Buying Data? What You Need to Know About Data List Brokers

By Robin Cronan, 28th July 2014

So, you are thinking about buying a data list to support your direct marketing and lead generation initiatives, but how do you choose one data list broker over another?

To help you through your data list purchase we have created the following guide to keep you from paying too much, paying for what you already own or paying for what you do not need. We will also help you find a data list broker that provides quality, targeted data that yields the best results and ROI for you and your business.


Let us kick off with a nice easy way to test the quality of your potential data list brokers. Are they a member of the Direct Marketing Association? If not, find someone else!

TIP: Check your potential data list broker on the member’s directory of the Direct Marketing Association website. They may appear in the member’s directory but not necessarily under ‘Lists’ or ‘Data’ categories. Do not let this put you off, it is likely they have been categorised for other services they offer. Only be concerned if you cannot find them at all because it is likely they are not members.If they are not members they are under no obligation to conform to strict industry standards and codes of practice, and the quality of their data and services cannot be verified.


A lot of data list brokers are run by sales professionals who operate on a % of commission and their business model relies on their sales teams selling high volumes of data to maximise turnover and personal wealth. It is often the case that you only identify this type of data list broker once your purchase has been completed. However, try to avoid these data list brokers by insisting the data you purchase is targeted and relevant, not high volume. This will not only reduce the amount you pay for your data, it will reduce your subsequent direct marketing costs and increase response and conversion rates.

TIP: Make it clear up front that you are not looking for volume, instead you want a highly targeted list of data that is relevant to your campaign objectives and target audience. Insist on seeing evidence of additional fields of data that shows the records contain the characteristics, interests, behaviours or demographics you specifically want to target.


Now you have made it clear to your potential data list broker exactly what you want from them, it is time to investigate their pricing model.

The best data list brokers work on a flat fee instead of commission, so volume does not affect the price they quote for their services. These are the people you want to deal with. Better still, find a data list broker that works on a flat fee and presents transparent pricing for the data you are buying. You will be able to see exactly where any mark ups or additions have been included and you can be sure to trust them each and every time you need to buy data.

TIP: Ask up-front what their fee is and whether they work on commission or not. Their answer will give away their pricing model. If they operate a flat fee and are transparent with their pricing they will be happy to give you that information. If they squirm and wriggle it is best to move on!


OK, so you have made your objectives clear and laid down the law in terms of what you expect. You have even found a handful of brokers who work on a flat fee and are transparent with their pricing. Now you need to find out just how good their service is.

Many data list brokers will buy your data, add a mark-up and sell it on to you. After that you are on your own! But in almost all cases acquiring the data is just the start. You need to cross reference the new data against your existing data set to ensure compatibility of formats and other vital attributes. It is likely to need cleaning to ensure the format of the new data is the same as your existing data sets. For this you will need the services of a data bureau, but very few data list brokers will liaise with your data bureau to get your records cleaned.

Before you purchase your data find out if the data list broker works with, or is part of, a data bureau who can provide these services to you. If they are you are sure to receive a high quality service and timely delivery of your data. Without this, you may find yourself playing piggy-in-the-middle between two suppliers who blame each other for failures, delays, data inaccuracies and subsequent poor campaign performance.

TIP: Ask your data list broker how they process the data file to match your current formatting. This will force them to reveal whether they will do it, do it through a partner or leave it up to you. If it is the latter, you need to find another list broker.


You have already established your potential list broker will buy relevant and targeted data (not volume), they operate a flat fee and transparent pricing model and they work with, or are part of, a data bureau – no demand Nett Names deals!

Nett Names deals are where you only pay for the data records you use. The de-duplication work is done by the data bureau on behalf of the data list broker, which means that, instead of paying for the whole data set your data list broker has acquired, you only pay for the records that come out of the de-duplication process. Nett Names deals will save you a significant amount of money on your data costs because you will not be paying for data you already own.

TIP: If you have got this far, it is likely your data list broker is of a standard that will offer Nett Names deals. But do not take this as a given. Even if they can do this for you, a lot of data list brokers will not mention it unless you ask. Be assertive and demand Nett Names deals before you proceed!


