10 Ways To Improve In-House Telemarketing

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Follow these proven principles — and watch your telemarketing program grow sales and earnings.

The mistakes that agencies companies make in telemarketing management usually lead to disaster. Four out of five in-house telemarketing programs fail in the first three years because telemarketing looks easy and is treated too lightly. However, management techniques are just as necessary to telephone sales as they are to ensure the success of telemarketing programs. Here are 10 time-proven remedies for common abuses in telemarketing management.

1. HIRE SMARTER.

Good people are sometimes hard to find and can be harder to keep. Many agencies hiring their own CSRs or support staff often make a “panic hire.” They lose someone in the telemarketing support/marketing function and then run out and hire the first warm body that might fit the position. Their thinking often runs like this:

“The position is so critical to generating leads that I can’t afford to leave it open, and even a ‘medium fit’ is better than no hire at all.”

Wrong! A strong fit, in which the person hired matches specific performance-goal criteria, must be the focus of an opening in the telemarketing department or any agency position. Otherwise the work won’t get done, expectations that the person will grow into the position probably won’t be fulfilled, and the “medium hire” will either leave or be fired, starting the whole process again.

Due to the success of telemarketing service bureaus, a growing pool of high-quality telemarketing talent has become available. There are several ways to take advantage of this:

  • Tap into the pool by contacting your local service bureaus for “graduating” candidates. These are good salespeople who have recently left, salespeople who interviewed well but were overqualified, etc.
  • Join your local chapter of the American Telemarketing Association. It’s an organization dedicated to improving the professionalism of an industry that often is maligned.
  • Hire smarter. Use a rigorous five-step process to find the best candidate:
  • Set realistic goals for the job and have a clear, measurable description of what performance on the job means.
  • Do a personal interview with character-determining questions.
  • Use call simulations. Offer the candidate a never-seen-before script and have them call you from the next office. Let them call twice: first to read the script word for word to test reading skill, and then to modify it to their own style. If you have the luxury of time, send the information home with the candidate, and have them call the next day ready to sell. Include buying signals and referral possibilities in your responses to see if the candidate hears and responds to them. This tests listening and communication skills.
  • If the candidate seems viable at this point, send them to another person in the agency for an interview. This can be the person they will report to, the producer they will support, or a senior telemarketing person who knows how to interview.
  • Use outside testing services. While you might be good at determining intelligence and communication skills, you might need some assistance judging determination and stamina. A number of profile services are available, from 20-minute tests on honesty and personality type to six-hour psychological profiles. In addition to being useful for hiring and screening candidates, the more in-depth test provides data useful for future sales management.

2. PAY FOR PERFORMANCE

Many agencies recognize the need to pay a base salary while a salesperson learns the agency-the producers for whom appointments are set up, lines of business, and the agency’s clientele. This can produce a lazy telemarketer who relies on the salary to survive the rough months.

Some of the most successful telemarketing groups pay a base salary for the first few months (six to nine, depending on the agency’s sales cycle with preferred prospects), and then gradually decrease the base until nearly all compensation is based on commission.

Here are five other suggestions to help ensure success:

  1. Define the department’s operation, the specific lines you will or will not write, and monitor both the training and the on-the-job performance.
  2. Offer periodic raises based on following the specific guidelines laid out in the job description (expectation) form. You do have this form at your agency, don’t you?
  3. Provide a gradual incentive plan that pays higher commission for better sales performance.
  4. Offer a consistency bonus based on achieving quota for three months in a row — but pay this bonus three months after the achievement and only if the producer is still employed.
  5. Recognize that salespeople are competitive. Encourage friendly rivalries, and make performance statistics public. The lowest producers often will self-start to pull themselves up in the rankings. Consider establishing winning partnerships between up-and-comers and willing senior reps.

3. BUY THE RIGHT SOFTWARE

Telemarketing “contact management” software prices have been decreasing, while power and ease of use are on the upswing. Unfortunately, many agencies and larger groups buy more than they need or can implement, and wind up with a system that is less productive than a manual system, in which the producers make their own initial calls.

Telemarketing software should do at least five things well; you can look at anything more as an extra bonus.

  1. A logical screen layout with quick and easy editing, and quick and easy searches in all fields for report writing.
  2. An easily updated reverse chronological history system.
  3. A user-friendly scheduler and alarm.
  4. An efficient, easy-to-use word processor (warning-see “Automated Paperwork” below).
  5. A network that operates without muss or fuss.

4. HIRE THE RIGHT MANAGER

Agencies often place field sales managers or managers with little or no telemarketing experience in telemarketing-management roles. They don’t often fit because, just as insurance is different from selling computers, telemarketing methods are different from other sales methods.

A typical field salesperson sees three decision-makers per day. Field sales managers who become telemarketing managers often feel satisfied if their telemarketing people reach 10 decision-makers daily; after all, that’s more than three times what they’re accustomed to. Yet a well-managed professional telemarketing person can speak to 30 decision-makers every day.

The key is hiring an experienced telemarketing manager who also understands business and something about the insurance industry. Spend time on hiring the right manager and set high, yet achievable, standards.

