If making huge profits from telemarketing isn’t viable, why are so many companies doing it?
After all, telemarketing is an entire industry. Would 8,850 telemarketing companies exist, between them employing over half a million people, if there wasn’t a great deal of money to be made from picking up the phone and calling up a prospect?
Telemarketing is dead, the skeptics say in Nietzschean fashion, and yet cold-calling and emailing are responsible for 78% of sales in which a decision-makers chose to take an appointment or attend an event, that later lead to buying a product or service.
If telemarketing is dead, it’s having a remarkably profitable afterlife.
So what’s going on with telemarketing, anyway? In this article, we’ll look at the truth about telemarketing, how you can potentially use it to generate huge profits, and key tactics that separate good telemarketing from bad telemarketing.
The Truth About Telemarketing: Getting to Huge Profits
The truth about telemarketing is that it’s a little bit like playing guitar.
We all know that one guy or gal who played the guitar a little in college. Maybe a small handful of those people were committed and dedicated enough to play in a local band.
Take some number of local-band-guitar-players, and you’ll eventually find a future rock star.
Telemarketing is a little like that, though telemarketers don’t necessarily have to be “rock stars” to deliver huge profits. As with guitar players, though, there are better and worse ways to do telemarketing, and what separates the amateurs from the professionals is skill, which is built from dedication, persistence, and experience.
Anyone can pick up a guitar or a phone. Very few can make magic with it—but that’s all it takes to fill the world with magic.
So, when you hear that some research shows that only one percent of cold calls ultimately lead to appointments, there are two ways to think about that statistic. You can conclude that telemarketing is dead, or you can smile and say “Ah, but what are the numbers for real professionals?”
If you’re still skeptical, consider that a 2014 study found that 90.7 percent of all music artists are completely unknown. Another 6.8 percent are considered “developing,” while 1.4 percent are “mid-sized,” 0.9 percent are “mainstream,” and 0.2 percent are “mega stars.”
Clearly, then, music is dead. It doesn’t make sense to play music in the 21st century.
Absurd? Of course. It’s also the exact same logic of those who declare telemarketing to be dead—despite the fact that 80 percent of all sales require five follow-ups, despite the fact that nurtured leads produce a 20 percent average increase in sales opportunities and spend 47 percent more on purchases, and despite the fact that telemarketing ranks among the top five B2B lead generation methods found to work best.
What accounts for the differences between profitable telemarketing, the kind that can generate huge profits, and the sort of uninspired telemarketing that everyone loves to hate? There are a variety of factors, but let’s look at a few basic ones here before we go on to look at some powerful telemarketing tips.
Factor 1: Every Sales Situation is Unique
Here’s something you can bank on: every sales situation is unique.
Got that? Every. Single. One.
The world around us is full of diverse people who want different things. You can prove this for yourself if you think about your everyday consumer preferences and then compare them with those of your friends.
Do you all prefer the same kinds of foods and beverages, wear the same outfits, and drive the same cars?
Of course not, and the same is true of every potential customer out there. The practical reality is always going to be that different people will want somewhat different things.
This goes beyond wanting slightly different products and services. Two different people may engage with the same product in slightly different ways: this feature or that feature may be more or less important.
Once you understand that every sales situation is unique, you’ll begin to understand what separates good telemarketing from bad. One of the key differences is that good telemarketing takes this into account.
Factor 2: Tone is (Almost) Everything
Another key thing that separates good telemarketing from incompetent telemarketing is effective use of tone. Here’s the thing: tone is about 86% of our communication on the phone.
All too many telemarketers speak from rehearsed scripts and have poor tone. This comes off as artificial and contrived, and it’s a key part of why so many people hate telemarketers.
Think about our music analogy again: if you play the same three chords as everyone else and don’t vary them up, why should anyone pay to see you play music?
Factor 3: Knowledge is Power
People who are informed about what it is that they are selling are going to do better, all things considered, than salespeople who are relatively easy to stump.
This may sound incredibly obvious, but it is something that happens with bad telemarketing. Sometimes a telemarketer will be competent enough to get a prospect who is willing to talk and ask questions, but not competent enough to have a ready answer for all of those questions.
