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How to Build a Lead List

how to build a lead list

So far, you read the sales books and studied the different sales tools.

Now, I want to build on those concepts. I am going to walk you through how to build a lead list, completely from scratch.

My goal is to give you a process to follow, so that no matter what, you can book meetings and generate sales.

4 steps to build your lead list

Let me just say, I’d rather drink from a fire-hose of warm, qualified inbound leads every single day.

Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury 95% of the time. Hopefully, you do.

But if you don’t, this is a way to build a list of pre-qualified leads that you can warm up without the marketing team.

So, here’s what you do.

#1 Identify your ideal target customer

You need to do this first because this will determine where you find the leads in step 2.

The best way to identify your ideal customer is to analyze your existing customers. But if you don’t have any, then that’s all the more reason you need to get out there and talk to more people.

There are many more detailed posts on how to identify your ideal target customer (like this one by Greg Ciotti). However, I’m going to sum it up quickly:

Think About The ONE Person
Who Needs Your Product The Most!

Like if you were that person’s best friend, working in the same industry, you’d have to call them up and say: “hey, you really need to try this.”

That’s who you want to target.

I just spoke to the head of Sales Operations at Quri the other day (pronounced ‘cure-e’). They have 12-20 different attributes to identify their target customer.

The more detailed you are in this step, the more meaningful conversations you’ll have with the right people.

Some people call them influencers or decision makers. I like to call them “people just like you and me.”

As soon as you identify who to target, you can go find them. A lot of them!

#2 Choose a scalable source of leads

This concept kind of reminds me of a Warren Buffet quote: “when it’s raining gold, grab a bucket.”

Nowadays, with the possibilities online, it’s a lot easier to focus on one source with thousands of leads versus thousands of sources with only one lead each.

I already outlined the traditional data sources (where you can buy leads). So, let’s get a little more creative and try to get better results.

When my co-founder and I built EventChocolate, we targeted local event organizers that hosted at least 4 events per month with 50+ attendees.

Well, local event organizers need to sell tickets. How do they sell tickets?

They sell tickets through ticket management websites like Brown Paper Tickets. And as you can see, contact info is readily available on the website.

sales leads brownpaper tickets senator club

Lead source from Brown Paper Tickets

Since we knew we could help these event organizers and add lots of value to their business, there’s one thing we had to do.

We Scraped Over 7,500
Targeted Leads from One Website

At the time, my technical co-founder built the web scraper from scratch. But now, you don’t even need the programming chops to do it.

You can use tools like

This was only one source of leads for us to build a lead list. There are many more. Be creative.

Let’s go on.

#3 Collect and organize leads into a spreadsheet

This part is pretty straightforward. You need to organize your lead contact information.

At scale, this becomes more and more difficult. So, be organized from the beginning.

Here is a spreadsheet you can use to organize your leads. It includes the most fundamental fields of information: company, first name, last name, title, email, phone number, city, state, lead source and notes.

build a lead list spreadsheet template

Lead List – spreadsheet TEMPLATE (click to download)

No joke, this is the kind of spreadsheet used by top-tier investment banks to sell million and billion dollar companies.

I was surprised to discover that. But just goes to show you, it works.

Once you collect and organize the leads into a spreadsheet, you are ready to sell. Step 4 is not necessary, but it will boost your sales productivity.

#4 Import spreadsheet into your CRM

Some companies manage their entire sales process out of spreadsheets. I recommend you use a customer relationship management (CRM) solution.

Tawheed Kader, the CEO of ToutApp recently explained when it’s time for your company to move to a big boy CRM.

But, the whole point of a CRM is to streamline your communication between you and your leads. And track all that communication activity. That way, you have visibility into what’s going on in sales. Plus:

The CRM Data Will Show You
What’s Working Versus What’s Not

Nearly every CRM has an excel or csv import option. This is a screenshot inside the Salesforce dashboard.

lead list import salesforce senator club

Sample screenshot of CRM lead import

You can watch videos that explain each step for Salesforce here. It’s very straightforward.

