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Lead List: What It Is, How to Build & What to Avoid (2023 Guide)

Let’s be honest, lead generation is super hard. 

It may seem fine and dandy at first, but if you look into it, all kinds of problems come up to the surface. You need a lead magnet that will attract the right prospects, a lead qualification and scoring process in place to separate prospective clients from passers-by, but the most daunting part is keeping lead info updated. 

Most companies understand the struggle, so they decide to purchase prospect lists to speed up the sales process. But is it always a good idea?

In this article, we will share everything you need to know about a lead list and how to put one together. No worries – all our tips will still be helpful if you’ve already made a decision to buy a list online.

What’s a Lead List?

A lead list is a contact directory that your company will use to reach out to potential prospects directly to sell your product or service. 

In our lead generation article, we’ve already mentioned that putting together a list of future buyers is an ongoing process and involves different methods – contact forms, social media outreach, etc. 

Next, all the leads from the list should be qualified by your marketing and sales teams to make sure you’re targeting the right people. The final result should be data-driven – you need solid and objective reasons to add each prospect to the list if you expect better deliverability from it.

What’s a Lead List’s Purpose?

A prospect list’s purpose is to help you speed up the process of customer acquisition. 

In outbound lead generation, such lists are necessary if you’re planning to do cold calling or send cold emails to new customers. They make the job easier – you already have all the information required to address a person and predict their product needs. 

Which information do such lists usually contain?

  • Full name
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Company name
  • Job title

While browsing the web, you have probably noticed quite a few offers to buy lead lists. In some cases (depending on the price), they can even offer additional details about prospects, such as income level and whether a lead is in a position to make purchase decisions for the company. 

So, ideally, buying a prospect list can give you immediate access to potential buyers within your target market. These people can find you on their own, but why wait until they do? With a ready-to-use list, you can contact them yourself and expand your reach. 

If you’re doing B2B lead generation, buying a prospect list can also take a massive load off your shoulders. Seeking out B2B leads is notoriously difficult – it can be hard to identify the decision-makers within each corporation. Same goes for every small business and startup struggling to expand their clientele. 

However, beware – lead lists for sale are not always reliable, even if you pay a lot of money for them. You can end up with quite a few problems, and your investment may not pay off at all. But we’ll talk about things to avoid a bit later.

4 Steps to Build a Great Lead List

For now, let’s take a look at must-follow tips to put together a list of prospects. We’ve made sure to keep our recommendations relevant both for those who are looking to buy an email list and those trying to create one from scratch. 

Let’s dive in.

Step #1: Identify your best-fit potential customer and target audience

Much like any other marketing activity, building a lead list starts from identifying your ICP. 

ICP stands for an ideal customer profile, a hypothetical description of a potential buyer that would get the most value out of your product or service. 

An ideal customer has three characteristic features:

  • Quick and successful sales cycle
  • A high customer retention rate
  • High probability of becoming a brand ambassador

So, whatever your final result is, it should fit these characteristics. 

How do you build an ICP?

First of all, you need to do market research. The goal is simple – you need to understand whether there’s demand for your product/service. These few questions can guide you in the right direction:

  • Are you making B2C or B2B sales?
  • What industry does your solution serve?
  • Is there a niche for your product?
  • What revenue are you aiming to get?
  • Which location will your primary marketing efforts target?

Next, start putting together a target audience description that would fit your market analysis. At this point, you need as much high-quality data on your future customer as possible. You can collect it via the following channels:

  • Customer journey and behavioral patterns of your existing buyers. 
  • Surveying and feedback from buyers. 
  • Common purchase behaviors in your industry. 
  • The analysis of social media followers (especially helpful for ecommerce B2C companies). 

It also wouldn’t hurt for you to talk with your SEO expert and have them study search intents your potential prospects might have when googling products or services similar to yours. Their research might give helpful insights into who your ideal customer is. 

After this research, you’ll end up with a lot of data you need to put together in one comprehensive profile. At this point, it will help to choose a segmentation/profiling approach to categorize potential buyer profiles. Here’s a handy graph with categorization options you can use:

4 Types of customer profiling Digital Marketer's World

Pick a segmentation method based on your industry. If you’re building a list for B2B marketing, for example, behavioral and demographic segmentation might be of greater help since you’re looking for decision-makers responsible for researching and buying your product. 

Seems like a lot of work?

It is, but customer profiling is a must-do activity in lead list building. And even if you are planning to buy a list, having a specific buyer description outline will help you avoid wasting money on irrelevant leads. 

We have a shortcut for you, though. 

Marketing teams can find HubSpot’s Make My Persona tool very helpful – it already has all the questions to help you build an ICP:

HubSpot Make My Persona screenshot
Credit: HubSpot

However, some businesses might find the end result way too general. So, it’s always smart to do in-depth research on your own.

