Is Outbound Telesales Making a Comeback?

WRITTEN BY NICK JIWA

Is Outbound Telesales Making a Comeback?
Illustration by Stephanie Scott for Pipeline
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The death knell for outbound telesales has sounded countless times over the years. Aggressive cold-calling practices, fraudsters, scam artists, relentless robocalls… it’s easy to see why telemarketing’s much-maligned reputation has been dominated by images of the illicit “boiler room” operation.

A brief history of outbound telesales

Although telemarketing is undergoing a revival, it has had its ups and downs since the beginning. The big surge in telemarketing operations happened in the early 1980s to mid-1990s when the industry grew from employing a half-million agents to 4.5 million, according to the Ad Age Encyclopedia of Advertising. Likewise, the number of telemarketing operations in the U.S., both in-house and outsourced, rose from fewer than 80,000 to 565,000. As many businesses discovered, telemarketing proved to be an efficient model for driving sales.

Unfortunately, success often invites the opportunity for abuse. Unethical telemarketers employed unscrupulous tactics, consumers began to feel harassed by the plethora of nuisance calls and, by the late 1990s, it looked like the end was near for outbound. Annual fraud costs exploded, prompting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and watchdog organizations to strengthen regulations to protect consumers.

In 2003, the FTC established the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry to give consumers a choice about whether they wanted to receive unsolicited sales calls from telemarketers. Similarly, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), passed by Congress in 1991 to restrict the use of automated dialing and prerecorded voice messages, was since amended to require written consent from consumers before robocalling them.

But let’s face it: Scam artists and serial fraudsters exist in virtually every business and have exploited all forms of communication—phone, email, websites, traditional mail and social media. For telemarketers, illegal robocallers and phone scams, in particular, have cast a dark cloud over an otherwise legitimate industry that employs millions of people.

In recent years, telemarketing providers have banded together to project a new image based on customer engagement and compliance. Reputable outbound telesales operations are enjoying a resurgence as companies discover that telesales can be a highly effective customer acquisition and retention tool when part of a well-designed marketing strategy.

Welcome to the age of customer engagement

The rise in digital channels over the past decade has had a profound effect on service and sales operations. Corporate enterprises have been successful at deflecting inbound calls to self-service channels to save costs, but in doing so, they also have been losing out on opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell customers. As call volumes decrease year over year for many companies and customers look to alternative channels, there is a renewed interest in proactive sales channels like outbound telesales.

Outbound selling, if done right, can help to bridge the sales gap and open up cost-effective ways to acquire and retain customers. Corporate enterprises and outsourcing providers are working in concert to design needs-based sales and marketing programs that perfectly match products and services to a customer’s lifestyle, wants and needs.

Advantages of the EBR—existing business relationship

For their part, companies are getting smarter about encouraging customers to opt-in to learn more about products and services, thereby creating an existing business relationship (EBR). And, of course, once a customer is acquired, a well-planned and carefully curated outbound contact strategy can be very effective in upgrading customers, cross-promoting other products and services and building brand loyalty and share of wallet over time.

An EBR not only provides the agent with necessary information about the customer’s interests but, by opting in or signing up for “basic” and “starter” products and services, there is a reasonable expectation on the customer’s part that they will be contacted, so the call is not seemingly “out of the blue.” Unlike the heavy-handed sales tactics of the past, elite outbound vendors today employ modern telemarketing programs that leverage predictive analytics and buyer intent data to identify the right offer at the right time, which is delivered by well-trained telesales agents who provide a white-glove experience.

Outbound telemarketing is not for everyone

Despite clear opportunities to generate sales, running an outbound telemarketing call center is not for everyone. The expense and resources needed to create an outbound infrastructure are often underestimated given the skill sets required along with performance measures, recruiting and hiring models, and training programs—to name a few.

Outbound selling requires certain “mettle” in the face of rejection. Let’s face it; the outbound agent will encounter many more “no’s” than “yes’s.” Agent burnout is high due to the aforementioned “rejection factor” inherent in outbound selling. The agent turnover rate for outbound programs can often be two to three times higher than for inbound or other call center functions. To offset the difficult nature of the job—and the expense of constantly having to backfill and replace staff—call center vendors that offer outbound programs typically must pay higher compensation and offer other perks to help attract and retain top talent.

Regulatory compliance is another challenge. Keeping current with changing legislation along with monitoring and training staff to adhere, without fail, to all compliance rules, demands dedicated resources and a hefty budget. And no matter how flawless your operation, watchdog groups, federal agencies and the media will be watching closely for any missteps.

A few good—correction, “great”—outbound sales vendors remain

These days, there are fewer bona fide outbound telesales vendors in our industry since not every call center BPO outsourcer wants to take on such taxing requirements. Best-in-class outbound telesales companies are a dying breed—yet the demand for high-quality outbound is growing, especially in certain vertical markets such as telecommunications, cable, membership services, fundraising, insurance, subscriptions, lead generation, continuity products, after-market sales and other industries.

We have found that, among the elite outbound telesales vendors, their outbound clients account for at least 40% or more of their overall revenue. We also know that their outbound clients include Fortune 50-100 corporations; therefore, quality standards are airtight and well-refined processes are already in place for compliance, workforce planning, sales skill training, list management, dialing systems, performance management and quality calibration.

Leading outbound telesales vendors have mastered “people” development by utilizing inventive recruiting, training and motivational practices that get results. Combine this with competitive compensation and incentives tied into quality scores and performance, and you have a winning formula. Some vendors use personality testing, as well, to ensure that outbound sales agents have the right temperament and traits to succeed in the role. Add to that frontline managers with on-the-phones experience who coach, counsel and mentor agents for the high-stress, often unforgiving world of outbound.

Finally, these vendors are hypersensitive about compliance within their operations and the industry. Leaders typically serve on compliance committees, advocate for best practices and are always a step ahead of impending compliance regulations.

Make outbound telesales part of a holistic marketing strategy

In this era of digital communication, automation and self-service, the human connection makes outbound telesales one of the most effective techniques for engaging customers and generating revenue. It is often the most cost-effective approach for customer acquisition, upgrades, cross-sells, reactivation, shopping-cart abandons and winning back canceled or dormant customers.

A successful outbound telemarketing strategy calls for intelligent database management, effective marketing strategies, strict adherence to compliance standards, and well-trained outbound sales agents. The most powerful programs start with a service-oriented mission and telesales agents who believe in the value of what they’re selling and are driven by the desire to enhance their customers’ lives.

Nick-Jiwa

As a call center outsourcing thought leader and president of CustomerServ, Nick Jiwa is dedicated to helping companies find, select and retain the right call center outsourcing partners. Nick’s expertise and contribution to the call center industry started in 1986—as a call center agent when the industry was still in its infancy. An avid ’80s music buff, proud father and soccer fanatic, Nick is passionate about “anything call center,” giving back to the community, mentoring and helping others win!
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