Industry Vet Applies E-Mail Ideas to Telemarketing

Thirty-year telemarketing industry veteran Jon Hamilton started a company this month based on the idea that, for the foreseeable future, telemarketing will be used best as a permission-based tool — much like e-mail.

Authtel Permission Solutions, Kennett Square, PA, has been established to help companies persuade former customers who are on the national no-call list not only to agree to receive telemarketing calls, but also to state the manner and frequency in which they are called.

Federal law allows calls to consumers with whom a company has an existing business relationship, defined as a purchase in the past 18 months or an inquiry in the past three months, even when a consumer is on the no-call list. Companies also can call if they have written permission from a consumer.

Authtel aims to recover former customers who had no contact with a company within the time limits. The company would send a direct mailer containing an interactive CD-ROM to a former customer. Software on the CD-ROM would vary. One possibility would be an auto insurance agency sending a roadmap program to former customers.

When they load the disc, consumers would be sent to a Web site. The site would inform them that they are welcome to keep the software. They also would be asked to consider signing up for future telephone solicitations.

Consumers would dictate how often and when they would be called. Also included would be an easy opt-out method that could be used following the agreement.

Though many consumers would keep the software and shun the telemarketing calls, comparable campaigns by e-mail marketers have produced response rates of 10 percent to 35 percent, Hamilton said.

Even with a 10 percent response, companies could recover significant portions of their lists, he said. The CD-ROMs can be sent for less than $1 apiece, not including the cost of licensing the software.

“With the capabilities of the databases we have today, I don't know why we haven't been doing this all along,” he said.

Authtel has received backing from telemarketing pioneer Ed Blank, founder of Ed Blank & Associates, which later became teleservices agency Aegis through a merger. Hamilton's partner in the project is Dennis Brown, who formerly worked at e-mail marketing agency Naviant.

Hamilton said he got the idea for Authtel from discussions with Brown about what went wrong with e-mail marketing.

He also was inspired in part by Eileen Harrington, marketing practices division director at the Federal Trade Commission. Harrington told telemarketers at a Direct Marketing Association teleservices conference in 2002 that though they couldn't call their customers who registered for the no-call list to ask for permission to continue calling, they could send them mail asking for permission, Hamilton recalled.

Telemarketing as a prospecting tool isn't dead, Hamilton said. However, with the no-call list growing, its usefulness for delivering unsolicited messages for customer acquisition is bound to decline.

When the telemarketing industry was born, people were much more open to telemarketing calls than they are today, Hamilton said. They received 10 to 12 calls each year, rather than 10 to 12 calls per day.

With declining call volumes and the passage of time, consumer anger toward telemarketing will decrease and people will be open to such offers again, Hamilton predicted. Meanwhile, telemarketing will sustain itself through permission marketing.

“Any way you look at it, telemarketing is going to shrink,” he said. “The point is to make sure it doesn't go away.”

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