Why buying an email list is a bad idea

Buying your way into teachers' email inboxes might seem like a quick route to sales but owning your own audience is much more powerful path to sustainable success.
In the foreground an overwhelmed man lies on the floor in front of his desk with his arm raised asking for help. His face is covered in papers which represent emails.

44% of headteachers receive over 50 emails every day.

The chances of reaching a teacher who is actively seeking your solution just as they open your cold email….is slim to none.

Even if you’re specifically targeting Subject Leaders, aged 34-44, in a school with a high proportion of pupil premium, buying cold data is still the most expensive way to perform the cheapest marketing.

Nevertheless, many education companies still do it.

But why?

Because teachers are notoriously hard to reach. They are time-poor, cash-strapped, and spend little time at their desk.

For that reason, it feels easier to blast a list of target teachers and cross your fingers.

Surely some of them will bite?

Falling into the cold email list trap

Let’s say you buy 1000 headteacher emails and send them a promotional email about a free trial for your awesome new learning platform.

If you get a 20% open rate (which would be amazing considering none of these busy headteachers was expecting to hear from you – expect more like 5-10%) that means 200 Headteachers opened your email.

If 4% click the link – again, generous for a cold list – to your promotion page that means 8 Headteachers have shown an interest (but you don’t know how strong that interest is).

But, like comedy, the secret is timing.

Because when your email arrived they weren’t looking for what you do.

There was no intent.

So maybe one or two take your trial (which they never really use).

Not a great ROI, huh?

As a result, at best, you sink into their inbox history. At worst you get marked as spam.

So you send a follow-up email. But even email nurture series to people that WANT to hear from you follow the law of diminishing returns. So imagine how reduced the impact would be to a cold list.

And now you’re in the cold email list trap.

Eventually, if you keep badgering them you only get ignored harder and risk active dislike. Ultimately, you wasted your chance to build a relationship with them.

This doesn’t mean your product is bad. It means your marketing strategy is bad.

We strongly believe in (and have plenty of evidence for) building smart strategic campaigns designed to create your own audience. 

A person sweeping the floor which is covered in spam emails

A cold email list is NOT an audience

Think about it this way: if they don’t know you, they don’t trust you.

  • Access to thousands of teacher email addresses sounds exciting… but how often have they been sent cold emails from other companies? (Hint: LOTS).
  • If a school’s ISP or email provider consider you a spammer, your IP address or domain can be blocked and blacklisted.
  • It’s very annoying 🤬 You’re a stranger appearing in their email inbox, alongside messages from the senior team, their colleagues, and their students’ parents. It doesn’t matter that it’s technically a “professional email address”. It’s going to piss them off.
And that’s all before we consider how compliant it is.
Bernie Sanders meme looking directly at the camera with his mouth open as if speaking. Text below says "I am once again asking you to open my emails"

Are you ready to grow (and own) your audience? 😎

Still on the fence about buying an email list?

We think sending emails to people who haven’t asked to hear from you is, in short, spamming. There’s no other way to see it.

In fact, I couldn’t define it any better than the big brains at Oxford University Press…

"The practice of sending mail, especially advertising material, through the internet to a large number of people who have not asked for it."

No matter what GDPR legislates about ‘legitimate interest’ your email inbox, whether for work or home, still feels like personal space.

It’s not that different from walking up to a teacher in a staff room and shouting into their face “DEAR FIRST NAME, YOU DON’T KNOW ME BUT WOULD YOU LIKE A 30 DAY FREE TRIAL TO MY PRODUCT?”

And that’s if you have a named email!

Some just to go to an office@ or admin@ email address for e.g. the attention of the ‘Head of Key Stage 2″. That’s even further away from success.

Certainly you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find teachers that hate getting spammed by educational companies.

And the Headteachers and senior leaders you want to target? They get the most cold emails of all.

"In my time at the MAT, I never read a single cold email and once the IT department was on the case, the worst offenders went straight into spam folders, never to appear in an inbox again. This policy was implemented across all 6 sites, on all of our public email addresses. A number of companies, due to their excessive emailing, lost the opportunity to ever market to the Trust again."

Top image: two red buttons sit side by side, one marked Send Another Email and the other marked Don't Send Another Email. Bottom image: an indecisive man is sweating and worrying over which button to press

Build your audience, don't buy it.

So many of our clients come to us with horror stories of wasting £1000s sending emails to cold email databases. Most had ZERO sales return.

So we show them how we can help them tap into intent.

With creative digital marketing strategies and tactics, we can place your product or service carefully in front of educators who are experiencing the pain your product solves at the time they are looking for something to solve it.

Yes, this process takes longer than buying and zapping an email database.

It’s more delicate. It involves analysis of your brand, product, and audience. We need to test ideas, channels, and content.

But what you gain is a unique audience, customer advocates, and the holy grail of marketing, increased word of mouth.

You are now the proud owner of a database of teachers that have shown intent, via Google search, clicking an Instagram Ad, or downloading a lead magnet.

You earned every sign up.

Get started with these actionable audience-building tactics

Optimise your online forms

A quick win is to put your forms above the fold and in the hero banner. Take a look at our article about getting the most from your online forms.

Check your messaging

Have you fallen into the old ‘features vs benefits’ problem in your marketing? Audit and edit your key pages for language and images that talk about you rather than your audience. A change in messaging can work wonders on engagement.

Start a newsletter that’s NOT about you

Send rich, informative newsletter content to people have actually opted-in to receive it. They’ll expect your emails, and learn more about you and your brand.

Build a new online community

Invest time in building your own audience by setting up a Facebook Group based around the problem you solve for schools (NOT your brand). Your members will be engaged, they’ll know who you are, and they’ll want to find out more. So, give it to them.

Ultimately there’s no easy way into teachers’ hearts and minds.

So if you find yourself tempted by an email database ask yourself what you do when you get a cold email…

A bright blue button with a hand moving quickly down to hit it. Text: unsubscribe

Want to chat about the alternatives to buying data?

We’ve delivered marketing success for 100s of companies that sell to schools. Do you want to be next?