Outbound Strategies

Figuring out how To use Outbound telemarketing to get and keep customers can be a costly trial, often ending in error
By Melissa Sepos

Outbound telemarketing sales representatives often face more obstacles in their jobs than inbound TSRs. Following these five suggestions can make outbound calling yield higher customer satisfaction, increase sales and keep your employees happy.

TSR Training
Andrew Wetzler, catalog consultant with Andrew Wetzler and Associates in Boca Raton, FL, says training TSRs is often where companies lose ground.

"For the most part, inside sales [departments] and telemarketing companies do a horrendous job of training their team," says Wetzler. "The person calling starts out at a serious disadvantage."

For callers, the job can be daunting and discouraging, especially if most calls are to consumers with whom the company has had no prior relationship.

A good training foundation, says Wetzler, will teach employees skills to prevent "battle weariness." He says role playing and good and frequent coaching will keep employees striving for the next yes.

At Moore Medical Corp. in New Britain, CT, inbound and outbound TSRs are seated next to one another. The seating arrangement allows outbound reps to share their more in-depth product knowledge with inbound TSRs when needed. It also lets outbound reps assist with heavy call volume during peak times.

Ronald Floormann Jr., director of sales and customer support, says the arrangement reduces turnover in TSRs, which is important given the estimated year-and-a-half training curve for new employees.

Get Techy
The Direct Marketing Assoc-iation recently adopted a 5 percent abandonment guideline in response to legislative threats to ban predictive dialing.

Despite its controversial public image, predictive dialing can be instrumental to running an outbound calling campaign. Predictive dialers automatically dial numbers based on certain criteria, usually talk time. The rate at which they make calls, or their pace, can be adjusted. Unfortunately, automated dialers using estimated talk time cannot tell if a representative has completed a call and may occasionally result in hanging up on, or abandoning, your customers. But if done correctly, predictive dialing can make your telemarketing more efficient and help keep your TSRs from burning out.

Mitch Lieber is president of Lieber and Associates in Chicago, a company that specializes in telemarketing consulting and integrating outbound calling with direct mail campaigns.

Lieber says most companies think keeping the dialer pace excessively high will increase the telemarketers' output. Not so, though. In fact, lowering the dialer pace and using a few tricks will actually make your employees and customers happier.

"Companies have to realize that reps can't be on calls 59 minutes out of the hour," explains Lieber. "The difference between 59 and 49 minutes in the grand scheme of things doesn't get you more."

The predictive dialer can be useful when targeting your best customers. After the call list has been tailored, different scripts can be loaded for each offering. Some dialers can use the final screen of a transaction, rather than estimated talk time, to trigger the next call, typically lowering abandon rates.

The Power of the Pre-call
Before your catalog hits a potential buyer's doorstep, a pre-call could earn you a sale. A pre-call arrives before a catalog, to highlight a product similar to one the customer has purchased before, to suggest a new one, or to make a special offer or a discount.

Liz Kislik of Liz Kislik Associates in Valley Stream, NY, says a carefully targeted calling plan, which includes a pre-call, can have up to a 40 percent success rate.

Kislik emphasizes that offers should not be general, but specific to the customer's past shopping patterns. She says it isn't always necessary to offer a discount on a particular product, but calling with a limited-time pricing offer can be suggestive.

Kislik advises that in order for the pre-call to be effective, staff must know the product line so they can handle full orders and questions. The TSRs must also have good phone manners.

In addition, the pre-call can be used to sell a customer a new product. Kislik says most catalog shoppers are looking for particular items, not browsing. "The way to sell more is to get people to consider something they might not notice normally," says Kislik. She says pre-calling works best for high-end products such as jewelry or audio equipment.

The Internet-Call Pitch
When it comes to business-to-business telemarketing, the trend is moving toward an interactive marketing presentation. According to Tracy Emerick, president of Receptive Marketing in Hampton, NH, prospecting in b-to-b will only hurt your bottom line. Instead, Emerick suggests making an interactive sales pitch using the phone and the Internet to businesses that have already indicated interest in your products.

An Internet/phone presentation not only provides a walk-through of the product line, but also a slide presentation about the company. Emerick says one combo-call from a telesalesperson can establish a relationship equivalent to the first three meetings with a salesperson.

"A person on the phone can do the presentation seven or eight times a day versus a salesperson who can do an on-site presentation three to four times a week," says Emerick. "You get to the good ones [customers] quicker this way."

The Gift List
From a cataloger's perspective, there are logical times to make outbound calls to customers, says Jack Schmid of J. Schmid & Associates in Shawnee Mission, KS.

For food-by-mail and gift catalogers, he says a key time is when the cataloger has had no response from a mailing to a customer who typically orders and purchases frequently. Usually, these calls are placed during gift-giving and peak event-planning times of the year.

Catalogers often send a personal letter and a list of prior gift recipients along with a catalog to a target list of customers who have spent a certain amount in the past year. If the consumer or business doesn't respond within a certain time, outbound calls can prompt the customer to order or be used to gain information as to why they haven't.

"Smart companies are going back to those people and not losing their business," says Schmid.

Copyright © 2002 North American Publishing Company publisher of Catalog Success. All Rights Reserved.