Step #2: Define your offering

Basically, what we mean here is that you should know what you’re selling. 

At first, it sounds pretty clear – you have a product that does this and that, and it’s your unique selling proposition. However, while it is clear to you, it may not be for your potential customer. 

The best solution here is to define your offering from the standpoint of your ICP’s needs. 


Your product or service probably can address several pain points, but some of them may be more significant than others for your prospective buyer. So, naturally, you need to find out what your target buyer wants. 

Sadly, there is no single quick way to spot customer expectations, but you can learn this information from various sources (which is even better as you will have an all-round understanding of your prospects). Here are some suggestions:

  • Go through existing data. If you’re using a CRM to track customer inquiries, it’s an excellent opportunity to identify the most common concerns expressed by product users. 
  • Have a talk with your sales team. Salespeople work with you on turning marketing-qualified leads into sales-qualified. They know which needs and expectations give more weight to a prospect than others (in terms of lead qualification). 
  • See what your competitors are up to. If your target audience overlaps with your rivals, you can collect insights from how they are addressing their ICP’s pain points. 

You can also ask your target audience about their needs directly through a survey or a poll. However, use this method only in combination with other approaches – the replies you get from a survey can be all over the place, not giving you one definitive answer. 

Step #3: Be specific with your research criteria

Regardless of whether you’re building a lead list from scratch or purchasing one online, you need to have a specific research process in addition to the ICP. Here’s why. 

Imagine you have a list on your hands with over a thousand prospects. Applying the target audience description to each one to see if they are a good fit will take you ages. Instead, you can take a shortcut and review these leads in bulk. 


Here, you can take a similar approach as with ICP segmentation and choose one area of specialty to focus only on relevant lead data. For example, you can take one of these approaches to make the search and outreach processes more personalized:

  • Demographic – includes job titles, income, and contact information in addition to location, language, and other related details. 
  • Psychographic – encompasses behavioral patterns, needs, professional interests, objectives, and obstacles. 
  • Firmographic – highlights industry size, company size and reach, ownership, revenue, business growth, etc. 
  • Technographic – technology that a company uses to run different business operations (this set of metrics is especially useful if you’re selling a SaaS product). 

The quickest way to segment business leads is to use appropriate software. This way, you can apply one of these criteria and generate a list of prospects in no time. However, bear in mind that many other companies using the same software, will have access to similar prospects. So, we’re back to the same point we’ve made in the first section of this chapter – a human-curated lead list with original research is far better and safer for your organization. 

Step #4: Ask your current customers for referrals

Finally, to add quality leads to your list, you can ask your existing customers for referrals. Or, you can unfold an entire referral marketing campaign and generate demand among potential customers through your loyal buyers. 

Since these are targeted leads that have a higher likelihood of purchasing your product than the prospects you’ve collected through outreach, for example, they need to be tracked separately. And that’s where referral tracking comes into play – you monitor the referred prospects and their conversion rates. 

It’s possible to track your referrals via:

  • Referral codes
  • Website cookies
  • Specialized monitoring software
  • Google Analytics
  • UTM parameters

If you opt for a referral code or a UTM link, consider using a QR code generator to help people better access your landing pages or contact forms. This way, it is also easier to track everyone who was referred through you through a given code or link. 

You can use a spreadsheet to keep track of all referred leads collected through each of these channels. Next, you can add them to your lead list as high-priority sales-ready prospects. 

3 Things to Avoid When Building (or Buying!) Your Lead List

Now, let’s talk about things you absolutely should not do when putting together the list of prospects or buying it online. 

The more general factors include not knowing your target audience and market and going for the cheapest option (that’s an obvious no-no). Other common mistakes include not verifying the data in the list, not choosing a credible lead list provider, and simply not knowing why you’re spending money on prospects altogether. 

Here are three less obvious things to avoid.

1. Focusing on just one channel/outlet/tool when searching for prospects

A company can generate leads through a variety of channels, and it’s actually a good practice. This way, you get a more diverse list of prospects and more chances to find the ones that match your ICP. 

Which channels can you use? 

Besides direct marketing (outreaching LinkedIn profiles, direct mail, cold calling, telemarketing, etc.), you can also use inbound lead generation strategies, which include:

  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Email campaigns
  • Product demos and trials
  • Retargeting ads
  • Live chat and chatbots

To attract leads through each of these channels, you will need lead magnets – pieces of content that will offer specific value to the prospect, making them want to share their personal details. It can be a case study, a template, original research, etc. You can check out our article with 25 Lead Magnet Ideas for inspiration. 

What if you simply want to buy a lead list? Does it matter how many data sources were used to put it together?