Imagine someone calling you up and trying to sell you something, only to be stumped within a few questions. Would you want to buy from that person?
Factor 4: Persistence Is Key
Here’s a key thing that separates good telemarketing from bad: persistence. Given that 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up, given that 80% of sales require five follow-ups, persistence is necessary if you’re to get from average, low-yield telemarketing to telemarketing for huge profits.
People respond to persistence because it indicates genuine interest, and because they become used to the request and familiar with it. An idea that was a ‘maybe’ when they first heard of it may become a certainty by the fifth time around.
Factor 5: Quality Over Quantity
Anyone can pick up the phone and make a hundred, a thousand calls.
It takes a much more select class of salesperson to be able to pick up the phone and make a hundred carefully-targeted calls with a good rate of return.
With good telemarketing, quality is much more important than quantity. Don’t look at how many calls you make, look at the quality of the conversations and the leads you generate.
Now that we’ve looked at a few basic factors, let’s look at how we can take those factors and turn them into productive telemarketing tactics for huge profits.
Tactic 1: Research & Cherry-Pick.
Take a moment to think about how elegantly simple and powerful this approach is, and how it differs from a more traditional call-everyone-with-a-pulse mass-calling approach.
Sure, bad telemarketing produces perhaps a 1 percent success rate, but one of the most important reasons for that is a failure to do research and carefully target one’s calls to people who are likely to actually want to hear from you.
Here a good place to start is to look at people who are actually using your product or service already. What do they have in common? What problem do you solve for them? If you are only starting out and have few or no customers as of yet, look at similar products/services and see who buys them.
The question of who your target markets are or should be is obviously a very big question, one you will need to answer through your own market research – and presumably already have, if you have a product or service to sell.
Nevertheless, take the time to look at your data, look at the market, and figure out which companies you aren’t selling to yet, but whom you could perhaps convince to buy from you.
A good tactic is to identify two or three common attributes that characterize your customers, or a more established competitor’s customers. These may serve as useful search terms or filters, notably on LinkedIn.
Once you find specific companies, take the time to really dig deep and figure out what you need to know to sell to them. What does the company do? Who do they help?
Take the time to get to know your potential prospects, and you’ll be able to make that cold call significantly warmer.
Another very important tip: learn how to pronounce their name. There’s nothing that is guaranteed to annoy people faster than hearing their name pronounced incorrectly. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask up front when you call.
Tactic 2: Confident & Calm.
So, you’ve identified your prospect, and now it’s time to call them. How will you portray yourself?
While you might be more focused on your opening line, it’s actually a pretty good idea to take the time to think about your self-presentation first. How do you want to come off when you talk to them?
The problem with the mass-calling approach is that it tends to lead to obviously rehearsed, highly-repetitive dialog.
“Hi Prospect-name, this is Sales-representative-whoever with Some-company-you’ve-never-heard-of.”
To make matters worse, the sort of sales reps who call prospects with this kind of dialog are likely to say it in a rush, rather than taking the time to clearly enunciate.
It’s also very common for these mass-callers to try to sell using pressuring tactics.
“This great deal is for a limited time only. Order now to take advantage of these great benefits!”
There’s nothing genuine about that approach. Everything about it sounds phony.
Instead, try to be calm and confident, and speak slowly and clearly. You know that you have something worthwhile to sell. All you need to do is communicate that to your prospect.
They’re going to love what you have for them, but you have to show them that it is for them—and if not, then hey, no harm no foul.
The problem with the pressure tactics and other conventional strategies is essentially three-fold: they’re rote, they come off as inauthentic, and all too often they come off as trying too hard.
A decent analogy would be that of a young man desperately trying to talk to every possibly-single woman in a bar—or even, say, every bar in the city. It’s not that he won’t have any success at all, it’s that he’ll get shot down a lot because he comes off as desperate and not particularly picky.
People don’t like people who come off as desperately needing something from them. No one likes feeling pressured, and all that tenseness and nervous energy puts us on edge because we wonder whether we’re being taken advantage of.
By contrast, if you take the Calm & Confident approach, you’re likely to find that you get far more sales by acting like you don’t particularly need them.
