Five Ways to Grow Your B2B Email Opt-in List

Nurturing connections requires a purposeful approach – and time.

Jul 20, 2023

In a recent blog post, we talked about best practices for a budding B2B email marketing program. Perhaps the most important one is to have a quality list of contacts who have opted in to receive your messages. 

This is easier said than done. In this blog post, we explore what it takes to build an email marketing list that can yield positive responses.  

Personal networks will only get you so far

In their youth, most companies start out with what we call the “friends and family” list – personal contacts of the founders and early employees. This personal network often gets them through the first few years of growth and then it is time to grow the list. 

Be careful how you use purchased lists 

It can be tempting to purchase a list to get you started, but beware. Many list vendors will tell you their list is an “opt-in” list, but what have the contacts opted in for? They didn’t opt in for your messages.

Email marketing tools are very sensitive to spam and privacy laws and will not “allow” you to load a purchased list on their platforms. This is a bit misleading because you can load those lists into their platforms and you can say they are subscribers or opt-in contacts, even if they aren’t (we don’t recommend this).

Even if you get past that hurdle, the technology takes over and much of what happens next is out of your hands. Will spam filters block your emails, causing your IP address to be blocked and risk the deliverability of future emails? If emails do get delivered, will recipients flag your email as spam?  

Purchased lists can be an effective way of contributing to your opt-in list, but they must be chosen and managed carefully, typically as part of an inside sales function or telemarketing program vs. mass email.  

Building a list is not simple or cheap

If you read blogs online about how to grow your email list, you’ll see lists of “simple” tactics that include: share your content on your social media profiles, write lots of blogs, create “gated” content (that requires registration to access), encourage people to share your content and emails, put pop-ups and registration forms on your website, and so forth. 

This is so frustrating because it implies that building an email list is easy and cheap. It is neither. 

These are all necessary tactics, which assume that you have an audience that is visiting your website and social channels already. A couple side notes on this: 

  • Generating traffic to your landing pages, website forms, and social media channels requires an investment in advertising, promotion, and organic and paid search. 

  • Generating a list through online forms and landing pages can take some time: one source says the average email signup rate is between 1.95% and 4.77%. Yes, you should do this, but not as your single source of leads.  

Building your list takes time, budget, teamwork, and consistency 

In our experience, it is tough to build an email marketing list alone; it requires multiple tactics, a budget, partners, and time. By partners, we mean content partners such as analysts, trade associations, online publications, and alliances. 

By working with partners like these, you get the benefit of their built-in audiences. Most of them offer opportunities for you to co-market content and events, which give you access to their list or part of their list. For example: 

  • Sponsor a webinar or content with a relevant trade association or publication. For example, The Data Warehousing Institute (for data and analytics-focused companies) offers multiple opportunities to sponsor and participate in educational webinars and research. The sponsor gets to demonstrate their expertise in a particular topic and gets access to the contact information for people who watch the webinar or download the content. Depending on the partner, this type of sponsorship can cost between $15,000 and $35,000 and generate 100 to 500 leads.

  • Amplify your content through a paid aggregator. An example of this is Tech Target or Solutions Review, where you can purchase a package to promote your own content through their website. They invest in search terms that draw traffic to their site and to your content. As their members click on your content, you get those leads. These types of programs can start at $10,000 with a variable number of leads.

  • Sponsor an event. By paying a sponsorship fee that can range from $15,000 to $50,000 or more, you can have a presence at an industry event or tradeshow. You get a booth or a table at the event where your employees can interact with attendees and develop relationships. For most event sponsorships, you should expect either to get the full list of attendees or a program that drives traffic to your space, where you can capture leads. In our experience, in-person events are best for this type of sponsorship, and the good news is, in-person events are back!

  • Build alliances. Vendor alliances can be a great way to expand your reach and generate leads. Don’t expect them to share lead lists with you, though. You’ll have to work for it, and they’ll usually expect you to bring some traffic to their programs, so the tactics listed above shouldn’t be ignored. When it comes to alliances, they may offer you opportunities to sponsor events (for a fee) and gather leads while you’re there. They may offer to do joint webinars or content. This is a good way to get exposure to their audience and leverage the caché of a larger vendor, but it’s usually up to you to capture those leads.

Plan carefully, test, and iterate. It will require careful testing to determine which of these options works best for your organization. Be sure to do your homework. 

  • First, make sure you’re targeting the right audience. For sponsorship of events or content, the vendor should be willing to share a sample lead list with you – minimally, you should see company names and titles. 

  • Ask if they will promise a certain number of leads and how much you can influence the criteria of an acceptable lead. For example, can you hone in on a certain size of company or industry and how deep can you go on job titles?

  • Ask for references of other sponsors that are similar to you and your company. If you can’t get that, ask your peers about their experiences or find out if one of your partners or vendors has worked with that firm before and if they’ve had a good experience. 


Nurture your list 

The process of building a lead list takes time. Most growing organizations have limited budgets to work with, which requires prioritization and patience. Just because you got 150 seemingly good leads doesn’t mean everyone is ready to buy or ready to buy from you. Now it’s time to nurture this list with a carefully planned and executed email program!

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