FMAC Lets Callers Hear Testimonials, Talk to Reps

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In a newly launched test, FMAC, a Los Angeles-based specialty lender, is trying to link its strategy of testimonial advertising directly to its sales representatives.


The test involves interactive testimonials, in which prospects dial phone numbers listed on advertisements for the company's financing packages and use an interactive voice response unit to select the testimonials they would like to hear, transfer to a sales representative, or provide information in exchange for a free road atlas (because FMAC will help put you on the map). The testimonials can also be accessed on the company's Web site at www.fmax.com.


The concept was created by the Austin Lawrence Group, Stamford, CT, the company's advertising agency for the past two years. Austin Lawrence started FMAC on the approach of using testimonials in its advertising.


"For January 1999 we wanted to refresh our plan," said Kelly Sutton, advertising manager for FMAC. "We wanted to stay with testimonials but we wanted a new look."


FMAC, which offers financing to franchised businesses, found testimonials work well because its customer base consists of a tight community of people who frequently know each other.


"(Testimonials) are customer-service driven, and our customers speak to each other. It's a very close-knit group and they all belong to associations where they network and share ideas," Sutton said.


The company is initially testing the concept with its restaurant sector and energy sector (which includes gas stations, truck stops, and lube shops), and plans to expand the program into its funeral sector after the test period.


The toll-free number for accessing testimonials and sales representatives has been advertised through vertical trade magazines. Ads for the company's restaurant financing division appeared in publications such as National Restaurant News, Chain News, Restaurant Business and inhouse publications such as newsletters sent to all franchisees of Wendy's and other chains. For the energy sector, ads were placed in the Journal of Petroleum Marketing and Nation's Petroleum News as well as inhouse and regional publications.


Prospective customers who wanted to be transferred to sales representatives, which the company calls marketing vice presidents, or wanted to provide information in exchange for the road atlas were asked qualifying questions by teleservices representatives from third-party vendor Direct TeleSource, so they could be scored on the basis of their interest and need. Questions included how many units they owned, how much financing they would need, and how immediate their need was, said Sutton.


"Many of our clients don't have their own inhouse call centers, so by adding a teleservices center to capture information the leads can be prioritized and qualified so that the sales people can get the best ones" said Ken Lempit, president of Austin Lawrence Group.


Because FMAC is a financing company, prospects generally expect qualifying questions and are not bothered by them, he said.


For Lempit, the concept is exciting because of the convergence of different forms of media and because of its ability to deliver prospects to the company more directly.


"The goal of most of our clients is return on investment oriented," he said. "Most want to see advertising turn into leads and sales, and by taking a lead and delivering it to the sales staff, we are taking a step out of the process between advertising and bottom-line sales."


While FMAC had not yet assessed results of the weeks-old test, Sutton said the company received leads the first week.


"Some of the people featured in testimonials have become somewhat of celebrities in the business," she said, explaining that colleagues have called customers from testimonials directly to ask about the company. n
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