of 5 to 10 percent, and even as high as 20 percent.

In other words, with a hand-built list you generate more leads, and thus more sales, with lower mailing costs. So you gain significantly higher ROI.

In the remainder of this article , I’ll show you a simple 5-step list-building process that I’ve had some success with, along with a number of tips for precision-targeting your list.

Step 1 – Build your ideal customer profiles.

More than likely, you already have an ideal customer profile in place, in which case you can skip to Step 2. If not, this is the place to start.

Work with your sales team on this. You need to know exactly who your best customers are.

First, you need to determine what kind of companies they work for. What industries are they in? What are their specialties and capabilities? What size are they?

Then you need to discover their job titles. Who are the major players in the purchasing decisions for your products? Who are the decision makers? Who are the key influencers?

You want to build an ideal customer profile for every segment you market to, so you can precisely target your promotions to each of those segments.

Step 2 – Set up your mailing list database or spreadsheet.

Next, you need a place to collect data on the companies and names to want to mail to.

A database is best for storing your house list. You can easily sort the records – by vertical, job function, etc. – for mailings to different audiences. You may want to use your CRM database, if you have one. But a spreadsheet works just as well for collecting data.

In fact, if you outsource your list research, or assign it to personnel who shouldn’t have access to your CRM database, a spreadsheet is probably best. You simply give the assignee the list of data to collect, and they create the file.

If you use a spreadsheet, consider creating separate lists for different sectors of your market.

Data to collect on each company should include:

  • Company/division name (depending on whether the whole company or just certain divisions are part of your target market)
  • URL of company/division website
  • Industry (for segmentation purposes if you market to multiple industries)
  • Main phone number of company/division
  • Sales phone number (more on this in Step 5)

Data to collect on names within each company should include:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Mailing address of subject’s office or plant
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Sources of name data (company URL, LinkedIn, Jigsaw, Hoovers, etc.)

You may also want some measure of company size – annual revenues or sales, or number of employees – if you plan to segment you mailings in this way, or if you want to determine which of your products or services is likely to interest a given company. Number of employees is generally the easiest figure to obtain.

Listing the source of name data is useful for double-checking and updating your mailing list. John Coe, President of Database Marketing Associates, Inc., says that 8 years of continuous research by his company has shown that, “62% of business people have one or more changes in their situation (business card) in the last 12-month period. It splits down the middle as one half or 31% change companies, and the other half change jobs or locations within the same company.”

Most of the company data will be readily available from company websites. The individual contact data will take more digging, but I’ll give you a few tricks for that when we get to Step 5.

Step 3 – Find lists of companies that include likely prospects for your offering.

To start your research, you need to find lists of companies in your target markets. These can be easily obtained from a number of sources, including:

Industry directories and databases. These provide data on thousands of industry suppliers, including information on capabilities, company size, key executives, etc. Available online, they allow you to filter their data according to a number of criteria to best match your target market. Aerospace industry databases, for example, include Aviation Week’s World Aerospace Database and A paid subscription is generally required for complete access to their data.

Business directories and databases. General online business directories, like Hoover’s Online, ThomasNet, and ZoomInfo provide data similar to the industry databases, but for a wider range of markets. Again, you’ll normally have to pay a fee for full data access. Some of these, like Hoover’s and ZoomInfo, also provide contact information for people within those organizations (see Step 5).

Industry and professional association membership lists. Many industry associations, like the Aerospace Industries Association, put their list of member companies on their website, often with links to member websites. Some professional associations provide members with a complete membership directory. A few even permit members to mail promotional materials to their list.

See the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) website for links to 28 such trade organizations in 20 countries across Europe.

Trade show exhibitor lists. At what trade shows do your best customers exhibit? Check the online exhibitors lists to find similar companies and links to their websites.

Trade magazines. Leaf through the trade journals of your target markets. Articles, advertisements, advertiser lists, “fastest growing company” lists, program supplier lists, etc., can all provide the names, and frequently the contact data, of potential new customers.
While not exhaustive, this list should provide you with a good basis to begin your research.

Step 4 – Search your lists for companies that match your ideal customer profile.

Once you have one or more lists of companies in your target market, the next step is to search through those lists for companies that are likely to become customers. That’s where your ideal customer profile comes in.

Compare the information you find on each company on your list with your ideal customer profile. If you’re using an industry database or online business directory you’ll have most of the data you need right at your fingertips. Otherwise, you’ll want to visit the website of each company on your list. If a company seems like it would be a good prospect for your product or services, add it to your mailing list. If not, skip it and go to the next one.

Each time you find a company to add to your list, fill in the “company” fields in your mailing list database or spreadsheet. Then go on to Step 5.

Step 5 – Find the right names at your prospect companies.

Finding the right people to mail to is the hardest and most tedious part of this process. But with the following tips, you (or the person you assign or outsource this task to) should be able to find several names at each company on your prospect list who are likely decision makers or influencers on the purchase of your offering.

