Integrating Outbound Telemarketing Into Your E-Commerce Plans

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Outbound telemarketing is a terrific media choice if you are trying to build awareness and support for a new e-commerce Web site. New business managers at telemarketing agencies have had their phones ringing off the hook with dot-com companies that want to use outbound telemarketing to turn their e-commerce start-ups into the next Amazon, Yahoo, Priceline or eBay.


Unless you are sitting on a mile-high pile of venture capital cash, you can't afford the kind of national broadcast advertising campaign it would now take to break through the clutter and get the attention of the marketplace. This is particularly true for business-to-business marketers that serve small vertical markets.


In the past few days alone, I heard from a brick-and-mortar retailer that is looking to make 2 million calls to inform people of its new Web site, capture e-mail addresses and secure permission to send them information. I also spoke to three regional telecom service providers, each of which want to use outbound telemarketing to sell high-speed Internet access, Web site design or hosting services to small businesses.


I even received a call from the owner of an online hotel advertising and reservation service that claims to be receiving a 46 percent response to a broadcast fax campaign to link hotels to the site for $99. I noted that if those response numbers were true, there was no way outbound telemarketing could match the order acquisition cost. The owner said she wanted to do outbound telemarketing anyway. She said that sending the faxes and processing the response were too time consuming, and she was afraid a competitor would beat her to the market.


As everyone knows, securing permission is the current mantra for e-mail marketers. No company wants to be perceived as a spammer. Here's how one company solved the permission problem: It used outbound telemarketing to call a vertical market of small manufacturers to inform them about a new industry e-marketplace where they could buy and sell equipment. It was able to deliver more than 15,000 live advertising messages in less than a week, and the conversion percentage on securing permission to send additional information via e-mail was more than 75 percent.


This is just one example of the types of applications being proposed for outbound telemarketing in support of e-commerce. And with so much new testing in progress, it's more important than ever to keep your attention focused on what I call the five essential keys for outbound telemarketing success:


• A highly targeted list.


• An irresistible offer.


• A high-quality product or service.


• Excellent and efficient fulfillment, customer service, billing and collections.


• A well-trained and closely managed telephone sales representative.


The most important key is to have a highly targeted list. It's been proved time and again that without the right list of eligible prospects, it will not matter how well you do with the other elements of the promotion. Fortunately, many excellent lists are coming on the market on both the consumer and BTB sides. In particular, the big compilers, like infoUSA, Dun & Bradstreet and Polk, have been doing an excellent job of keeping their data up-to-date and accurate. There really is no excuse for settling for poor list selection and segmentation techniques. Unfortunately, the house file, which should be a gold mine of future business activity, is still a black hole of disconnected data for many marketers. If this rings true for you, fixing this problem should be your top priority.


The second most important key to success is to craft an irresistible offer. In most cases, that means employing an absolute satisfaction guarantee that you can promote as a risk-free trial. A prospect responding to an outbound call will always perceive some level of risk because he did not initiate the call. Remember, the classic marketing response to a perceived risk is a risk-free offer.


Of course, at some point the customer will evaluate your product or service using a price-value judgment process. It had better live up to the promise you made on the phone, or your relationship with the customer will be short-lived.


Assuming that you have the first three keys in place, you can turn your attention to fulfillment, customer service, billing and collections. Very often this is where most of the money is made or lost. We have seen too many promotions that failed because there was an unknown operational flaw that was not discovered early on. You should always place test orders early and often, and be prepared to move quickly to solve any problems.


The final key is the part that your telecenter staff or agency will provide. If you use a high-quality operation, it should be the most reliable part of your marketing equation.


Paying close attention to these five keys will pay big dividends, regardless of whether you are promoting a $10 introductory shipment to a children's book continuity program or are generating leads for a $10,000 e-business solution.


• Rich Simms is development manager of the software and video division at DialAmerica Marketing Inc., Mahwah, NJ, a full-service inbound and outbound telemarketing service bureau.

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