April 16, 2021

Online Direct Marketing – How’d you get my number?

Many small businesses in the post-COVID world look for an edge in marketing by finding new customers with online datastores or services.  At a time like this, unsolicited digital connections often seem like the only possible way to reach out.  Many service firms have sprung up in the past few years that specialize in Online Lead Generation, and all of them use some form of online data-gathering and email, social messaging, or SMS sending. 

Are they legit?  Should you use these services, or even try to perform similar activities yourself?  I mean, if it gets a few leads in the door at a reasonable price, what’s the harm, right?

Let’s look at a few snippets from my own inbox over the past month (names hidden to protect a few innocent parties).  We’ll classify them by what they do, and see if we can gain some insight into their model and how we should handle them.  We also might learn a trick or two for our own work in conducting online marketing.

The sniffers

Dear Bob,

At XXX we are committed to supporting the B2B sector, and would like to help you to identify new opportunities from those digital strategies for your sales and marketing teams to capitalize on, helping your business to continue, and grow during this time and beyond.

Our technology allows you to see exactly who’s visiting your website, and target those users with advertisements on every other site they visit…

(they neglect to insert the words “incessantly” and “forever”)

These companies place small bits of code on your website and look for the signals (like time of day, and your IP address) to get hints on who your visitors are.  Then, you login to the subscription portal that tells you all about the recent visitors to your site.  Of course in the Work-from-home era, I’m not entirely sure this method will continue to pay off but I’ll bet they figure it out.

The spammers


Im looking for investor for my email marketing business.
I own 270 million email database with 92% valid emails. Im looking for investor who invest in server infrastructure to send it. Im planning to run infrastructure to send like 10 million emails per day on daily basis, and increase every week by add more servers.
Potential earnings are $100-$200 depend on country per million sended messages
I have knowledge about email marketing and team which is needed to handle whitelisting.

Investment: $2000 on first run, after you see results you can invest more.

(Whitelisting:  how to trick smart mail servers into sending that dumb email to the inbox, not to junk.  The spammers are always one step ahead of the security teams, which is how this email got through to me.)

This one’s just fun to think through.  Where’s he sending that mail from?  But it’s instructive to see the economics.  $200/million messages = $0.0002 cost per message.  At that rate you can see why spam works – at even a .2% click through rate on those messages (1/10th of the industry average), you’ll get 2,000 hits for people whose email can be resold and probably 100 sales of whatever it is they’re advertising.  And if they can get you to pay for the server, then it’s your reputation on the line, not theirs…what a business model!

The grabbers


Hope you doing well! Would you be interested in acquiring Verified Email List of "(XXX Software) Users" across USA, UK and Europe?

We maintain 35,856 Leads with full contact information like Company Name, Full Name, First Name, Last Name, Email Address, Phone Number, Mailing Address, Title, Website, Employees, and Revenue etc. with unlimited usage license.


(Jane Doe)

Marketing Specialist

So, how exactly did they get this Verified Email List?  Most likely, they scanned public forums and other places where these software users hang out, grabbed the data about the users, and visited their website to get their email and other data. 

Or they also might be…

The verifyers

Good Morning,

This is Aaron from XXX, I reached out to your company rel8ed.to Analytics recently as I’m currently recruiting Web and Marketing providers for our Ontario division.

We are looking on LinkedIn in efforts to find marketing companies and this is the email linked to your company’s page. Is this the best email address to contact you at concerning business development opportunities? Or is someone in your team in charge of that and you could put me in contact with them.

The best way to make sure we have the right information about rel8ed.to Analytics, if you’re interested in collaborating with us, would be to just click here.

Underlying that Click Here link:  They’ve now converted you from a passive to an active lead, and will both market directly to you and start to sell your data to others.  They’ve just verified the former “grab” of your data, and your info can now be resold at a higher price.

Finally:  The “who’s who-ers”

Hello Bob,

rel8ed.to has a Company Profile in the 1st edition of Reference Encyclopedia of AI Companies.

The Reference Encyclopedia of AI Companies is the most comprehensive resource for detailed information on more than 5,000 AI companies worldwide that develop and/or utilize AI.

Please take a few minutes to ensure your company is accurately portrayed by logging in and making the following updates:

Contact Details: Contact Information, Short description of your company

Key Personnel, Solutions/Services & Industries:  Founder, CEO, CTO, etc.


If you’re old enough to remember those books of “famous people” that were sold via mail-order, or the International Star Registry, just imagine how much better it is for these companies now that the Internet reduces those printing and mailing costs to $0.  The key item here?  They entice us by stroking ego, then get us to provide verified information for their database.  This info will then be sold (again and again) by others above.

Ugh, is all email marketing bad?

It doesn’t have to be – many of the tactics can be used in some way for legitimate marketing if you do it right.  What can we learn from each of these approaches?

  • The sniffer might feel creepy, but it’s a fact of the Internet.  If you want “free” access to the world’s storehouse of knowledge (and cat videos) then you’ll need to pay with your eyeballs.  If you haven’t already setup Google Analytics on your website, you’re behind.  But most sites have the setup, but owners fall short in understanding their audience.  These days, it’s easy to see demographics of site visitors in a snap – make sure you regularly visit your analytics to learn about your marketing visits.
  • DON’T be or pay a spammer, and certainly never agree to pay for servers that “know how to whitelist”.  DO understand the daily volume of spam is in the billions, and work actively to avoid getting tagged as a bad behaver.  DON’T send bulk emails from your personal or “info@” email address.  DO invest in a mailing tool like Constant Contact, Mailchimp, HubSpot, etc.  These systems all give legitimacy and Unsubscribe features to your email campaigns, can track your results, and help you keep safely in touch with your customers.
  • The Grabbers and Verifiers are a mixed bag.  It’s just smart marketing to go where your customers are, and it’s clever use of LinkedIn to research a company to find a connection.  You’ll know you’re crossing the line if you turn this Intel into unsolicited outreach activity.  It’s bad form, just like the conference attendee who’s there not to participate, but just to grab business cards and go.  How about experimenting with ads on those communities, or better yet – become a recognized expert by actively participating.  Having something to offer, not just take, is the surest way to build a rep that will withstand the “how did you get my number?” question.
  • Be judicious with pay-to-play Who’s Who Online Directories, awards listings, and other anthologies.  There are some you can benefit from being seen in, but most others are simply data echo chambers where the same records bounce around over and over, leading to search engine hits but few conversions.  Your better bet is investing time in an industry association (offline or online) where your capabilities can get a stronger audience and your network can grow.    

    Did we mention our work on the Momentum Chamberizer? That's exactly what this tool does...  

Above all – get online and researching.  Your next customer is definitely out there!  You can find them yourself with some digging, or take a shorter path by purchasing information from a reputable provider.  But no matter how you come by that number - just contact them as you’d appreciate being contacted, and you’ll be successful.

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