It seems like everyone has an email list these days – which is a good thing.

Thanks to the growth of email and the email service provider (ESP) industry, businesses of all types and sizes are staying in touch and communicating with their prospects and clients.

Email has made it so easy and affordable for everyone to stay connected.

What every business is discovering today is what direct marketing professionals have known for decades … that the real opportunities for success come with marketing to your house list.

When you stay in touch with prospects, fewer leads fall through the cracks and more long-term leads become customers.

When you stay in touch with customers, you have more opportunities for cross-selling, up-selling and re-selling – and better chances of re-activating your lapsed customers.

When you market to people who have opted in to your email list, you are communicating with people who already know you, like you, trust you and want to buy from you.

For these reasons and more, marketers are beginning to see why growing and cultivating your email list is well worth the effort.

A focus on lead quantity  

As more and more businesses get introduced to the idea of building their email lists, it is not surprising that their focus is almost exclusively on list size.  The more names and email addresses, the better.

And to some extent, they are right.   Large email lists give you a lot of flexibility in marketing.  Email marketing to your house list costs you virtually nothing.

But what about lead quality?

Imagine for a moment you sell enterprise software to very large corporations.  Small and medium size businesses are not good prospects for you.

Like many other businesses, you capture leads and build your list through your website using white papers and webinars as incentives.

And you generate website traffic through blogging, social media, SEO and pay per click.

When your website visitors get to your lead capture form, all you ask for is a name and email address because you want to maximize your signups.

So how many of the people on your list actually work in large corporations?  Do you know who they are?

You see, you can’t control who visits your website, reads your blog or engages with you on social media.  You can control who gets your invitations and promotions, but the truth is anyone can find your website and join your list.

So if you’re relying on online lead generation, your list may have very few people who actually buy what you sell.  You just don’t know.

Your follow-up strategy is key.  

If your only follow-up contact is going to be with email, then who cares if you have a bunch of unqualified leads on your list?  Email is pretty much free so it’s not going to cost you anything to reach these unqualified leads over and over.

But what if you’re planning another type of follow-up – like a phone call?  What if you want to turn those leads over to your sales force?

Do you really want to spend your money and their time to call everyone on your list?

Don’t you want to know if the people you’re calling are at least in your target audience group?

Shouldn’t you know in advance if the people you’re calling actually work in your target industry … in a company that can afford your services … at a location you serve?

To be sure, everyone on your list has probably demonstrated some level of interest in what you offer (simply because they took action).  Interest is an important qualifier for lead generation.

But interest alone is not enough.  You also need to know they have a need for what you sell and that they can afford it.

How to qualify online leads  

If you are using online marketing to build your lists, there are several ways to get the “qualifying” information you need.

1-Change your lead capture form.  You could get it during the signup process.  This will depress response but it may be worth it.  Don’t overdo it though.  Only ask what you need to know right now.

2-Add a survey.  You could collect more information using a follow-up email survey.  Start by asking for their opinion, then move on to questions about them.

3-Append your data. You could use a database company to append demographic information to your records.  This will fill in some of the holes for you, but not all of them.

4-Gather more data over time.  You could use additional offers to gather more information over time as the relationship builds.
Direct marketing leads ARE pre-qualified

Of course, you could avoid all this and generate your leads through direct marketing.

When you use direct mail (or email), you can pre-qualify your list before you send out your mailing.

You can select your list by industry, company size, location, job title so you know that everyone who does respond at least meets your customer profile.

Your list gives you the demographics, but your promotion will help you find those “interested” prospects.


It’s good to have a large list, but it’s even better when your list has plenty of people who actually buy what you sell.


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit:

Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."