5. EXPECT AN EIGHT-HOUR DAY

Managers often say that they can’t expect people to stay on the telephone eight hours a day because they’ll wind up burning out. This won’t happen if they’re managed correctly.

Burnout doesn’t result from too much work — but from too little success. Eight straight hours on the phone would kill most people, but that’s not the way outbound telemarketing works.

Expert managers and telemarketing consultants expect 80 connected calls, and since (some products, not many) require longer calls, the salesperson might need more “connected time” per day. If your telemarketing professionals are discovering x-dates, getting general account data for the files, and setting appointments for producers, these standards should be achievable.

A “connected call” is not necessarily a decision-maker contact. Connected time is the total amount of inbound and outbound sales time spent on the phone, as defined by the phone company. It’s a call that somehow moves the sales cycle forward. For example, x-dates, types of coverages currently in place, names of decision-makers and key influencers, details about the size and scope of business, etc., are the goals of connected calls.

Other time should be spent making notes, sending literature, confirming sales appointments, taking breaks or lunch, and socializing (yes, having fun is part of the job). These activities usually add up to an eight-hour day.

6. AUTOMATE PAPERWORK

You would expect an agency that spends thousands of dollars on a computer system to have things pretty well automated. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.
The No. 1 productivity killer reported by telemarketing experts is a badly managed software and fulfillment (literature) system.

Agencies that have spent considerable time and effort to hire well-paid telemarketing professionals to communicate with clients and prospects often bog them down with customized letters, customized proposals, multiple databases that don’t connect with each other, 10-second (or longer) screen response rates, etc. This is like forcing a race car driver to make a pit stop after every lap.

One of the best investments an agency or independent producer can make is to bring in an outside systems analyst to chart the flow of the telemarketing off-phone process. This process should be analyzed in detail and boiler-plated until at least 90% of a telemarketing person’s time is spent doing what they were hired to do: call the next client.

7. TRAIN INTELLIGENTLY

The Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglars of the world are worth listening to, but they don’t provide sustenance to help salespeople maintain peak levels of performance over time. Hire trainers and consultants who offer hands-on training and provide permanent productivity gains. Some even offer money-back guarantees, ensuring the time they spend with your staff will be worth your training investment.

8. SCRIPT AND POST

Telemarketing people and agents do a repetitive job, so even the best of them can fall into bad habits. Yet everyone on your staff has delivered your message exactly right at one time or another.

Have a focused sales meeting with producers and telemarketing people. Discuss the best greeting, headline, probing questions, presentation, objection-handling methods, and closing techniques. Script those out, have people practice and learn them, then put the scripts into the software and at the workstation so people can refer to them as they work. You’ll be surprised at the results.

9. PERFECT YOUR REFERRALS AND PROSPECTING PROCESS

You always need to be looking for replacement business because you never know when a merger, acquisition, or change in decision-makers or business climate will take away the top 10% of your business.

The best selling is word of mouth. Help all of your producers use this method by providing them with a list of satisfied clients in their territories or product/market specialties.

This list must be extremely easy to obtain or it won’t be used. Include the company’s name, decision-maker, phone, address, e-mail, and exactly what lines they have purchased and for what business purposes. Remember to clear the use of a client’s name with them, and don’t overdo the use of any one reference. Use the call to the client to check on customer satisfaction and to build for future business and referrals.

An agency’s telemarketing professionals, producers, and CSRs can increase the prospect list by:

  • Asking prospects who else they know in the field
  • Sending thank-you cards or legitimate premiums for referrals
  • Finding several creative avenues for locating new prospects
  • Formalizing this process and using it consistently throughout the agency

10. ANALYZE SALES STATISTICS INTELLIGENTLY.

The two most important sales statistics are the number of connected calls (see No. 5 above), and connect time (total time spent on the phone with clients, both inbound and outbound).

When these two statistical categories are in line, and your telemarketing people have good communication skills and knowledge of your product lines and services, and they know how to close on the appointment, then sales will come.

Build your own sales funnel and analyze your statistics. The sales funnel is a numbers formula that allows you to arrive at call levels necessary to achieve profitable revenue figures.

Explain the sales funnel to your staff so that they can use it to track their own performance. This example details the professional activities of a top salesperson selling $700 worth of educational products.

Sample Sales Funnel

  • 80 connected calls per day = 30 decision-maker contacts (DMCs)
  • 30 DMCs = 20 presentations
  • 20 presentations = 15 brochures sent
  • 15 brochures sent = 5 interested prospects
  • 5 interested prospects = 2 proposals/quotes
  • 2 proposals/quotes = 5 products sold
  • 5 products sold = $3,500 revenue
  • $3,500 revenue = $525 salesperson earnings

CONCLUSION

Most agencies and businesses fall far short of their telemarketing potential. By implementing the policies and techniques described in this article, they can dramatically increase productivity and sales. The best agencies and companies use many other methods to ensure productivity, but these 10 are a good start. Expect a minimum of 80 connected calls a day and two and a half hours of connect time from your outbound salespeople.

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