As MUCH AS WE all hate to receive unsolicited calls that market products or services, telemarketing is a principal way to "get the word out" and products sold. If your sales can benefit from telemarketing, there are a number of challenges to consider before you start your own program.
Start with a determination as to the most effective methodology to sell your product or service. Think the entire sales process through with a couple of typical examples. For instance, there have been telemarketing firms that have attempted and miserably failed to market professional services provided by engineers, management consultants and accountants. One of the difficulties is that when a prospect is interested in one of these services, they usually have a problem to which the telemarketer must immediately respond. Advisory services are perceived by the customer to be somewhat complicated and must be tailored. Unless the telemarketer is already knowledgeable in these advisory services, most of the opportunity in the telephone "pitch" is lost.
In-house telemarketing: If the plan is to conduct the telemarketing in-house, it is essential to fully train your employees. They may need basic training in telephone manners, good diction and the ability to follow a written script. If you want to sell a fundamental product such as typing services to businesses, it could be cost effect to hire college students to make the calls since the sale of typing services requires minimal training to understand the product. Also consider hiring mothers of grammar school children who would like to work only while their kids are in school. Be sure the staff is trained in "closing the sale," which in this case would be the setting of a meeting to discuss a firm's typing needs.
A campaign with in-house staff may be a challenge. Keep in mind that each person will be able to make calls for only a maximum of about 3 to 4 hours per day. After that point they become much less effective -- they are no longer "fresh". Also, there is a high burn-out rate for this type of work, which means you constantly will be looking for new employees.
Also needed is some type of followup system. This can be manually kept or it can be computerized. The key is that when a prospect asks to be called next Tuesday, the system will remind the telemarketer to call then. Telemagic software is the hot software for this effort and is reasonably priced at many software stores.
If you do it yourself consider that you must get your entire message across to the stranger on the other end within 45 to 60 seconds. It is best to have a written script before you start, but after just a few calls you will adjust it to make the presentation much more smooth and natural.
When the product offered for sale is a service there may be a distinct advantage of doing it in-house. You or the executive staff can quickly respond to possible objections and easily sell the person on a different product. This is called cross-selling.
If you have a very small firm and plan to make some (or all) of the calls yourself, size up your own abilities to determine if you have the required ingredients. This includes a commitment of time to make at least 10 calls a day. It sounds easy, but keep in mind that out of 10 calls you might only make direct contact with 1 or 2 people on your target list. Additionally, most new entrepreneurs do not take verbal rejection very well, then tend to stop the campaign quickly. If you do not have these skills or the stamina to absorb rejection (it can be brutal), consider another marketing tactic.
Outside service: If an outside telemarketing firm is used, note that a full service firm can handle both in-bound or out-bound telemarketing. In-bound would usually be coordinated with other advertising that refers prospects to an "800 or 900" number for more information.
In the beginning, request a test period of 50 to 100 hours for free or for a nominal charge. This will be enough time to smooth out the script for the calls. It also will test the public's reaction to the product and this method of selling. According to Don Hobbs, Vice President and part owner of Towson-based ICC Marketing, his firm will assign two people for about 2 weeks to such a project. Be sure to review the results carefully before you sign a contract with the telemarketing firm for a large project.
Since most people cannot be reached when called, the average contacts made by each professional telemarketer per hour will be 6 to 8 businesspersons or 15 consumers. The reason automated calling systems are so popular is that they will make twice as many calls in an hour and actually have contact with 3 times as many people. This obviously results in greater sales.
Hobbs states that a telemarketing firm with an autodialing system will charge $38 per hour while a firm that uses humans for the calls will cost about $25. Other costs include the cost per line of script used, the set up fees, long distance charges and an expense for a supervisor when it is a large project. Note that you can provide the telemarketing firm with your own target calling list or have them buy one elsewhere. Some telemarketing firms also will mail your product to the customers, but confirm that the company is large enough to actually handle the expected volume.
The Bottom Line: Telemarketing will put you in touch with prospects, but remember how important the image of the first contact is before you hire outside help. Check their reputation to see that it mirrors your own.
Patrick Rossello, president of The Business Consulting Group in Towson, is a member of a number of local advisory boards and is an instructor with Loyola College. Send questions or suggested topics to him c/o Money At Work, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.