Marketing PSA: Cold lead generation is spam

Attention, marketers! If it’s unsolicited, irrelevant email, it’s spam. Columnist Patrick Armitage puts out a call to his fellow marketers to put a stop to the scourge.


Subject line: When can we catch up?

Hi [First Name],
We’ve never met. In fact, you’ve never visited our company’s site, given us your contact information or asked us to contact you.

But I wanted to reach out and and connect with you anyway. We pay for a lead generation service that scrapes LinkedIn and other websites to find your contact information and send you this:

[Insert generic company elevator pitch]

Is that something you’d be interested in discussing? Let’s schedule a quick chat, and I can show you all the awesome things [insert product/service/app] does.

Generic Salesperson

Subject line: Re: When can we catch up?

Hey again [First Name],

Hope all is well.

I just wanted to follow up with you to see if you’ve had time to check out my previous email, and if you have any questions about [insert product/service/app].

Would you be available for 15 minutes this week to discuss further?

Generic Salesperson

[P.S. This was an actual, verbatim follow-up email I received.]

Is anyone else sick and tired of these emails?

And I seem to get more of them day after day. I feel like Capt. Rex Kramer walking through the airport in “Airplane” fending off solicitors.

When did spamming become part of a burgeoning industry of “lead generation tools”? The increasing volume of these unsolicited emails I receive is getting comical. Some are just plain garbage and irrelevant, others are annoying, and still others are just sad. (If you want me to send you samples, I have hundreds.)

And as these cold emails proliferate, I’ve yet to see blowback from the marketing and sales cognoscenti.

Believe me, I’ve tried to foment a little bit of feedback on this tactic to no avail.

I can no longer stand idly by, watching my inbox get assaulted, and not ask: “Isn’t this spam?”

Well, what’s spam?

I’ll let MailChimp put it simply (my bold for emphasis):

There are a variety of definitions and interpretations of the word itself, but at its core, spam is unsolicited, irrelevant email, sent in bulk to a list of people. For example, let’s say you purchased a list of email addresses from a local business organization. On the surface, that list of addresses seems like it could contain some great prospects for your business, and you want to send them an email with a relevant offer they can’t refuse. But, since those people didn’t give you explicit permission to contact them, sending an email to that list would be considered spam.

But there are hundreds of companies making a mint off of scraping contact information from the web, selling it to businesses and transferring the responsibility away from them and to the client.

Let me pick one out of the hundreds of unsolicited emails I’ve received:


Let’s set aside the fact that the pitch is so generic and cliche-riddled that I only needed to edit out the person’s name to obfuscate its origin.

This email was unsolicited, with no way for me to unsubscribe (Yes, I got subsequent followup emails as well) and did not include a physical mailing address. These are all CAN-SPAM violations.

But everyone else is doing it, right? So who cares?!

Yep, we considered an outbound sales tool, too

It was that mindset that led us to consider a lead-generation tool for our business. Because why not? It’s easy, it’s cost-effective, and after a few customization fields here and a few clicks there, we could send out our pitch to marketing folks around the world.

But we didn’t.

We reasoned that no matter how customized we make every email, we were still sending unsolicited entreaties, and putting the deliverability of our other, customer-related emails at risk.

In fact, we shared our concerns with the lead-generation company we were considering. “As long as the content of the email is relevant and you’re not blasting out generic communication, it’s unlikely to be marked as spam” was their paraphrased response.

When I pushed them on the “Yeah, but they still haven’t opted in to receive an email from us.” They would fall back on “If you’re targeted and relevant, it’s fine.”

But it’s not.

We discussed it as a team. We thought about the type of business we want to be and do. We also employed the old marketing proverb: “Email unto others as you would have them email unto you.”

Spam sucks. I only wish more people were annoyed by this scourge. It’s a marketing shortcut that undermines the efforts of other companies trying to grow their awareness the right way.

And when you think of emails as little invoices for your time, I’ll leave it to the words of Sweet Brown:”Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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