The Problems With Buying Leads – And What to Do Instead

Have you ever considered buying leads before? If so, keep reading…

Companies have been buying leads for years and on the face of it, it might seem like good shortcut to get some leads rolling in fast.

In reality, this ‘shortcut’ could cost you time and money and give you a bunch of leads that…

  1. Don’t want what you’re selling
  2. Don’t appreciate you contacting them. 

So, I’ll show you exactly why buying a list of leads would backfire – and how to generate them organically instead. 

Why buying leads is a BAD idea for your business

Buying lists = easy sales?

Nope. It’s actually a risky game that could damage your business. Here’s why.

An email address or phone number is NOT a lead

First things first: a lead is a person who has shown interest in your business, products, or services.

So, when someone promises to “sell you a list of leads,” that’s already a contradiction. What they’re actually giving you is the contact of someone who HASN’T expressed any interest in hearing from you.

So, that’s not a lead, is it?

Low-quality “leads”

On top of that, those contact details are often irrelevant:

  • They can be outdated (like inactive email addresses)
  • They usually belong to people who have nothing to do with your industry and what you’re selling 

As a result, their conversion rates are really low.

Lack of data and personalisation

There’s a lot of competition out there, and consumers are becoming more and more selective. In fact, 72% will only engage with businesses that send them personalised messaging.

But when you buy a list of leads…

  • These people have never heard of you before
  • It’s unlikely they’re experiencing the problem that your products or services can solve
  • You get limited data (usually just a name, email address and/or phone number)
  • Your sales team has to start from scratch

So, you CAN’T send them personalised messages or kickstart calls that inspire an instant connection.

It’ll be a cold and impersonal outreach. Now we’re not saying that cold outreach doesn’t work, but for it to work well requires a lot of effort. You have to do a lot of research and work hard to prove that you understand them, their problems and that you’re trustworthy. 

Think of all the cold emails you receive on a daily basis. There’s probably only a handful in your lifetime that you remember and have taken action on. 

Ethical concerns and potential legal issues

Those bought leads never opted-in to receive emails and calls from your business. 

So, what happens when you send them unsolicited messages out of the blue?

It raises ethical concerns about privacy and consent 

Let’s say YOU never agreed to be contacted by a specific company: do you think it’s fair that they call you in the middle of your workday?

Or start sending you sales emails?

I wouldn’t. And if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea either, why do that to your leads?

You might incur in legal issues

As if a genuine ethical concern weren’t bad enough – and it should be – how’s the thought of violating the law?

You might have heard of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU or the CAN-SPAM Act in the US.

With these regulations, buying a list of leads is a grey area! In most cases, to send marketing messages to someone, you need their explicit consent.

So, how do companies that sell leads get away with it? 

Some use small print or tiny checkboxes along the lines of “you agree to be contacted by third parties”.

Some others don’t. Which means you could be on shaky ground legal wise. 

Damage to your brand reputation

Imagine you’re deep in your workflow, your phone rings and you’re interrupted by a company you’ve never heard of.

Or they start sending you emails to pressure you into a sales conversation. What would you think of them?

Most people see unsolicited outreach as 

  • Spammy
  • Unprofessional
  • Desperate  
  • Annoying

So, you’d be starting on the wrong foot, damaging your relationship with these potential customers before it’s even begun!

Low deliverability rates 

When you buy a list of leads, what you’re actually getting is a ticket to the spam folder. Why?

Spammy senders get hunted down

Internet Service Providers and companies that create blacklists are actively trying to stop these behaviours. 

So, they use spam traps like honeypots (planted email addresses). If you buy them through a list, they’ll flag you as spam. 

Risky, isn’t it?

Those bought leads will mark you as spam

What do you do when you receive impersonal emails from a business you never opted in to? I bet you delete them and mark them as spam. 

Well, so will the people behind the addresses you bought! And when more and more of them do that, your emails might go straight to the spam folder – even those you send to legitimate leads!

And the same happens with unwanted phone calls, too. Once these leads start flagging them, your number will show up as “suspected spam.”

Good luck getting someone to answer that!

Hidden costs and wasted resources

These cheap lists might seem like a bargain, but if you thought, “it seems too good to be true,” it’s because… it is!

  • The cost-per-lead might be cheap, but the cost-per-conversion is HIGH – On average, out of 1000 low-cost leads, only 2 convert into paying clients
  • So, you waste time on leads that won’t become customers – And how much is your time (or that of your sales team) worth?
  • Bought leads create additional time drains – For example, think of the admin time to clean your list or manage a high number of unsubscribes
  • You might have to deal with legal issues – Spoiler alert: they’re not cheap
  • It’s costing you your reputation – Not only is this an expensive problem: in some cases, that damage is irreparable 

Short-term thinking 

As well as being flawed and giving you very limited returns, buying leads isn’t a long-term solution either. It’s a temporary patch.

