Thoughts in Defense of Telemarketing

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With no-call lists springing up everywhere and the potential that cell phones soon will be targeted as easily as kitchen tables once were during dinnertime, telemarketing has come under even greater scrutiny.


Such reactions are understandable when it comes to an industry that devised the term "call center" to soften the blow of a stranger interrupting the next forkful of meatloaf. But that's not all telemarketing is about. Telemarketing has been and can be intrusive, but what about when it's used responsibly? Several pertinent thoughts should be considered.


Prequalifying leads boosts sales. Increasing sales productivity begins with the lead qualification process. Salespeople often are in a position where lead quality is suspect because of a lack of legitimate qualification. This boosts the cost of doing business, forcing sales to repurpose sales calls to qualify opportunities rather than focusing on closing a sale. This adds unnecessary marketing responsibility to the salesperson's duties. Salespeople are paid to sell, and marketers are paid to generate and qualify leads.


A way to raise sales productivity and reduce costs is to outsource lead qualification to a reputable telemarketing facility. By assigning lead qualification to telemarketing, the prospect universe can be stripped of those records that have no inclination to buy - creating a more targeted list. This makes related sales calls more cost-effective by eliminating nonproductive interaction.


Why telemarketing? Personal, flexible and adaptable to match individual needs, telemarketing adds depth to the process by enhancing data through account profiling. Even when a contact results only in an updated name or e-mail address, the call can be considered a success. Enhanced records give sales staff targeted information that can be leveraged for various purposes, and prequalified leads represent low hanging fruit that can be picked with greater efficiency.


Prequalifying leads by telemarketing stabilizes the sales call, providing insight and direction for sales representatives. With lead qualification out of the way, sales calls become cost-efficient and more productive. When prequalified leads make good on their expressed needs, telemarketing investment is far outweighed by associated savings and new business.


Short- vs. long-term objectives.Like any direct marketing method, the thought process behind outbound telemarketing is simple: uncover business opportunity, identify a need and make a sale. But unlike direct mail, broadcast e-mail or Web initiatives, where program duration and goals typically are short-term and focus on immediate needs, telemarketing programs can be structured to stay active for extended periods, making it possible to revisit opportunities qualified through prior contact.


In general, telemarketing's value increases over time, and program expectations should be based on the quantity of data and the number of telemarketing hours purchased. List quality is vital, but hard to determine upfront. Then it becomes a question of math. How many estimated dials per hour will the call center complete? Have you budgeted enough hours to contact your entire database? If so, how many times will you be able to make contact?


Depending on a program's objective, sufficient hours to perform a single pass may be all that's needed to generate qualified, actionable leads. Appointments can be set, and enhanced data can be leveraged for subsequent marketing efforts. Dormant accounts can be profiled, and trade shows can receive much-needed pre- and post-show attention. What about prospective customers who request to be contacted again? Who follows up on these leads?


Though a single pass, compensating for time constraints, can identify immediate needs, multi-phase programs provide for an ongoing dialogue that can grow opportunities. Soft leads generated through outbound telemarketing need to be revisited and further qualified over time. By outsourcing the task of converting soft leads into hard leads, sales reps can focus on selling instead of qualifying prospects.


Though every program differs, you can get out of telemarketing only what you put into it. It's not like direct mail where a no-frills, down-and-dirty mailing may shatter expectations and take on legendary status by receiving greater than anticipated response. Telemarketing requires patience and an understanding that today's calls may be tomorrow's opportunities. When provided with enough hours for support, telemarketing justifies itself over time, affording strong return on investment.


Customer retention and a lot more. If your organization is like most, a substantial portion of your business comes from existing customers. Retaining those customers while gaining new business is crucial to your growth. It takes a lot less effort to expand existing accounts than to secure new ones, and the ability to maintain strong relationships affects profitability. Used properly, telemarketing can be a powerful customer retention tool and an invaluable way to identify new opportunities within your customer base.


The first step in using telemarketing for retention is to develop an open strategy that allows the discipline's potential to be experienced. Call center reps will be able to engage accounts in an enhanced dialogue. Telemarketing is best suited for just such a task, as only telemarketing offers the flexibility to maneuver and adapt its message to accommodate the various needs of current and former customers.


Retention via telemarketing is often most effective when positioned as a proactive customer satisfaction initiative. By taking time to conduct an outbound customer satisfaction campaign, your business can take advantage of trained call center reps who profile your customer database to uncover and assess opportunity. While accounts are visited in the guise of customer satisfaction, customer service situations can be identified. These unique, proactive encounters let call center reps fix and/or address customer service issues, leading to increased customer satisfaction, positive feedback and even referrals.


Telemarketing, when leveraged for customer retention, creates various cross- and upsell opportunities. Customers in a buying cycle may be identified and apprised by call center reps regarding developments such as product/service updates or new/discontinued offerings. Once qualified through telemarketing, these prospects can be contacted later by sales staff.


Customer retention programs have become an essential part of relationship management strategy, with telemarketing the leading choice when seeking a personal, targeted medium that can transform itself for greater value. Growing your business through an outbound retention program creates multiple opportunities while relying on a single investment in marketing.


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