Remember, if you are at an early stage company, this step is not essential. Your first priority is to get in front of customers immediately. Don’t waste time with fancy CRM solutions.


This process works. It’s the same process I use today to sell high-end enterprise SaaS software to Fortune 1000 companies. And it’s the same process I used when I was an investment banker to sell $25+ million dollar companies.

But shhhhh…it’s our secret.

Next time, I want to send you some information on cold emails. Specifically, how to send high converting cold emails (particularly for hard to reach people).

There are way too many things I wish I had known sooner – which I want to share with you.

Sound good?

26 Comments How to Build a Lead List

  1. Jordan says:

    Ian, are you kidding me? You’re on fire! This is sales gold.

  2. Ay says:

    This was a very good read Mr. Adams. My friend forwarded me your article after subscribing to your newsletter. I usually don’t sign up for sales newsletters because they are all saying the same thing. You are not like them. I have benefited very much from this.

  3. Shanna says:

    I guess I’m just missing how you got so many leads. I’m trying to figure out how I can use this information to generate lots of free leads for my business, but I’m drawing a blank. Darn it! Thanks for the information though. It seems to be helpful to others.

  4. I realize that selling pizza is a far cry from selling software but I see how these lessons can be applied to any product or service. Thank you for keeping my spirits up and helping me stay focused!

  5. Steve Bohne says:

    I am tying to sell books. I don’t understand how I can scrape email addresses of from a site. Excuse my ignorance.

    • Ian Adams says:

      Good point Steve. That may not be the best strategy for you. Digital books or physical books? I know Pat Flynn wrote a nice article on how he self published without spending very much.

  6. Amy Byrne says:

    Hi Ian,
    I am very intrigued by the information you are providing, but could you help me understand the best way to find individual consumers for our SeeDEGA Guitar Method products. Facebook has been a wash for me in trying to use targeted audiences and I know I’m missing something but can’t find the right direction to go with this. Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom!

    • Ian Adams says:

      Quite honestly Amy, I am most familiar with B2B sales. If I were in your shoes though, I’d spend a day or a week investigating all the forums, bloggers, instructors, local events, youtube channels, social networks, etc. Then whichever pools have the highest concentration of your target demographic, engage with them. Build genuine relationships and then make them great offers. Your time invested should be proportional to the size of the opportunity.

      • I want to thank you for being such a generous resource.
        I had a quick question.
        I do credit card processing. All of us salespeople (in cc processing) are basically the same. Some have an extra benefit or feature, but at the end of the day it seems people only buy from whom they know, like and trust.
        Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  7. James Wall says:


    Now everyone knows why my youngest son’s middle name is Ian.

    Thanks for the refresher!


  8. Rick Golden says:

    Great read! Keep it coming Ian!!

  9. Shashank says:

    hey there Ian. There’s just so much to learn here. I can’t thank you enough. I just finished my MBA Marketing, and i wish i had known all this earlier. Thanks again.

  10. Amos says:

    Hi there Ian.what is it that i can really do to improve my sales skills as a sales excutitive,who works for an IT company which sales computers?.Good morning

  11. kelvin gidion says:

    Thanx mr Ian for this topic it is sound so good. Big up bro. Keep it up for us.

  12. Joseph Kiragu says:

    I recently started working at leading insurance company here in Nairobi, Kenya. As a mechanical engineer I have had absolutely no past sales expirience. I came across your website as I was training myself online. I must say your tips and sales ideas have been very helpful and I don’t doubt I’ll build a successful sales career through this interaction. Thanks a lot!

  13. Anne says:

    Thank you Ian for the tips.
    I have a new line of Detergents,How do I move this into the large market.

  14. dev says:

    If you ever decide to write a book, it will be a ‘forever’ bestseller, guaranteed!

  15. veronica jin says:

    I learned a lot from this article, as i would like to switch my career from HR to sales.
    Thanks to your sharing I really started to have a passion to develop my experience further…..
    At the same time it really works!amazing.

  16. Moses T. says:

    Everyday I learn something new that I feel I should have known earlier. Keep up the good work Ian

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