Strategies Key to New Technology, Telemarketers Told

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TAMPA, FL -- Outbound telemarketers must develop strategies to keep up with new consumer technology that is changing the way people receive telephone calls, an industry panel told attendees yesterday at Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Marketing Conference.


Cellular phones, Caller ID and call-screening services available to consumers represent new opportunities and challenges for outbound telemarketing, panel members said. Caller ID services are becoming more common, and many phones available to consumers today have the feature built in.


Telecommunications providers are also beginning to offer call-screening services, often called "privacy managers," that intercept calls that don't show up on Caller ID before they reach consumers.


Cell phones are becoming more common, and in some European and Asian countries many consumers have replaced their land lines with cell phones. The popularity of cell phones raises the question of whether placing outbound calls to cell phones is proper, said panel moderator Richard Simms, development manager for DialAmerica Marketing, Mahwah, NJ.


Panel member Joel Linchitz, president of Phone For Success, New York, said he believed calling cell phones is legitimate when applied to business-to-business marketing. For example, prospects in the construction industry are often away from their land lines and don't mind receiving business solicitations by cell phone, Linchitz said.


But panel member Paul Glancy, vice president of The Martin Agency, Richmond, VA, said that evidence of cell phones causing automobile accidents and even cancer could lead to lawsuits against telemarketers who call cell phones.


"I think the idea of going out to cell phones is the dumbest idea I've ever heard," Glancy said.


Within the industry, lower long-distance costs are making it possible to market to American consumers from overseas call centers, leading the industry to move jobs out of the United States. Also, while predictive dialer technology has not changed within the last decade, consumer concerns about the technology are leading some lawmakers to call for regulation and even outright bans on predictive dialers.


"Legislation is going to come if we're not careful," said panel member Jon Hamilton, president of JHA Telemanagement, Unionville, PA. "Legislators are going to say it's wrong. They're going to ban it."


However, with clients demanding higher call volumes and seeing improved sales rates from the use of predictive dialers, telemarketers have become dependent on the technology, Glancy said.


"We're a victim of our own success," Glancy said. "The dialers actually worked. Now it's really hard to get out of it."


While challenges to marketing success are increasing, outbound telemarketing remains a mainstay of the direct marketing, Simms said.


Outbound telemarketing last year represented approximately $73 billion in spending and 5.7 million employees compared to $45 billion in spending and 4.1 million employees in direct mail, according to the DMA


"We're a vital and important part of the overall industry," Simms said.


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