This approach is also better than aggressive braggadocio, again because it comes off as authentic, not to mention likeable. People want to be sweet-talked; they don’t want to be given a desperate, high-pressure, or aggressive pitch.
Confidence wins because it comes off as genuine, and it puts people at ease. If you’re confident and calm, you are more likely to come off as the sort of person who might possibly have a solution to a particular problem your prospect is having.
Tactic 3: You Need a Good Script.
It’s all well and good to have a script, but if you want to set yourself apart from the pack, you’re going to need a good one.
Now, here’s the thing: the best way to write a good script is to lead with the benefits first. You’re calling someone to sell them something, remember? They need to know what’s in it for them, and they need to know that right up front so they can decide whether or not to invest any more of their time in this unsolicited phone call.
We’ve talked about this before, under the idea of Benefits Up Front or What’s In It For Me (WIIFM). It’s not that you can’t lead with some pleasantries, it’s that you’re going to want to cut to the chase quickly.
Drop the information about what you are selling up front. Don’t make your prospect wait three whole minutes to hear it from you, deliver it without a lot of warm-up or prep work.
You might try something like the following
“Good day, So-and-So Prospect, this is Sales-Rep Name from This Company. We’ve worked with a lot of companies in your Named Field, and we’ve delivered Such-and-Such Benefits. Would you be interested in hearing about how to [solve X particular problem you have]?”
The above opener has the advantage of showing your prospect that you’ve done your homework, and you know who they are, what they do, what kind of problems they have, and what kind of benefits would be likely to appeal to them.
If you call me up out of the blue and try to warm me up for three minutes, I’m going to sit there wondering when you’re finally going to pop the question and tell me why you’ve called.
On the other hand, if you call me up out of the blue and make it instantly clear that you know who I am, what I am about, what problem I have, and what kind of benefits I am likely to be interested in, I’m much more likely to listen to you.
Tactic 4): Be Prepared for a Real Conversation.
Do you know what people do when someone else chats them up and seems genuinely interested in them?
That’s right, they open up and drop conversational cues.
When you approach a prospect in a highly-targeted, calm, confident, well-informed, benefits-up-front manner, you are telling that person that you are interested in them specifically.
If this seems to contradict the last piece of advice, it actually doesn’t: you start with the benefits up front, and then you give them a chance to warm up to you. And if that works, perhaps you can have an actual, real, honest-to-goodness conversation.
You aren’t approaching them with the same canned dialog and cut-and-paste responses you use on everyone. You’ve actually taken the time to get an understanding of who they are.
The beautiful thing that can happen when you do that is that the other person will actually open up and provide you with conversational cues, openers or hooks which you can use to spin out an entire real conversation with them.
For example, say you’ve done your research and called a highly-targeted prospect. You correctly identify an issue they’re having and offer a solution up front.
Let’s say their company is in the business of widgets, and you’ve identified a common problem with widgets that you want to help them fix.
Now let’s say you get to talking, and they warm up to you. They say: “We’ve been using this same X solution since I got into the business.”
That’s your cue. You can ask them about the solution, but you might also want to ask them about their experiences in the business. Maybe X solution came along shortly after they debuted a particularly popular model of widget.
Whatever the case, if you can show them that you are genuinely interested in their business, you’re going to get a lot farther than if you pass up those conversational cues. The reason for this is simple: people like talking about themselves, and they like having genuine conversations (again, especially about themselves).
If you show your prospects you aren’t simply interested in their money, and are actually willing to have real, genuine conversations, they’re likely to be much more impressed than if you simply got on with your pitch.
Tactic 5): Anticipate Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Let’s face it, every potential prospect is a unique human being, and that means every potential prospect is going to handle your pitch in their own unique way—but that doesn’t mean you can’t anticipate some common doubts and objections.
Think of this in terms of figuring out what your frequently-asked questions (FAQs) are, and then going from there. We talked about being informed and knowledgeable above: this is the tactic that is going to address that factor perfectly.
Whatever it is that you’re selling, prospects are probably going to tend to ask many of the same, relatively predictable, questions about it.
“How much will this cost me?”
“What kind of a warranty are you offering?”
“How does it work, exactly?”
“How is it different from X competitor product/service?”
“What kind of installation/alteration/disruption to what we do will this entail?”