Absolutely! Lists created using only one channel often contain a very limited number of leads. Besides, business lists for sale include information that is often not exclusive and can be sold to other companies, including your competitors.

What we’re trying to say is that if you want to take the risk and purchase a prospect list online, make sure it was created using different channels and tools. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of money. 

2. Prospect lists with static data

There’s no other way of saying this – lead generation is difficult. According to statistics, 68% of companies struggle with it for many different reasons. Keeping a list of prospects updated is one of them. 

Here’s a thing – it simply does not make sense to invest time and money in a lead list and not review it on a regular basis. After all, people in it can change jobs, locations, their needs might change, and they are no longer your ideal customer. 

So, data validation is a must if you want to have a working list of potential customers to reach out to. The same goes for purchased lists – if you go through it and spot several outdated contacts, it’s a red flag telling you not to buy it. The data in the list should be dynamic.

3. Violating the GDPR regulations and the CAN-SPAM act

There are many articles online telling you the reasons why not to buy a lead list, and violating acts and regulations is one of them. Basically, what it means is that sellers of prospect lists can use shady practices that do not comply with the rules of worldwide digital commercial communication. 

Which regulations are we talking about?

First of all, it’s the GDPR or the General Data Protection Regulation law that secures data privacy around the EU and the European Economic Area. Its goal is to ensure an individual’s control over their personal information. It also addresses the transfer of data outside the EU and EEA. 

According to this law, no one can process the data unless there is at least one legal reason to do so. Lawful reasons include:

  • Consent given by the owner of the data.
  • There are contractual obligations with the owner of the data. 
  • You need to comply with the data controller’s legal requirements. 
  • Protection of the data owner’s interests. 
  • The data needs to be processed in the wake of the public interest or in official authority. 

In terms of lead generation, you cannot use prospect lists where contact information has been obtained without the data owner’s consent. 

The CAN-SPAM act is another regulatory document similar to GDPR, but it ensures data protection on U.S. territory. This law covers many topics, including the use of email lists. Here are a few examples of what you can and cannot do according to this act:

  • If your message is an ad, it should state so in the subject line and body of the email.
  • Don’t use misleading headings to falsify the conversation record. 
  • Share your exact location from the start of the conversation. 
  • Postal information must be included in any commercial communications. 
  • Recipients must have the right to opt in and out of commercial conversations. 
  • You should tell the recipient of your message how to opt out of the conversation. 

We strongly recommend getting familiar with these regulations before purchasing or building a lead list from scratch. You should honor a person’s right to privacy. Besides, having profound knowledge of laws and acts will keep you out of trouble. 

Now Over to You

As you can see, it can indeed be hard to put together a working list of leads, but it’s definitely not impossible. 

Let’s quickly recap our four must-follow steps you need to follow when creating a prospect list from scratch:

  • Build an ICP –  you need it as a reference to ensure that you’re adding only relevant leads. 
  • Know what you’re selling – define your offering from the standpoint of your target buyer’s needs. 
  • Identify specific research criteria – if you’re buying a lead list, it will help you validate the data in it faster. 
  • Ask your clients for referrals – they can bring you prospective customers that will be more likely to purchase your product or service. 

In addition to that, always follow the rules and regulations covering the data processing process. GDPR and CAN-SPAM act are examples of must-follow laws you need to get familiar with to make sure all the data in your list was provided consensually. 

If you want to learn more about lead generation, keep reading our blog – we have plenty of gems there for you! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are a few more things you need to know about prospect lists.

Q1. What’s the difference between a lead list and a contact list?

Simply put, a lead is someone who hasn’t been qualified and vetted yet. A contact is someone whose information is in your database and has already been qualified.

Q2. Should I buy a sales lead list?

Buying prospects is a widespread practice, but it’s always better to generate one organically via SEO and sales funnel optimization. Lists for sales often contain outdated information and are sometimes created using shady practices that are not in compliance with GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and other acts.

Q3. Is there anything I should know when buying a sales lead list?

Here are a few important factors to consider:

  • Build an ideal customer profile – you’ll need it as a reference to check if the info in the list fits your expectations. 
  • Do email verification to ensure that the list contains up-to-date information. 
  • Avoid lists created using only one channel or tool. The data in such lists is often incomplete. 
  • Get familiar with laws and regulations such as GDPR and CAN-SPAM to ensure you’re not buying a list where the data is shared without consent.

Q4. Where can I buy a sales lead list from?

The best prospect list sources, integrations, and apps include UpLead, Lusha, Salesfully, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and Leadrop – they provide marketing services, collect real-time data and offer companies such lists at reasonable prices.

Mariia is a content strategist and editor at Digital Marketer’s World. She is passionate about educating others on all things marketing and believes in the power of the written word.