Start your search online. There are quite a number of places to search for your ideal customers at a given company, including:

Company website. Depending on what job titles you’re looking for, the prospect company’s website can be a good place to start. Especially for smaller companies.

If you’re looking for C-levels and senior VPs, try the “About Us” page. You’ll often find a subpage with management profiles. Small tech companies will frequently list a number of engineering titles here, as well. And some even provide email addresses.

Do searches on your targeted job titles using the site search facility. This will often turn up names for these titles in press releases, white papers and other documents posted on the site. Make sure these documents are recent, or verify these names through another source, such as LinkedIn or Jigsaw.

For websites without a search facility, try this Google trick for website searches: In the Google search box, type the job title you’re searching for, followed by “site:”, followed by the company URL, without the “www” (and without a space after “site:”) and hit Enter. For example, if you were searching for avionics managers at Boeing, you would type in the Google search box: “avionics manager”, and hit Enter. Google will return every instance of your search terms on that website. You’ll usually have to experiment with your search terms, as job titles vary from company to company.

LinkedIn and other business networking sites. If you have an account on LinkedIn, Spoke or a similar business networking site (and if you don’t you can sign up for free), you can search that site for prospect names. LinkedIn is the largest of these sites, with over 60 million members, so I recommend you start here.

Simply type the name of the company and the job title you’re after into the LinkedIn search box. Put the company name within quotation marks if it combines two or more common words. Likewise for the job title. Be sure “People” is selected in the LinkedIn search box, and hit enter. A list of LinkedIn members will appear, ranked according to relevance of their profile content to your search criteria.

LinkedIn’s search facility lets you filter by current company, location, industry and other factors. I find the current company filter the most useful, as it limits your results to members who indicate they currently work at your target company. The filters show up on the “Find People” page with your first set of results. The Advanced People Search lets you search specifically against the title and company fields in member profiles.

In your LinkedIn search results, some of the entries will show only the job title, or job title and company name, but not the person’s name. Say, you’re searching for directors, managers and chief engineers in avionic system test and integration, and your LinkedIn search turns up an entry with the heading “Avionics System Test and Integration Manager at ABC Corporation.” When that occurs, you can often find the individual’s full public profile using my Google trick for LinkedIn: Just open another browser window and do a Google search on that exact phrase, “Avionics System Test and Integration Manager at ABC Corporation,” enclosed in quotation marks as shown. Google will frequently return one or more entries from LinkedIn, either a profile or a directory, that includes a name as well as the title. Check these names to make sure the position is current.

LinkedIn does have its limitations as a list-building tool. Profiles rarely include business mailing addresses or phone numbers. They do list the metropolitan area where the member lives, which can be helpful in determining the company office where the member works. Email addresses, however, are available only to members’ connections and are frequently personal rather than corporate.

The beauty of LinkedIn is that, because of its size, you can usually find several names and their job titles within any given company. Plus, it’s free. And once you have a name and title, it’s much easier to find contact data with the resources that follow.

Jigsaw and other business directories. Jigsaw bills itself as “the world’s largest database of up-to-date, downloadable, & complete contact information.” It’s a business directory built by members, who supply contact information on their business acquaintances – sort of a big, business card bulletin board. As I write this, they claim to have “over 21 million complete B2B contacts.”

In exchange for supplying contacts, members earn points they can spend for contact data supplied by other members on businesses and individuals. You can also buy points under a number of affordable plans, and there are enterprise solutions, as well.

Hoover’s, demandbase and ZoomInfo’s PowerSell offer similar services for building precision-targeted prospect lists. While these are fee-based, they can really speed up the list-building process. Plus, you own rather than rent the contacts your pay for.

Google and other search engines. Google will often turn up contact data in places where business directories, networks and corporate websites won’t reach. If you have a name, title and company, just type that data into the Google search field and hit ‘enter’. I’ve had Google return individuals’ complete contact data in conference contact lists, in papers they’ve presented at conferences, and in press releases posted on trade journal sites and elsewhere.

Telephone. When online resources fail to yield complete contact data, or you suspect that data might be out of date, pick up the phone. Call the main number where you think your prospect works and ask the receptionist to confirm the individual’s office mailing address. If asked for a reason, you can simply say that you have some information you believe the individual will be interested in, but you want to make sure the individual still works there and confirm his or her mailing address before sending it out.

If the switchboard is completely automated or the receptionist can’t help you, try calling the sales number. (That’s why it was included in the data list in Step 2.) Sales professionals can sympathize with what you’re trying to do and will usually be willing to help out, if they can.


Admittedly, building a B2B mailing list by hand can be a bit tedious. (You may want to outsource the task to a virtual assistant, or assign it to a group of university interns.) But as mentioned earlier, the rewards in terms of higher response rates, lower mailing costs, more leads and sales, and higher ROI…can make it well worth the effort.

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