Do's and Don'ts for BTB Calls

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When the economy tanked a few years ago, many companies hit the phones in a mad scramble to replace business that was going away. Now many firms are hitting the phones in a mad scramble to capture some of the newly loosened dollars.

What can we learn from the bad times that we can apply profitably now as we market and sell by phone?

Here's a list of what didn't work:

· Cold calling. Because it sounds too much like consumer telemarketing, most business prospects resist cold calls. A businesswoman here in Austin, TX, put it this way: "If you get me on the phone, I must have made a mistake!" Indeed, cold calling produces the lowest ROI of any phone marketing application.

· Generic, undifferentiated calling to high-level contacts.

· Out-of-context campaigns and offers. Customers and prospects want what we present to them to make sense in their business life and timetable, not ours.

· Asking outbound reps to make 100 dials a day. Dials without resulting conversations mean nothing.

· Directing inbound reps to make outbound calls "when they have time." Layoffs led to smaller phone staffs, so the remaining reps often struggled to keep up with inbound calls.

· Over-automation. To reduce costs, too many firms replaced live people with automated response systems. And don't we all love automated response systems.

· Disguising sales calls as surveys. Deception eventually destroys the deceiver regardless of the economy.

These techniques scored "style points" but little or no actual business:

· Well-rehearsed prerecorded "call me back" messages left on prospects' phone mail. The return rate remained under 4 percent.

· Narrative marketing messages left overnight for prospects to listen to in the morning. After clearing spams from their e-mail and dozens of phone messages, the last thing prospects wanted was storytelling.

What worked and will continue to work:

· Behavioral and affinity lists, not demographic or segment lists. Behavioral lists are based on verbs in addition to SIC code; e.g., grew by n%, merged, moved, etc. Affinity lists are based on recent purchases of related products or services. Such lists cost more but perform much better.

· Diligent pre-call planning, especially a 30-second visit to the prospect's Web site to learn what they do and how they market themselves. A little homework beats "tell me a little about your business" every time.

· Relevant-event marketing. Make calls of inquiry or exploration based on an organization's events or news that move them into your sphere of better-than-average prospects and on which you can build a conversation.

· Lose the pitches, hype and feature-dumps and ask meaningful questions instead.

· Get really good at multimedia marketing: phone plus e-mail plus live Web site tours and, for software, customized, guided, online product demos.

· Encourage marketing-sales coordination. The two disciplines may never love each other, but the more closely they collaborate, the better off you and your customers will be.

· Provide for time. Market and sell with vigor and enthusiasm tempered with humility and patience.


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