So you are happy with your data list broker so far. They are committed to delivering relevant and targeted data, operate a flat fee and transparent pricing model, work with (or are part of) a data bureau and have agreed to buy data on a Nett Names basis. But before you give them the green light you need to make sure they have agreed the ‘hierarchy of lists’ with their suppliers.

Imagine you have appointed your data list broker but have not discussed the hierarchy of lists. Your list brokers go away and work flat out to find you the most targeted data for your campaign requirements and negotiated Nett Names deals with a number of data providers. Each provider has supplied a list and the data bureau is ready to cross-reference your data against these multiple data lists. Your data list broker now has 3 main choices for this process:

  1. Cheapest First
  2. Random
  3. Proportionate

The options listed relate to the hierarchy of lists. For example, let us imagine your data list broker has sourced 5 lists and ‘Joe Bloggs’ exists on all of them. All these lists need to be processed for de-duplication and the list that is chosen first typically contributes the most records to the final data set, hence that provider makes more money.

Cheapest First: This option selects the order in which these lists are cross-referenced based simply on their cost. This option is great for you because the data list broker will ensure the final list you purchase contains the lowest priced data. Data suppliers that offer low prices may insist the hierarchy of lists is ‘cheapest first’.

Random: This option selects lists completely at random. Data suppliers who offer low prices may not be happy to supply data if this option is to be employed, but might be more favourable to suppliers who offer more complete data sets (which cost more per record).

Proportionate: This option attempts to spread the cost amongst all the data suppliers, so if Joe Bloggs exists on all 5 data sets being cross-references, all those 5 suppliers will share the money paid for that record.

However, it is important to make sure your data list broker has negotiated the hierarchy of lists with their suppliers upfront. If they do not they may find all their hard work is undone at the de-duplication processing stage if their suppliers cannot agree on a methodology that suits all parties. The result for you is long delays and a less complete data set at the end of it all.

TIP: Ask a potential list broker how they will prioritise that lists they source when it comes to processing the data for de-duplication. Get them to explain their process to you and be sure to ask them if they have agree this with their suppliers? If they say yes, confirm it on email – you may need to refer to it later.


So your data list broker has passed all the tests. Moreover, you have a good relationship with developing. Finally, you have given them the green light to source your data. They have gone away and sourced the best possible data they can and now your list is ready for you to purchase. At this stage you will be presented with the following 3 rate options:

  1. Single-Use;
  2. Multiple Use;
  3. 12 Month Lease.

Data list brokers who are sales and commission focused will always push you towards single-use rates and high data volumes. However, this is both expensive and ineffective for your business and direct marketing objectives.

What your data list broker should be doing is working with you to develop a data strategy and utilise the best rate options for that strategy. For example, a data strategy could be shaped around the idea that you have previously bought data that performs extremely well, so you want to re-use that. Let us call this your ‘banker list’. In this case, your data list broker should negotiate a 12-month lease rate for that data.

You might then want to introduce some new data for your next campaign, but you do not know if this will be any good, and you do not want to be locked into a 12-month lease if it fails to deliver. So your data list broker should negotiate a single-use rate while you test its quality.

However, that data might later prove to have yielded good results for its first campaign, but it is still too early to lock into a 12-month lease. You data list broker in this instance should negotiate a multiple-use rate for you while you validate its quality.

Ultimately this means you will be paying as little as possible for your data, minimising the risk of being locked into longer contracts for data that fails to deliver. Simultaneously, you’ll ensure a robust data strategy where each campaign you do is made up of: a) test phase data (at single-use rates); b) validation phase data (at multiple-use rates) and; c) bank list data (at 12-month lease rates). The idea is that you qualify data and accumulate records to feed into your banker list, ensuring the best possible ROI on your data investments.

TIP: You should work with your data list broker to develop a data strategy that fits with your business and campaign objectives. They should offer you the best rate options for each phase of your strategy. If they keep pushing you towards single use, or pulling you away from 12 month lease deals, they may not be acting in your best interests.