While it may seem like inheriting an email marketing list from another business, colleague, or co-worker could be a huge advantage to your business, it is not that simple. It is essential to be sure that you have the proper permissions to market to your new email.

If the list is not permission-based, you can run the chance of violating “CAN-SPAM” laws, and you may receive complaints from certain recipients. Precautions must be taken to ensure your email list is okay to use. Following these precautions will help steer you in the right direction.

Sort the list by sources

IMGrind.com suggests sorting the email list by sources. This is the first step in determining how permissible the contacts on the list really are. Take a good look at all of the email addresses on the list. If there is no evident two-way relationship or if the recipient might not recognize your email address, discard it altogether or set it aside to ask permission to use it. Typical sources used to acquire an email list would be, a contact form, a purchased mailing list, their own business card, etc.

Sort the list by date

Look at the purchase history of all of the contacts. If your business relies on repeat business or frequent purchases it’s probably safer to discard the contact information of anyone who has not made a purchase in at least twelve months. Other businesses might have a longer sales cycles that lasts several years. You also must consider who is on your list(s). Are they customers? Are they prospects? Are they blog subscribers? Every type of contact might have a different life span or engagement timeline where they’ve gone from a Hot lead/prospect/customer, to cold. Keep this in mind when sorting your list and analyzing the date of acquisition for each contact.

It’s also worth mentioning not every list might be able to give you the source or additional data telling you why they are on the list. Some may not even include the date of acquisition. In these cases you should be careful using these addresses for any permission-based marketing.

Give the list the “eye test”

Another feature to look for is ambiguous email addresses. All of these email addresses should be immediately discarded. It is relatively easy to discern ambiguous email addresses as they will often begin with “webmaster@” or “info@”. These email addresses are often used to mask actual email addresses used within the company. And, because you cannot determine if the underlying email address gave you permission you should discard them for safety’s sake.

Sort the list by category – Segmentation

Sorting the entire list into separate categories such as “prospects,” “subscribers,” and “previous purchasers” will help you better customize emails for each group. This is best practices for any email marketing list and otherwise known as segmentation. No matter how your list was acquired, always segment your email marketing list according to similar traits, product interests, shared services, geographic area, and any other demographic or preference that would logically enable to your business to deliver better targeted, relevant marketing.

Confirm permission

Once your inherited email list has passed all qualifying factors mentioned above, as a last step it is important to confirm permission from the email address owner. If the contact list is small, reaching out by phone or sending a personal email along with a confirmation link for them to opt into your list is recommended. If the list is large, send a formal email confirming permission which also includes a confirmation/opt-in link for them to click to remain a part of your list.

Include an “Unsubscribe” link

Since the list is inherited, it is easy to make mistakes going through the process of checking that it is as accurate as possible. Thus, it is important to include an “unsubscribe” link in any mail you send. This gives recipients an way to opt out of future email correspondence. Make sure this link is quick to find and simple to use. It’s worth mentioning too if you are using any 3rd party email marketing service such as MailChimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft, HubSpot, Constant Contact, etc you will be forced to include an unsubscribe link as well as a business address in the footer of every email. This ensures the recipient has a way to opt out as well as a business address to contact or file a complaint against if the emails were sent outside of their permission.

Perform regular maintenance on the contact list

There are several reasons to perform regular maintenance on any contact list. For example, it is easy for an email address to be incorrectly entered. Also, sometimes email addresses change when people leave companies. Most 3rd party email marketing platforms will keep tracking of emails that fail to deliver to specific addresses. You often can keep track of which email recipients open the email as well as click or engage with the email. Too many unopened or undelivered emails will really mess with your marketing metrics. So it is recommended to remove any questionable email activity from your list. After all, if they are not receiving or opening your emails, why keep them on the list at all? A large unresponsive list is far less impressive than a lean, engaged list.

Link to your website

When sending out your initial “connect” email with your new list subscribers, be sure to include a link back to your website. It should be a logical assumption that your new subscribers might want to learn more about the new company attempting to engage with them. Make it easy for them to learn more about your business through your website. This might also be an opportunity to get subscribers to bite on products or services you offer that the last list owner did not. Adding a subscriber is always a new opportunity to convert them into a warm lead or a new customer.

Privacy is key

When dealing with an inherited marketing list, keep all contact information private. This list wasn’t purchased or sold, it was handed to your business… often in confidence. Building trust with your new list subscribers from day one will benefit your list and business long term. Due to the fact you are now the keeper of their private information, you can be held responsible if their information is misused, resold, or misrepresented without their knowledge or permission.

Don’t make assumptions

Perhaps the largest mistake that can be made when inheriting an email list is making assumptions about which contacts have actually given permission and which have not. You can’t be too careful. When in doubt, take the time to verify a particular contact does want to remain included in your contact list.

Inherited email marketing lists can be a great benefit for a business. However, they come with a certain amount of responsibility and accountability. Treat these lists and recipients with care and make sure everyone on your new list has agreed they want to be there. Making the effort to verify the list is in proper order will ensure happier and more appreciative email recipients and makes sure your newly established business relationships get off on the right foot.

Email marketing should be one component in a larger marketing strategy. If you are looking to develop a better marketing strategy that builds quality traffic to your website and generates better leads for your business, contact us for a free Marketing Assessment below.


Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is the CEO of Vinci Digital with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. He partners with mid-size, established businesses as a growth and scalability consultant and strategic branding advisor as well as offering a full-suite of agency services. Gerald calls Carmel, CA home with his wife Safira and two children. He has co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”

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