Small Telemarketing Firm Looks to Future With BTB

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A lead-qualifying campaign for a software company has led teleservices provider Marketlink to start a full-time business-to-business division.

Marketlink, Des Moines, IA, which previously had handled strictly business-to-consumer projects, was asked last year by a local maker of business software programs to qualify its list of 1,100 prospective businesses. The small software company had a direct sales force of only two agents and wanted to maximize the value of their time by contacting only the best prospects.

The teleservices firm handpicked about a half-dozen of the most experienced and trusted members of its call center agent force of 250 for the project. They qualified 7 percent of the software firm's list who said they were interested in software packages costing about $2,000.

The first contact made by the software firm's direct sales agents to a prospect qualified by Marketlink led to a sale of $45,000. In one sale, the firm earned back the money it had invested in the teleservices program.

The software firm's president, who had been skeptical of using telemarketing in his company's sales efforts, personally brought a cake to Marketlink's offices as a sign of gratitude.

Marketlink decided to add BTB telemarketing to its arsenal permanently. Its new division, dubbed Businesslink, has 16 full-time agents.

Business-to-business telemarketing projects tend to involve lower call volumes and higher average sales than consumer telemarketing, said Brian Weber, Businesslink director. However, BTB telemarketing agents also face greater challenges.

First, the products they sell tend to be much more expensive and complex than are generally found in consumer telemarketing. In one current Businesslink project, agents are pitching investment packages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to high-income professionals.

Business-to-business agents generally have more education than consumer agents and must be highly trained. At a minimum, Businesslink agents spend 10 times as many hours in training than their consumer division counterparts, Weber said.

Agents also must learn how to get past the screeners -- the secretaries and assistants who block access to the decision-maker with the power to approve a sale -- and the art of conversational telemarketing.

"A highly scripted call is really the kiss of death," said John Miksich, Marketlink president/CEO. "As a CEO myself, I don't have time for that. It's an instant tip-off that the person doesn't know what they're talking about."

Marketlink will continue to grow its business-to-consumer telemarketing business and plans to open its fourth call center in Fairmont, MN, next month. However, the company sees great growth potential in BTB telemarketing.

The BTB division staff will be doubled to 32 agents by year's end, and Marketlink expects to double the staff again by the end of 2002.

One reason BTB marketing is attractive to teleservices firms is that many restrictive state and federal telemarketing regulations apply only to consumers. The growth of telemarketing legislation, such as state do-not-call lists, is making business-to-consumer telemarketing more complicated.

"Just keeping up with that stuff is a chore," Miksich said, "let alone complying."


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