Behind the curtain of bulk data suppliers: The questions you should be asking

Bulk data providers are often the first suppliers you’re likely to approach when looking for new B2B leads or prospect data. They have a firm grip on the market and are impossible to ignore due to their size, scale, and scope. They promote themselves as having the largest volume of contacts, the widest reach, and a rich background of information for their records.

The smooth sales calls and slick presentations do not accurately represent what’s behind the curtain of how these organisations collect and maintain their data. Once you scratch under the surface and know the right questions to ask, you can quickly discover that this might not be the silver bullet solution to your data troubles.

We took part in a 60-minute sales call with a representative of one of the most well-known global bulk data providers. We were also given 2-weeks access to sample their dashboard to search and select contacts.

We’ve summarised our findings in this article to establish how you can approach these suppliers by asking the right questions which have been comprised by industry experts. They will help you scratch beneath the surface and get a more accurate understanding of the investment you’re making in order to improve your media organisation’s marketing outreach.

Using the dashboard


We had 14-days access to the provider’s dashboard which allowed us to access and test 50 records with their executive email addresses. Here are some suggestions to make the most of this sample.

Find and assess how your organisation is represented

To get an early assessment of the quality of data, check how your own organisation looks on their database. Is there any inaccurate or outdated information such as operating address, employee count or turnover? Can you see your own contact profile and how does that match? Taking note of these is an efficient way of using a familiar company as a case study.

Look at the largest companies

Quite often, the largest global organisations are also useful to look at. Organisations with thousands of employees are notoriously difficult to keep up-to-date. Nearly all providers are using automation to trawl through online sources to gather volume rather than accurate and valid data.

Within 1 minute of looking at ‘’ employees, we found inaccurate data. For example, hundreds of ‘founder and/or director’ job titles. Once these were cross-examined, we saw these contacts belonged to completely different companies such as dentists in India or florists in New York. All had supposedly validated executive ‘’ emails by their name.

Specify your search terms

Test the database by specifying your unique target audience. Factors such as geography, specific job titles, organisation types and sizes are the easiest ways to find and match your organisation’s unique target audience. In our test, we wanted to find ‘Health and Safety Directors’ within a 50-mile radius of Manchester. The database gave us an initial shortlist of 3,000 contacts. Once we pulled the research and analysed it, a task of 3 hours, we could only find 8 contacts with that job title. All others were irrelevant.

Approaching your call


The sample use of the dashboard gave us insight into the realities of using this bulk data provider ahead of what would be promoted to us on an exploratory call. We’ve made a shortlist of questions you should be asking to get a more accurate understanding of where this data comes from and how it’s maintained.

Can you tell me where you specifically source your data, and how do those sources acquire it?

Today, with GDPR, it is vital that you know where your data is sourced from so you don’t mistakenly breach GDPR compliance. At The Data Business, for example, we source all our data first-hand using an open-source method. Bulk providers nearly always harvest contacts at volume through third parties.

This supplier utilises a B2B software review website which pulls contacts including emails and phone numbers from users. One key issue here is that there is nothing stopping a ‘contact’ from putting details such as a personal mobile phone number, which you may end up reaching with a promo call, resulting in an awkward and unwelcome interaction.

With the public awareness of GDPR, it’s unlikely that a contact will knowingly consent to their data being placed on a bulk data list. Something that you should be prepared for should they make a subject access request (SAR).

What is the size and structure of your human quality-checking team?

bulk data

As of writing, there is no automated scraping technology on the market which can pick up and correct inaccuracies as thoroughly as a well-trained human researcher. Human research is how we guarantee the highest quality data builds and maintenance. This is a good test for any data provider.

This bulk list company promotes that it employs 1,000 data researchers to help update a database of 140 million contacts. We know from experience that this is an unrealistic resource capacity to even come close to achieving a high standard of data accuracy.

How do you specifically define your email accuracy?

Email accuracy needs to be at the forefront of your decision for a data supplier. It’s so crucial in not only making sure you’re reaching the right contacts but is also a key tool to know if that contact is still working at their organisation.

Bulk providers will often promote 95%+ accuracy for the hundreds of millions in their contact database. With databases typically depreciating at 30% per year, the cost of maintaining this would be astronomical.

The supplier in this study, ‘tiers’ their email data into A+, A, B, and C grades. With a premium charge for the top end. We tested a selection of these emails through our own process and found only a 60% validity rate from this sample.

Similarly, an attributed email address might pass a test, but the accuracy of the contact related to the organisation (such as the Apple example) does not define it as correct. You would be reaching a contact completely unrelated to the company assigned to them.

How does your database compare to the specific requirements of my target audience?

As we suggested earlier, it is highly advised to scope out your organisation’s specific target audience ahead of contacting a supplier. The demonstration should be your opportunity to drill down into how well that database will work for your needs, not how best you can compromise with what’s available.

The Data Business turns this concept on its head by only ever providing a bespoke data build specifically following a client’s brief, removing the time and effort of this task.

Bulk lists often fail to provide a precise target audience, instead, they boost the volume with general and junior contacts which are much easier to gather. As part of your demo, you should ask the rep to map out the process of collecting your audience. Draw up a profile based on the following:

  • Organisation types
  • Target job titles and seniority
  • Geography
  • Organisation size
  • The number of contacts per organisation

If it’s too good to be true


You know your industry better than anyone, if the results seem limited, or too good to be true, don’t be hesitant to scrutinise and look to ask follow-up questions.

You should be aware that bulk data suppliers often focus on volume at the sacrifice of quality data. A key part of deciding whether bulk data is right for you is understanding how much internal time is taken up by your team when searching for the nuggets of gold hidden in large volumes. This regularly overlooked factor is a significant cost of using bulk data and is often not thought about until an annual subscription is signed.

We emphasise that there is no silver bullet to solving the issue of data. Cheap data usually equates to poor data, and trying to grow your business through using poor data seriously undermines growth efforts.