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List building 101

September 30, 2021

“What’s the fastest way of growing a business?”

That’s the question on the lips of every SaaS founder and CEO.

The truth is it’s no great secret.

It all boils down to one thing and one thing only: your customers.

If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. It’s that simple.

And how do you go about getting customers?

You need names. You need contact details. You need a list.

In this article, we’re going to deliver a crash course in B2B list building.

Get stuck in by scrolling 👇 or using the menu to jump to a section.

What is a list? | Why do you need a list? | What does a good list look like? | How do you build a prospect list? | Cognism: the shortcut to sales list building

What is a list?

Your prospect list, your lead list, your contact list, call it what you like. It’s all the same thing:

A list of names and their contact details for potential buyers for your product/service.

These are the people your reps will be outreaching to and your marketers will be nurturing with their campaigns.

Why do you need a list?

Have you hired outbound sales reps but they’re struggling to sell?

It’s likely that the problem isn’t with them. It’s with the list.

From finding qualified prospects to having calls answered, from hitting team quotas to booking meetings - the list is everything.

If your list isn’t accurate or complete, with unverified contact details or gaps in the data, your SDRs will be in big trouble before they’ve even dialled a number.

It’s the same with marketing.

Have you ever tried running an event or webinar, and you just couldn’t get people to sign up? You’ve got great speakers, you’ve got great content - so what’s the problem?

That’s right - it all comes down to the list.

Maybe you’re sending invites to people who have no interest in your company and what you offer. Maybe you’re sending invites to people whose emails have long since expired.

So if you want to ace the B2B marketing game, you need a good list in place.

What does a good list look like?

A good list is a lot of names of people who know they’re on your list.

There are a few other fundamentals of a good B2B prospect list:

1 - Size matters

If you have 100 names on your list...that’s not a lot.

Response rates in B2B sales are notoriously low.

Let’s say you send an email out to those 100 people. 15 people open your email. How many of them will actually click on something or accept a meeting? And of those people, how many of them will actually attend the meeting? And of those people, how many will actually buy from you?

You can see how difficult it is to get just one meeting from an email shot to 100 prospects. You’d be lucky to get even one sale from such a small list.

So a good list isn’t just 100 or 200 or 300 names - it’s thousands or better yet tens of thousands of names!


Because of the numbers. Because the more people you reach out to, the more chance you have of succeeding.

2 - It has to grow

A good prospecting list is one that doesn’t stay still.

Your business will change over time. You’ll adapt your go-to-market strategy. You’ll try selling into new industries or territories.

So your list has to change and grow with you.

Again, size matters here. Adding 100 names here and there won’t cut it. You need to be adding hundreds or thousands of new names every month.

It’s the only way to keep that pipeline flowing!

3 - It must contain only qualified prospects

Unqualified prospects are people who will never get value out of your product/service.

It makes sense that you shouldn’t be wasting your time selling to people who will never buy from you.

So get those people off your list! Otherwise, you’ll be contacting them and all you’ll get in return is silence or a shrug.

Start by looking at your existing list. How many names are on it? Are they valid names? Do they know they’re on your list?

Have people been added to it recently or have they been on your list for years? If they’ve been on it for years and you haven’t contacted them regularly, then they probably have no clue who you are.

If that’s the case, then you’ll have to either:

  • Remove those names from your list.
  • Start demonstrating your product’s value and see if you can qualify them in or out.

How do you build a prospect list?

What if you haven’t got a list already? How do you go about building one?

There are 3 ways to build a B2B prospecting list from scratch - but only one that works.

Keep reading to find out more...

1 - Buy lead lists

This is the easiest method.

You go on Google, you do some research, you find a lead list supplier, you buy a list of names and contact details. Job done!


The B2B data you’ll get from such suppliers is no good. Most of the time, you’ll get the list in the form of an Excel sheet. The data is static and likely to be inaccurate or incomplete.

What’s happens then?

You’ll be contacting people who moved on from their jobs ages ago or are totally unqualified to buy from you. You’ll be sending out emails that will only make people ignore you or hit the “Unsubscribe” button.

There are also compliance issues to think about. Do you want to be slapped with a hefty fine because the contacts on your list weren’t GDPR compliant?

