Starting with the wrong assumptions on the telephone is like rolling a boulder uphill. While it can be done, you’ve got a much better shot at success if you begin your journey on level ground. That requires some forethought and preparation.
One of the best ways to think through a telephone program is to start with the target audience, not what you have to sell them. While this may sound like Direct Marketing 101, you’d be surprised to find how many campaigns and scripts focus on the product, its features and benefits, the company, why we’re better than the competition, what’s on special and a host of other things that are of absolutely no interest whatsoever to a potential buyer.
The only thing that does interest John Q. Prospect (especially within the relatively short duration of a telephone contact) is his needs, his pain, his problems and how you can solve them. What you have is only meaningful within this context.
So how do you zero in on the hot buttons of your prospective market? The first step is an acknowledgment on your part that many – if not most – of the people you will talk with will not be good candidates for your product or service at this time.
While this may seem like a negative way to plan a campaign, the reality is that – even with a good list – nine out of 10 people won’t need or want what you have to sell or won’t be ready to buy it. By focusing on eliminating the folks who truly are not a good match, you will be better prepared to understand the needs of your true target market so you can craft an approach they will find compelling and convincing. At the same time, acknowledging that what you have is not for everyone (which implies you’re not going to try to shove it down everyone’s throat), you’ll reduce the natural fear and resistance most people experience when someone is trying to sell them something by phone.
This general concept has been called consultative selling, solutions-oriented selling and a host of other terms. The best thing about it is that it makes the folks on both sides of the line feel more relaxed and requires each to focus on the other in trying to determine if there’s a good fit.
It’s the antithesis of what most people think of as “telemarketing” – which is why it’s so effective. And like most good things, it’s easier said than done and requires some soul searching and pre-planning to design effectively.
The first step is in determining which of your customers are most profitable to you. It seems basic enough: If you know which customers provide the most value over their buying lifetime with you, you’ll know how much to spend to acquire them. You’ll also be prepared to find out their “stats” so you can pursue an appropriate internal or external list search. For business-to-business calling, this might include company size, number of employees, vertical market and level of decision maker. For consumer calling, the most pertinent demographics might include gender, age, annual income or number of children.
If you’re feeling a little embarrassed that you’ve never analyzed which customers are most profitable or which prospects never seem to buy from you, don’t be. Very few companies do this type of analysis up front, especially in planning a telephone campaign. The good news is that there’s no time like now to start gathering and scrutinizing this data.
Beyond list selection, you’ll need to understand a lot more than your market’s basic statistics in crafting the overall campaign. What are their hot buttons? Which of their needs are not being met in the marketplace. How can what you have to offer meet those needs better than their current supplier(s)?
Who influences and makes the buying decision? When are these individuals accessible and most receptive by phone? Can a decision likely be expected in a si ngle telephone contact? If not, what is the next step in the selling process? What information or materials will likely sell the prospect on taking the next step?
Be prepared to talk with a host of people as you try to get to “the true core” in qualifying the issues that lead to a sale: satisfied long-term customers, people who no longer buy from you, people who almost bought but didn’t, people who are still in the pipeline, etc. Once you have distilled your learnings down, document specifics about “ideal” prospective customers. If these folks were standing in front of you right now, what would they look like and sound like? And what will you need to explore on the phone to determine if they’re a likely prospect or not?
Here’s a real-life example from a company that was selling a technical fix for a legacy computer system within the financial services market. The following describes the best scenario for selling their service:
- They reach the decision maker or the decision maker’s right-hand technician.
- The prospective company has budget approval to purchase a fix externally.
- The prospective company runs a “mission critical” operation that could grind to a halt without the fix.
- The prospective company is a current customer and tends to be loyal to you.
- External resources are not available (the company has no local technical consultant or value-added vendor who can help with the problem).
- The company’s internal technicians do not have either the skill set or the time to perform the fix.
- The company’s internal technicians are not afraid of losing their jobs if they request external help (no “high fear factor”).
- There’s currently no automated technology or process in place to deal with the problem.
- The company has no immediate plans to upgrade their systems (which would render the fix obsolete and not cost-effective).
Unfortunately, much of this information often comes from pitching such a service to the wrong people: By getting turned down you can learn a lot about why someone would be pre-disposed not to buy from you. This is how the most successful telephone representatives learn by trial and error and adapt their presentations and qualifying questions accordingly. Few companies, however, have processes in place to accurately capture this information and adapt their basic approach so that more representatives can benefit from it. And unfortunately, very few companies ever alter the front-end marketing materials to leverage what’s learned at the telephone point of contact.
By building focused research and some pre-rollout tests into your direct marketing plan you’ll avoid the crash-and- burn first scenario that sinks so many telephone programs before they even get started. Careful preparation within an adequate timeline is always cost-effective because it avoids money wasted on mis-targeted marketing and advertising, wasted leads and turnover within the call center resulting from the high rejection rate associated with an ill-prepared script or failing list.
Working through the research and logistics for your next telephone program – before you start firing away at it – will help to keep you on target.
To avoid tele-crashing and burning: Determine which of your customers are most profitable to you.
- What are their hot buttons?
- Which of their needs are not being met in the marketplace.
- How can what you have to offer meet those needs better than their current supplier(s)?
- Can a decision likely be expected in a single telephone contact?
- What information or materials will likely sell the prospect on taking the next step?