These are a few general-purpose examples. You may already know what your FAQs are, but if not, take the time to try to figure them out and prepare responses.
The better prepared you are to answer these questions, the more likely you will be to uphold your presentation as calm and confident, reassuring your prospect that you are a good fit to help them handle their problem.
Tactic 6): Be Prepared to Ask Questions.
If everything goes according to plan, you’ll call up the right person and strike up a great conversation. They’ll warm up to you, particularly once you calmly and confidently provide answers to the three to five questions they thought of within the first five or so minutes, and you’ll be on track for a good productive conversation.
This may sound counter-intuitive. Haven’t we been talking, above, about how you want to be confident, and approach them after researching them carefully so you know all about them?
Well, yes. But here’s the thing: as you get into a conversation with someone, they are likely to tell you more information, things that they won’t have on their company website or LinkedIn profile.
We’ve talked about using those things as conversational cues. But they’re also wonderful opportunities to capitalize on the natural affinity most of us have for talking about ourselves if given the chance to do so.
Once you’ve established you know what you’re doing and you’ve warmed them up, there’s no reason you can’t use things that they tell you, things they let slip, to make the conversation all about them and what they need.
After all, the entire purpose of this exchange is to provide them with something wonderful that is going to improve their lives. Why not make the most of the opportunity to really get to know them and what they’re trying to do?
If you take this approach, you’re likely to find people are a lot more enthusiastic about working with you. You’ll learn more about them, about what they do and why they’re doing it. This will help you to close the deal.
Speaking of which…
Tactic 7): Be Prepared to Follow-Up
You’ve had a wonderful conversation with a prospect, answering all of their questions confidently and to their satisfaction, and then asking plenty of your own. Now it’s time to wrap things up and move toward the close, right?
Well, not so fast. This is probably going to take longer than you might think.
As we said before, here’s the deal: 80% of sales require five follow-up calls, and yet 44% of salespeople quit after making just the one call.
Let’s be crystal clear about this: if you want to close the deal, you’re going to have to do significantly more than call someone, introduce yourself, talk about the benefits on offer, and then have one really great phone call.
On the plus side, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can be better than the nearly half of telemarketers who have no patience or persistence and give up easily.
Think about it from the customer’s perspective for a moment: they’ve had someone call them from out of the blue, offering to solve a specific problem they have.
This is admittedly intriguing, and the sales representative (that’d be you) is pleasant, articulating the benefits up front and speaking in a calm, confident voice, talking slowly and carefully. This has led to a wonderful conversation.
But all too soon, the sales rep is asking for money.
And here’s the thing: people like to be comfortable before they open their pocketbooks. You’re asking them to give you, a stranger, their money for something you say is going to be wonderful.
All well and good, but… but how do they know you can really be trusted?
The practical reality is that for a lot of people in that situation, there’s this little voice in their head which says: “Isn’t this all happening a little fast?”
If you push someone to say yes to you, they’re more likely to hear that little voice and suddenly get cold feet.
On the other hand, suppose you end the conversation by asking to make a follow-up appointment to talk about it a little more. Think about what this does: it postpones the decision automatically, giving them more time to think about whether or not they want what you’re selling.
This is likely to make them much more likely to say yes after a follow-up meeting—or five, as we’ve seen.
Tactic 8): Promotions & Free Samples
Sooner or later, you’re going to want to offer a promotion, perhaps even a free sample. People like special offers and free samples because they offer the chance to try something—a product, a service—at low or no cost.
It can be hard enough to convince a prospect to buy from you, even if you do go to the time and trouble to call them back multiple times as we’ve discussed. But if you’re offering a sample at a steeply-discounted price, they’re going to be more likely to hear you out and give your services a try.
Think of it: instead of leading with a regular sales pitch, you’ll be leading with a really great deal.
When you greet them, explain that you want to offer them a specific good or service worth whatever the usual price is, but for free or steeply discounted. When they ask why, explain that you’re looking to expand your profile in the area.
If your promotional offer is for a limited time only, don’t be shy about making that clear at some point in the conversation. Do it without undue pressure as per tactic 2), but definitely make it clear that this special deal is not going to last, thus encouraging your prospect to get while the getting is good.