Do you want to expand your business sustainably? Then you must focus on organic growth and build authentic relationships.

Otherwise, you’ll be in the same situation (= no leads) in only a few months.

What’s a BETTER way to generate quality leads for your business?

Buying leads isn’t just inefficient; it’s can be dangerous and counterproductive. 

Instead, be safe and smart! Start implementing inbound marketing and organic lead generation strategies. 

Yes, they might take a little more time and effort than sending money in exchange for a list of leads – but they will pay off. You’ll get:

  • Better-quality and relevant leads (not random email addresses or phone numbers)
  • Higher conversion rates – Ka-ching!
  • A more positive brand image

It’s basically the difference between:

  • Cold messaging someone who hasn’t consented to hearing from your business (eek) 
  • Getting your dream clients to come to you (hurray!)

5 ethical and effective lead generation methods to grow your business

Not familiar with inbound lead generation? Don’t sweat it. Here are some tactics you can start with. 

1. Social media marketing

When used correctly, these platforms allow you to reach and grow an audience of fans – and generate leads, of course.

  • Choose a couple of platforms – Hint hint: the ones where your audience is already hanging out
  • Build relationships – Connect and interact with your audience
  • Create helpful, interesting and entertaining content for your target customers – Welcome them into your industry, and show them how you can make their life easier

Once they’re ready to buy, guess who they’ll go to?

(Yes, you. High five!)

2. SEO content marketing

It doesn’t matter what type of service or product you offer: you solve some kind of problem for your audience, right?

Then, I promise your target customers are out there googling questions to understand:

  • What’s causing this problem 
  • How it can be solved 
  • What the best solution for them is


  • Write blog posts that answer those questions
  • Optimise them for the SEO keywords your audience is using – Google Keyword Planner is a handy free tool for beginners

This will bring your dream customers straight to your website – even if they had never heard of you before! 

You can then turn those visitors into actual leads. How? Psst: check out the next point.

3. Quiz as a lead magnet

Lead magnets are free resources that your audience can access in exchange for their email address. 

Most businesses are still offering PDFs and checklists (yawn), but they’re becoming white noise. Instead, you can cut right through it with a strategic quiz. 

Create the right quiz for your audience and business 

You need an angle that’s compelling to your target clients but that’ll also give you a tonne of relevant data.

For example:

  • “The Digital Marketing Scorecard”
  • “How much money can an accountant save you?”
  • “The Freelance Writer Self-Assessment”
  • “Outsourcing Social Media – Readiness Test”

and so on.

Include questions to pre-qualify your leads

90% of your quiz should consist of compelling questions that give value to your customers. But make sure you also include a few that’ll help you spot warm leads!

While this will really depend on your industry and goals, some pre-qualifying quiz questions can be:

  • “What’s your current budget for [type of product or service]?”
  • “How much time do you spend doing [insert the thing you do]?”
  • “Would you like to hear more about [solution]?”

Follow up

All your customers will receive an insightful report, especially when you use a Scorecard quiz (one that shows them both what they’re already doing well and what needs improving).

Then, you can reach out to your warm leads. 

And the best thing? You get to make your outreach personal and more effective by referencing their quiz results

No wonder quiz marketing has a 30-50% conversion rate (much better than most lead magnets, and certainly A LOT higher than buying a list of leads).

Sounds good? Get your quiz live today with ScoreApp.

4. Newsletters and nurturing emails

Once someone has given you their email address (NOT one you bought), keep in touch with them regularly.

You can do so with:

  • A newsletter – Share insightful content and tips, positioning your business as the obvious next step
  • Nurturing emails after the quiz – Create different ones for each type of result. For example, if someone is not ready to invest in you, show them what they must put in place first

5. Use other people’s audience

Buying leads is a dangerous shortcut, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good ones!

Putting yourself in front of someone else’s audience – as long as it includes your target customers – is an EXCELLENT lead generation strategy.

  • Appear on other business owners’ podcasts
  • Run a masterclass for their membership
  • Write a guest post for relevant publications

And whenever you do that, offer a compelling way to stay in touch (yes, taking your quiz!).

Ditch buying leads. Get the right ones to come to you!

As you now know, buying a cheap list of leads can have a high cost. 

Instead, you can set yourself up for success – long-term and sustainably – with the right inbound marketing strategy. 

A quiz, in particular, will work on its own and complement all your other lead-generation tactics! You can use it as a call to action:

  • In your blog posts
  • On social media
  • For someone else’s audience

and as a starting point to nurture your leads via email. 

So, instead of buying leads and bothering random people, get your target audience to come to you! Launch your quiz TODAY and for free with ScoreApp’s 14-day trial.

About the author
Steven Oddy
Steven Oddy

Smarter Leads.
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