One Call, Multiple Sales Opportunities

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The best-laid plans of mice and direct response marketers often go awry somewhere between the consumer dialing a toll-free number and a telemarketing services' ability to process and drive a high enough percentage of callers to close.


It's a fact of life in direct response that emphasis is often placed on creative/offer development and media buying, with little time spent on planning and managing the inbound sales call.


That's ironic, given that the inbound sales call is a medium that, like radio or TV, must be managed and controlled. The better an organization does at meeting call volume, capturing data, presenting upsells/cross-sells and closing calls, the better the economics of any direct response campaign. If you are considering a direct response program, here are some tips to give you the best odds for converting callers into buyers.


Choose a call center that is right for you. Capacity is a major issue, especially since incoming call volume is often unpredictable. For instance, the nature of direct response television requires marketers to buy immediately pre-emptible time with no guarantee of when or if the ad might run. Consequently, call volumes can vary greatly.


As an example, a national TV spot on a cable network for a direct response, lead generation campaign can easily generate 500 or more inbound inquiries, 85 percent of which will hit within the first three minutes of airing. If a call center handles 10 similar accounts, therein lies the potential for 4,000 to 5,000 incoming telephone calls hitting within the same three minutes.


You need to work with call centers that have significant DRTV experience and large staffs that offer 24/7 coverage and can man the phones regardless of when ads clear. Using a center not experienced in handling these bursts may result in callers receiving busy signals, hearing a ring with no answer or being dumped into a queue. Each dropped call undermines a marketer's potential return on investment.


Lesson learned: Make sure your call center has experience handling large volumes of calls and can accommodate your demand, as well as the demand of others.


Play the numbers game. In a world where every call translates into dollars, telephone numbers take on new importance. The first task is choosing your toll-free number, starting with the prefix. New prefix options, including 866, 877 and 888, have made more toll-free numbers available. However, they are not as effective as the 800 prefix, which outperforms all available alternatives by 20 percent to 25 percent. Recent campaigns have shown that a percentage of callers will dial 800 first regardless of the advertised prefix.


Another consideration is whether to use a numeric toll-free number or a vanity number. Vanity or mnemonic numbers in some way include a keyword for the product when entered on a telephone touchpad, such as 1-800-GOLFING. While mnemonic numbers work well for radio, where listeners often must remember a number after hearing it in their cars, they can depress television response by as much as 25 percent. This is because mnemonic numbers are more difficult to dial, and television leaves a visual imprint with an expectation of immediate response.


Also, when choosing your number, consider the tradeoffs in using a single national pneumonic number as opposed to a variety of toll-free numbers. While a single number may prove more memorable, it doesn't allow you to monitor response by station. A menu of toll-free numbers keyed to specific stations provides a simple, effective way to monitor station response to maximize your campaign.


Lesson learned: Use those numbers that best support your sales process and need for campaign intelligence.


Screen and prequalify. Every smart marketer must qualify quickly to optimize sales efforts and see the greatest possible return on investment. But how you qualify calls depends on your call to action. For instance, if your call to action is to buy and buy now, then the prescreening, which increasingly relies on interactive voice response systems, is made all the easier. A simple direction, such as: "If you are ready to place an order, press 1" may be all that's required.


But if your call to action focuses on lead generation, you may need to gather information that helps you identify and develop the profile of the most likely buyer. Your pre-screening could include any number of questions, such as: Do you own your home? What is your age? These questions are valuable in identifying which leads to pursue for fulfillment and which leads to drop.


Lesson learned: Focus on identifying and selling to those most likely to spend, and remember that the more time you talk, the more money it costs you.


Master the upsell, and don't forget the downsale. The goal of your inbound program should be not simply to close as many sales as possible, but to leverage and maximize your investment through upselling.


How do you get the most out of that investment? Test. Continuous testing and refinement of the entire script is required to optimize the sale. Creating and modifying the upsell is part of that process. For instance, by suggesting a simple two-for-one offer or free shipping, you can increase incremental sales as much as 25 percent.


When all else fails, the downsell can be just as effective in generating incremental revenue during an inbound call. So if customers reject a two for one offer on the upsell, a discount on a refill may be just what they're looking for. And remember, you can change your script often in pursuit of the perfect pitch.


Lesson learned: Invest time and effort testing and refining the telemarketing script to generate as much revenue as possible from each order, using the upfront offer as well as your back-end upsell.


View technology as judge and jury. As low tech as a phone call may seem in 2002, technology plays the ultimate role in determining whether a direct response campaign is successful. That's because a call center's ability to answer calls, source, sell, provide accurate data, manage overall volume levels and report results is vital to the effectiveness of a campaign. Smart direct response marketers mine the data provided from the call center, daily, to continually adjust their media buying.


Lesson learned: Choose call centers with integrated technologies that can capture information from high volumes of calls and then deliver accurate data that you can use to adjust, refine and optimize campaigns.


In the pursuit of direct response success, remember that it's not only about the creative offer and media buying. Manage the inbound sales call, a medium in its own right that demands planning and precision in order to maximize returns and transform a single call into multiple sales opportunities.


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