How to Build Your Own E-mail Prospecting List

Nov 28, 2005 11:55 PM  By

The very idea of an e-mail blast to prospects can send shivers up a marketer’s spine. But you can build your own e-mail prospecting list to great effect, say industry pros. Here’s how:

* Come on out and ask for e-mail addresses. The Sharper Image, for instance, has made it a priority to build a prospecting e-mail list through its Website and using third-party coregistration programs, says Roger Bensinger, senior vice president of marketing for the San Francisco-based electronics merchant. “The reluctance by some to provide their e-mail address to us is more than offset by most willing to opt in when given the opportunity to get special offers from a well-known and trusted brand.”

The direct approach is to lure prospects to your site with effective search and affiliate marketing programs. Once the prospect has landed there, encourage him to sign up for special e-mail offers and notifications with a box on your home page. The best place to locate the e-mail signup generally is on the home page, below the merchandise and above the footer, advises Ken Burke, chief executive of MarketLive, a multimedia marketing consultancy in Petaluma, CA. Other merchants, such as Sharper Image, place it just below the horizontal menus that run across the top of their home pages.

When prospects click to submit their e-mail registration, hit them with a message to the effect of “Thank you… and could you provide more information so that we can better serve you,’” Burke suggests. This will provide you with the information to make your e-mail messages more relevant to them, which in turn will boost your odds of success.

* Give and take. Make it worth prospects’ while by offering a loyalty program of sorts, featuring monthly or quarterly e-mails with special offers. “You want to give them value for giving you their e-mail address,” Burke says. But avoid the all-out bribe, such as “Give me your e-mail address and I’ll give you $5 off your next purchase,” because the prospects you’ll attract that way won’t have as great a lifetime value as those responding to more subtle offers. * Ask your existing customers to refer friends. This is often accomplished through the “forward to a friend” feature. When the customer forwards the link to a specific item to a friend, that friend is encouraged to check out the company’s full Website and sign up to receive its e-mail offers.

* Ask partners to refer you to their customers. This can be done on the registration pages of another merchant, shopping portal, affiliate, or content site. Often running a small banner ad with your logo can help remind prospects that you’re a trusted brand.

Many merchants find a small ad on the registration page of a broad-based site such as or can garner the necessary opt-in. They then quickly send an e-mail to the prospect, welcoming him and telling him what he can expect from the e-mail program. “The best way to get the customer to trust you is to tell them what you’re going to do and then do it,” says Elaine O’Gorman, vice president of strategy for Silverpop, an e-mail service provider in Atlanta.

Consider exchanging your e-mail list with another cataloger you trust. You’ll need to your customers to opt in to receive offers from other companies, but you can smooth the way by telling them it’s a partner you recommend.

Blind exchanges, without an introduction, can backfire, however, O’Gorman says: “You run the risk they’ll say, `This is spam,’ and you could damage your brand a little bit.” It’s best if the list owner can pave the way with a message that says, “You signed up to receive offers from our partner. We think you’d be interested in this company.”

* Don’t overlook gift registries or reminder services. These can provide additional names of prospects. Gifts merchant RedEnvelope has gone one better: It has captured e-mail addresses with a package insert that encourages recipients to let RedEnvelope send a thank-you note on their behalf to the gift-giver, O’Gorman says.

* Don’t hide the opt-out. No matter how you garner e-mail addresses, make your opt-out prominent and easy. “You don’t want to communicate with someone who doesn’t want to hear from you. You end up with negative impressions,” O’Gorman says.

At the same time, she adds, never use a one-click opt-out. Instead take the prospect back to your preference center, where he can take himself off the list but consider putting himself on another that’s more relevant. “Letting people have some control about the information they receive,” O’Gorman says, “increases the relevance and will increase the satisfaction they get from you.”