The Death (and reincarnation) of Telemarketing

Over the past decade buying behaviour, our behaviour, has changed. It has changed in both broad and subtle ways, having a major impact on those people trying to sell to us.

It seems likely that, as the irritation factor of unrequited calls during preparation of the evening meal is the death knell for the traditional cold caller, so the classic B2B use of telemarketing is also in its twilight years. Almost universally, it’s not liked and it’s not cost effective. But that leaves a gap, the default option for marketing has to be replaced by approaches that respond to conditions today if leads are to continue to flow into the sales pipeline.

When we started Adara Associates ten years ago much telemarketing was list-based, contacts bought in from a list supplier. Callers were given a “script” and given incentives to make as many calls as possible. If they couldn’t get through the first time they tried, and tried again then applied the “three strikes and you’re out” rule ,they moved on.

Callers were relatively cheap so were used extensively, even though it could often be highly irritating on the receiving end.

Now, after years of this treatment, most of us have developed a resistance to taking cold calls, we’re not prepared to have what we’re doing interrupted by someone selling something we don’t want. There’s a lot more noise in the market place, we’re busy and with a shortened attention span we only tune into what seems immediately relevant.

We’re fed up with engaging with ill-informed sales people who don’t know what they’re talking about so we do our research on the web first; only then are we prepared to talk to someone.

Despite all this we still have needs, and we are prepared to engage in a conversation if it’s going to help us out in challenging times.

These changes of attitude and the ready availability of information, data, prices and peer reviews puts us, the buyer, in control, we choose, whatever your market, it truly is a buyers market.

We respond to the content that appears in front of us, on the web, by email, and of course through social networks. Which means that targeted marketing is only effective if it’s a very well researched, relevant (and costly to deliver) proposition that can get through the cold call defences.

Content is now key, and content that is specific, not generalities or glib blanket statements. Delivery must be the way we like, we all have our own, not always obvious, or rational, preferences.

Most initial contact is now electronic in one form or another, made easier by the proliferation of mobile devices enabling us to browse through this tidal wave of information on the commute instead of in valuable ‘real-work’ time.

Girl waiting for the phone to ring

This change has profound implications for companies that need more opportunities in their sales pipeline. Designing initiatives has become much harder; we have to understand exactly who to target, much more about them and we have to become an authority on what interests them. We have to have a whole new infrastructure to manage the display, delivery and tracking of rapidly changing content accessed by all sorts of people. A static web site, a simple CRM and a separate email service isn’t going to enable us to perform adequately anymore. And telemarketing has to evolve into more intelligent nurturing of contacts, to build interest over time after initial contact is made digitally.

Selling is still about people and, if we’re going to sell in high-value B2B markets we have to have conversations so there’s always going to be a need for, let’s not call it telemarketing, let’s call it, ‘engagement’.

It’s evolved; it’s about the first steps to an intelligent, informed, joined up conversation with people who are known. It’s about teasing them with content, watching how they respond and reacting in a supportive rather than intrusive manner, by email, by phone, Skype, Face-time, through Linked-in, through Twitter and Facebook, through, who knows? Whatever works, for them.

It’s about being able to do the research, to make the content personal and, by building a profile, becoming better informed. The new role of ‘engagement’ demands more advanced sales skills, not a script follower but able to identify, qualify and develop opportunities. To work as an integrated part of the sales team, often taking over the early stages of the sales process

Not all telemarketing people and, more importantly, selling organisations are going to make this transition. Those that persist in the old ways will wither; that’s Darwinian, and (to our mind) that’s the way it should be, responding to this change, any change, is essential to survival, and beyond survival to success.

If progress is slow, (and change is always hard), help to make this transition is at hand, we’ve the experience and the tools to make it happen; perhaps we should be talking?

Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
Ambrose Bierce