Those are all compelling reasons why you should never buy lead lists.

Sure, you might be able to sell to some of the people on a bought lead list - but warming up a cold list takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.

2 - Referrals

Referrals are great! Everyone loves referrals.

When you get a referral, you’re getting the name of a person who already knows your business. They’ll be aware of you through a colleague or friend. They’re already warmed up and are highly likely to be qualified.

If you get a referral, definitely action it! Add that name to your list.

However - and this goes back to size matters - referrals are small. How many do you get in a given month? You’re not going to get the thousands of names you need that way.

So yeah, referrals are great - but you can’t rely on them as a growth strategy.

3 - Get people to opt-in to your list

What would you do if a stranger came up to you in the street and asked you for your name, email address and phone number?

You wouldn’t give it to them, right?

It works the same online.

The very strongest lists are full of people who want to be on them.

People who aren’t strangers to your brand. People who’ve given you their names and contact details willingly. People who you can warm up over time, nurturing them carefully until they’re ready to buy.

Here’s how to do it 👇

Locate the right prospects

Your prospects are online somewhere! Your job is to find them. Think about the following:

  • Social media networks - in B2B, LinkedIn is king.
  • Internet forums such as Reddit.
  • Google - the average person runs 3-4 Google searches per day.
  • Don’t forget YouTube! It’s the second most popular search engine in the world after Google.

Your mission is to build an audience on these channels and collect their names.

How? By doing this 👇

Use lead magnets

A lead magnet is essentially a free giveaway.

Think of it as something that somebody would pay money for, that does have significant value, but you’re offering it to them for free.

It can’t be something that’s easily found online already. A blog you’ve written, on a topic that’s popular in your industry, won’t work.

You want something like a free tool or calculator that people can use. Cognism’s TAM calculator is one example:

Cognism TAM Calculator

Or you could try producing an eBook that covers a topic in depth - like Cognism’s sales strategy guide:

Sales Strategy eBook

Whatever you end up creating, the next step is to gate your content on a landing page (see the sales strategy page above).

This is a website page designed for the sole purpose of getting prospects to enter their names and contact details, in return for receiving your lead magnet.

Then it’s just a simple matter of promoting your content on the channels where your audience hangs out.

Lead magnets are a great way of getting prospects added to your list at scale and warming them up quickly. When your SDRs call them, they’ll be aware of who you are and what you do. This makes it easier to sell to them.

What if you’re not a content marketing expert? Where do you start in creating your own lead magnet?

Think about the questions that your prospects ask on your cold calls and demos. Make a note of those questions and see if you can create content that answers them thoroughly.

You can also produce different lead magnets aimed at different audiences. We’ve already shared a sales eBook example; here’s one for marketers:

Data Driven Marketing

Now, what we’ve been talking about up to now is very much based on organic promotion - creating content that speaks to your audience and distributing it amongst them.

It’s definitely a key way to get loads of warmed-up, qualified names on your list.

But if you really want to scale your list exponentially, you need to…

Run paid ads

Paid ads, also known as PPC (pay-per-click).

It’s where advertisers launch online ads and pay money whenever an internet user clicks on them.

It’s a surefire way of increasing your brand awareness and reaching new audiences quickly. With PPC, you’ll be adding hundreds of new names to your prospect list every month.

Paid ads can be run on several different platforms - on YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram to name a few - but Google is where most startups begin. It’s the world’s most popular search engine and if you don’t have a presence there, you don’t have a presence anywhere.

Don’t think that you have to spend a fortune, either. The trick with PPC is to start small, prove its value, then grow it over time.

Cognism published a beginner’s guide to PPC - check that out for more information and how to kickstart your own paid ads on Google.

Cognism: the shortcut to sales list building

We’ve gone through the 3 ways of building lead lists for B2B sales and marketing.

But did you know there’s an even better fourth way?

What if you could generate a list of B2B leads in seconds, and all the contact details were verified and up-to-date, and complied with international data regs like the GDPR and the CCPA?

It exists, it’s called Cognism and we’d love to show you what it can do.

Click 👇 to book your screen-share.

Build your prospect list in seconds