High-Ticket TV Offers Need Strong Telesales Support

In the not-too-distant past, it used to be rare that a DRTV product was offered for more than $19.95. Today, fitness machines priced for almost $1,000 are routinely sold not only through infomercials, but also DRTV spots.

Even more impressive, a number of products and services are selling for several thousand dollars through back-end programs initiated by DRTV. Certainly, there are many steps involved in making these high-end programs work, from creating an effective infomercial to ensuring quick fulfillment — but perhaps no link in the chain is more important than what happens at the call center, where the sale is actually closed.

Higher-priced products require a dedicated approach to maximize effectiveness. Successful telesales programs focus on these key areas:

Choose a call center that can sell your product. No matter how good your call-to-action is, a high-priced product is going to bring in potential customers who need questions answered before they purchase. Other callers may have doubts and want more information.

Because these kinds of sales are more complex than simplistic “order-taking,” a sales-driven call center is necessary. It should be staffed with highly trained Telesales Consultants (TSC's) and equipped with leading-edge telecommunications equipment to facilitate the selling process. Previously, such call centers were rare. Now several companies have entered this specialized sector to meet the changing needs of the DRTV industry.

Choose your call center based on the bottom line, not cost per order. A sales-driven call center will often charge a premium to offset the added cost of providing increased sales training and technical support. A higher cost per order can often be a real bargain if it comes with an equally higher rate of conversions and up-sells. The true measure of a call center is the advertising-to-sales ratio, which basically indicates the level of sales for every media dollar spent.

Test your call center. Many DRTV marketers would never dream of running a campaign without testing the media, the price and the creative. It's just as important to put this same research into choosing a call center.

Call center sales are not a commodity. Just as testing media points out the best buys, testing call centers will also maximize your results. Modern telephone technology makes it very easy to do comparative testing of call centers, splitting inbound phone calls generated from the same media. In today's DRTV environment, a small bump in conversions can easily make the difference between a two-to-one ratio and a three-to-one conversion ratio. A higher ratio leads to a continued roll out.

Develop a partnership with your telesales center. Once you have chosen the best company for your campaign, the closer you work with that company, the better your results will be. Some of the key areas to address are:

* Media Planning. If your campaign is going well and you plan to ramp up spending, give your schedulers as much notice as possible so that they can train the additional TSC's you will need. Otherwise, increased call volume will have to be routed to under-trained TSC's.

* Training. No one knows your product and your customers as well as you do. Provide sufficient documentation or even attend training sessions yourself, so that the TSC's are equipped to talk knowledgeably about your product and provide good service to your customers.

* Dedicated lines. Insist on not going into a pool with other advertisers' campaigns. Dedicated lines not only improve the quality of your media reporting, they also allow the TSCs to prepare for the sales presentation before they pick up the phone, and answer with a product-specific greeting.

Incentive Programs. Talk to your account executive about offering free product as part of a bonus program or contest to boost TSC enthusiasm and product knowledge. No one sells better than a TSC who has personal experience using your product.

* Sales vs. Returns. The Guarantee is one of the most important elements of an effective DRTV offer. As you put more emphasis on the Guarantee, you're going to get more sales…and more returns. Work with your call center to determine a reasonable return rate before the program begins. Then share these results with your account executive, so that the sales presentation can be adjusted accordingly.

* Feedback. A call center is the primary connection with a customer. Ask call center management about the nature of responses and get suggestions on ways to improve the offer or creative.

* Have your up-sells and one-pay offer in place before the campaign begins. The early stage of a campaign is the time when you need revenue the most to maintain media spending. Up-sells, along with conversions from monthly payments to a single payment, can often double your upfront revenue per order and allow a fledgling program to build momentum.

* Make sure you have two or even three up-sells. Common up-sells include upgrades, additional product, accessories, related products and videos.

The golf companies are among the best at up-selling. They frequently offer additional clubs, an upgrade to a graphite shaft, training videos and more. This increased sales revenue — which comes at no additional media cost — can be a significant contributor to bottom-line profitability.

Premiums effectively induce many customers to pay in full for their order. Make sure the TSC's are thoroughly trained to sell your up-sells and one-pay. Then review your results carefully and make test calls to check that customers are indeed getting the pitch for the up-sells and one-pay option.

Choose the best sales strategy to maximize revenue. There are a number of effective ways to sell high-priced products with DRTV. The most common methods include:

Price Advertising. If your product is easily understood and is priced competitively with alternative products, a price-advertised infomercial will often drive in the call volume you need. Stress the payment option rather than the lump-sum amount to increase call volume, then sweeten the offer with a premium. If your prospect base is made up of seniors (who often have never ordered from DRTV before), consider a “double guarantee” (where the refund includes S&H), or a even “triple guarantee” (where the refund includes S&H to and from the customer.

Lead Generation. If your product is unique to the market or priced higher than other alternatives, you can build curiosity — and call volume — by leaving out the price from your infomercial. This strategy requires top-notch salespeople. Make sure the TSC's are trained to stress the Guarantee, so that customers know they can try the product risk-free.

Low Price, High Up-Sell. Another technique is to advertise and sell a low-priced product. Then as an up-sell, offer an upgraded set of similar products. This is especially effective with continuity programs, where people respond to an ad for a single collectible item, and then are upsold to a monthly series. It is important to sell the product the customer called for, and only then offer a similar product of greater value.

Back-End Sale. In the case of extremely high-priced products, such as business opportunities and coaching programs that frequently cost thousands of dollars, the best strategy may be to sell a low-end version on DRTV, let customers get a feel for the product, then call back with an outbound campaign to sell the high-end version. Needless to say, selling a program costing several thousand dollars requires extremely well-trained TSC's.

Prepare a relationship-building program. Use outbound telephone programs to pick up repeat sales from your satisfied customers and build lasting business relationships with a line of related products. This can easily lead to a long-term stream of revenue from a single media investment, helping to justify higher costs per lead and greater likelihood of success for a DRTV campaign.

John Stones is executive vice president of the AfterMarket Company, a telesales company in Phoenix specializing in high-end DRTV campaigns.

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