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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If you're considering hiring a telemarketing agency for a campaign, what are the questions you should ask?

I've been asked this before on a number of occasions, particularly by people who have "tried telemarketing before" and had their fingers burned.

The reality is that telemarketing is one of those businesses which you can literally set up with a phone and a spare room. If you include freelancers, there are probably thousands of telemarketing agencies out there, and quality does vary.

So, here's a list of areas which you can focus your questions to determine whether a telemarketing agency is right for you:

1) Client experience - has the telemarketing agency worked on similar campaigns for other clients in your sector? Most sectors have their own terminology and ways of doing business. If your telemarketing agency has worked for similar clients previously they are more likely to quickly grasp your proposition. Typically, when you speak to the telemarketing agency, you'll get an understanding of whether they "speak your language".

2) Market & Sectors - what type of companies has the telemarketing agency experience of calling into. Whilst the first question looks at client experience, this is focused on the companies that you are targeting. For example, a telemarketing agency may have worked with other web design agencies previously, but if they were calling one-man-bands and you want to target FTSE 100 prospects that doesn't really work.

3) Function & seniority - similar to the above question, is the telemarketing agency experienced at calling into the function and/or level of decision maker that you are targeting. For example, if you are targeting HR, has the telemarketing agency successfully completed similar campaigns into that business function. Again, language varies between functions. Calling CEO's is very different to calling middle management.

[It's worth mentioning before I continue that often you need to take a view of the breadth of experience the telemarketing agency has, rather than expecting to find an agency that has done exactly the same campaign as yours. An example could be a telemarketing agency that has called into HR previously for a training company, and has also worked for software companies before, but not run a campaign for a software company calling into HR. Like most things in life, it's about finding the right balance]

4) Reporting - how will the telemarketing agency keep you up-to-date on the progress of your campaign? Do they provide summary reports? Can they work on CRM systems? Depending on the scope and scale of your campaign, a regular update by Excel could be all you need. The important thing is to be kept informed on how the telemarketing campaign is progressing.

5) Data - two questions here. What data will the telemarketing agency be using and, once the campaign has finished, what happens to the data? Cutting costs by re-using stale data is a false economy. And the quality of data has a direct impact on the output of any telemarketing campaign. Personally, I would always make sure that the telemarketing agency buys (or builds) the data-set on your behalf because then it's their responsibility to make sure it's good data (they can't blame you that the data was poor), plus you "own" the data at the end of the campaign (subject to the terms of the data provider, of course).

6) Track record - how long have they worked with their clients? As I said earlier, there are lots of telemarketing agencies out there. What you're looking to avoid is an agency that can't provide references for long-term clients. Good telemarketing agencies (and good freelance telemarketers) keep clients over the long term. Even if they don't work continuously on campaigns, their clients will come back to them. Why, because good telemarketing agencies (and telemarketers) are hard to find! For example, we're still working with our first client we started with back in 2005. That speaks volumes!

7) ROI - telemarketing should always deliver a strong ROI (return-on-investment) and agencies that understand this should be willing to advise you on what they can deliver for their fees. Good agencies will agree deliverables up-front, and work closely with you during any pilot or proof-of-concept period to review performance. If an agency can't give you any clear indication of what ROI they expect to deliver on a campaign - walk away.

8) Staff retention - what's their staff turnover, or churn rate? How long have their people been working with them? This applies equally to telemarketing agencies with employees or ones that work with associates (such as ours). Why is this important? Well, assuming you want to develop a long-term relationship with a telemarketing agency, you want to know if the time you invest getting their people up to speed with your business and proposition is going to be wasted or not. For example, one of our team (who we've worked with for several years) used to be a manager of a telemarketing agency. She told me one of the reasons she stopped and went freelance was because she got tired of coming back after the weekend and finding a whole new team to train. Large call-centres have the highest rate of churn than any other business.

9) Client portfolio - how many clients do they work with? And are any of them direct competitors? This gives you a good indication of whether you're going to be "just another client" or whether you're going to get a more personal service. Also, the question around competitors tells you whether there's likely to be any conflict of interest (and whether the telemarketing agency has any integrity). Working with a telemarketing agency that handles your competitors brings up so many issues around data security, intelligence leaks, etc; it's best to simply avoid it altogether.

10) Who's calling - finally, who's actually going to be picking up the phone and calling on your account? Any telemarketing agency, once you've agreed commercials, should introduce you to the team member(s) who will be working on your account. This is your opportunity to speak with them (ask some of the above questions, like "how long have you worked here?") and get a feel for whether you are comfortable with them representing your company on the phone. If the telemarketing agency can't do this, it means that you'll just get the "next one available", which pretty much means you're just another number to them.

So there you are, 10 areas to probe and prod a potential telemarketing agency.

And if you find more than one agency that ticks all the boxes it'll probably come down to the best question of all - do you like them?

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Posted by: David Regler @ 1:21 pm |   | Links to this post  

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