How to Get 4-10x ROI in Email Marketing Without Building a List

Most people don’t actually know how to use email marketing.

They look at it the same way as they do social media. Since it’s (virtually) free, and people are following me, I can just talk all about me … right?

Not so much.

I recently interviewed Doug Morneau, bestselling author of Three Big Lies: The Real Truth about Renting Email Lists to Generate Targeted Leads and Sales and host of the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast.

We talked all about “sponsored emails,” a form of email marketing that helps you capitalize on a ready and willing audience that you don’t have to build yourself.

Here’s what he had to say.

Why It’s So Risky to Only Advertise on Social Media

The risk in social media marketing is that you don’t own the platform. If your audience got up and left, you might not be able to find them. Or if Facebook deems that you’re no longer a suitable business client, you could lose everything you’ve worked for.

That’s the extreme side, obviously. The more realistic danger today is that there are lots of changes to what social platforms consider “acceptable advertising.”

For example, a health and wellness ad ran on Facebook, showing a middle-aged woman of average weight on a scale, wearing a long-sleeve shirt and shorts down to her knees. Facebook suspended the ad and cancelled the credit card because they said their audience found it offensive. In the view of some people, standing on a scale offends people who might be overweight.

There seems to be a threshold of complaints that, if crossed, will cause Facebook to cancel an ad. If you want to re-advertise on Facebook, you have to get a new credit card and set up a new account.

While annoying, it’s not that difficult to do. Where things get tougher is that platforms are starting to make decisions about what sort of content is not acceptable.

For example, Google recently announced that if you have a drug or alcohol rehab program, they’re not going to allow you to advertise with pay-per-click anymore until they can verify the success of your clinic. Same with any ads mentioning “cryptocurrency.” They’re worried that somebody will click on the ad, invest in the company, lose money, then sue them.

The point is, there’s a lot out of your control. So the best thing you can do with people, beyond engaging with them person to person, is to get them on an email list.

What is “List Renting” (a.k.a. Sponsored Email)?

“Your advertising can be as long as it needs to be to get the job done … as long as it’s not boring.”


“List renting” is not the same as purchasing data. Instead, it’s buying media and advertising with a publisher for their existing email list.

When you rent a list, you never see the data; you don’t have access to it. You sign a contract with a publisher (e.g., The Washington Post) to have them send your marketing message out to your audience.

Perhaps a better word for “list renting” in this day and age is “sponsored email.” You never see the list. It’s not loaded up to your email service provider. You’re just buying an ad.

There are three kinds of ads you can buy in an email:

  1. A banner ad
  2. A text ad
  3. Solo ads (the kind Doug recommends most)

In solo ads, the entire content of the email is all about you. However, the publisher states that this is advertising and they’re not endorsing you.

You want the content to look and feel similar to what subscribers are already getting. There’s also no defined length you need to make the message. Your advertising can be as long as it needs to be to get the job done … as long as it’s not boring.

Three Ways to Do Email Marketing

There are three ways to try email marketing:

1) Your own list

The most important thing you can do with your own list is to make sure you have a welcome message where you tell people what to expect. “You’ll get three emails a week, they’ll be short with no fluff, etc.”

The reasons you do that:

Your audience expects it.
The first email will have the highest open rate in the history of any email you send to your list.

2) Cold emailing

Scraping data and sending cold emails is a common way to market. But Doug sees a whole host of problems with this approach. “Not going to jail” is chief among them.

If you’re compliant (and at no risk of serving jail time) your next concern should be your cost in time and resources. Also, what is the risk for your sender reputation and your brand by talking to people who don’t know you?

3) Sponsored emails

The subscribers on a sponsored email have a permission-based relationship with the brand that’s sending them messages. They’ve opted in and are used to getting emails from the brand. It’s not a surprise when your email shows up.

Whether or not you pay attention to what they’re used to getting and craft your messaging accordingly, will determine your ROI.

A Practical Test for Sponsored Emails

“Set bigger goals. All barriers are imaginary.”


If a brand’s email list has 600,000 people on it, you don’t necessarily have to send a message to everyone on it.

Find a couple of lists that fit your audience. Do a really small test. Find out what is the minimum number you can send.

Gauge the response. If it’s good and you get your money back on the first send, do another test, doubling the number but changing the subject line in half of the second batch. You’re likely to get your money back on the second round, too, and then you’ll have some intelligence on your subject line.

Then look at other lists that have the same demographic and try there. You’ll have a way to scale up your business ridiculously fast.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Doug Morneau, author of Three Big Lies. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to B2B Revenue Executive Experience.

If you don’t use Apple Podcasts, you can listen to episodes here.

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