The best part of offering a free sample in particular is that you’re giving your prospect a deal in which they have nothing to lose. And if they like their free sample, they may want to order many more at regular price. They may even generate referrals.
Offering a free sample or a special promotion is a great way for you to get your foot in the door while creating a connection that may lead to many more sales in the future.
Tactic 9): The Soft Takeaway
Remember how we talked about not coming on too strong? That’s the logic of the sales takeaway: you’re seeing if you can takeaway the prospect from what it is that you’re trying to sell.
“But wait,” you ask, “Why on Earth would we want to do that?”
The short answer is: “To drop their guard, and let them know that a sale isn’t the most important thing on your priority list, a good match with your company, and a long time partnership are most important.”
Let’s start by exploring the “soft” form of this tactic, in which you will pose as uncertain whether or not you will be able to help the prospect.
With the soft takeaway, you want to lead with the soft takeaway near the beginning. After you give your initial pitch, say something to the effect of: “Now, I’m not completely certain if you’re a good fit for the solutions we’re offering, so I had a couple of questions.”
Think about what this does: in one simple sentence, you’re flipping the whole game around.
You’re no longer trying to woo them, a behavior pattern that will tend to make them more discerning and warier of commitment. After all, if you’re seeking them, they must really be worth something.
Instead of trying to woo them, you’re approaching them with the possibility of an offer, and an inquiry to see if your offer is perhaps going to be a good fit for them.
So, in other words, you aren’t simply trying to woo them, you’re giving them an invitation to talk about themselves. Remember when we talked about how people love to talk about themselves?
The real purpose of this tactic is to decrease the wariness, the guardedness with which your prospect will initially view you. If they view you as simply trying to sell them something, they are going to be harder to convince. This tactic gets around that mental blockage, and for that reason alone it is a worthwhile one.
Tactic 10): The Hard Takeaway
The beauty of the takeaway close is that it works so well in so many different situations for one very simple reason: people hate the idea of having something taken away from them.
We’ve already seen how the soft takeaway up front can spark a prospect’s interest. But now let’s say you’ve advanced farther in the conversation—better, even, through several conversations—and now you’re looking at closing the sale.
There’s just one problem: your customer is getting cold feet at the sight of the price tag.
This is perhaps particularly relevant to sales situations in which you’re selling the customer a package of goods/services with a lot of add-on features. You can always suggest removing features, or going for a lower-cost, lower-value alternative to the project.
But here’s the thing: sometimes your best option is to ponder whether the customer should go through with the sale at all.
You’ve been talking with your customer for some time about their problem and how you can help them, and they were looking at buying, but now they’re struggling with the idea of moving forward.
Instead of encouraging them to think of their problem and look at all the wonderful features of your solution, say something mildly encouraging about how they can handle or manage their problem. Surely their problem is not that bad, right? Maybe a low-rent, low-value solution would be better for them anyway.
Now at this point, if you’ve gauged the situation and your customer correctly, they won’t be thinking: “Hey, that’s right, I can get by.”
No, instead what they’ll be thinking is “No, I can’t lose this great deal!”
People generally hate the prospect of having something taken away from them, and that applies to a prospective deal as much as anything else. If you’re dangling the idea that perhaps they don’t need what you’re selling after all, they’ll be that much likelier to want your solution.
Conclusion: Does Telemarketing Really Work?
Does telemarketing really work?
By now we have our answer: Yes, if you know what to do and you keep at it.
We’ve seen that telemarketing is a lot like playing the guitar, or some other musical instrument: we all know that one person who can do it a little bit, but very few people can do it well.
The problem with bad telemarketing is fundamentally that it’s lazy. The kind of telemarketers who call up a hundred people with slightly different versions of the same script, heedless of what each individual prospect actually wants and who they are, are fundamentally lazy.
There’s really nothing lazier than this approach: it’s practically the equivalent of running your marketing campaign on autopilot.
People are not mass-produced, indistinguishable drones. They are unique, distinct individuals with hopes and dreams and aspirations, not to mention specific needs that are particular to whatever situation they may be in.
Once you understand this, you have the very beginning, the foundation stone, for understanding what separates good telemarketing from bad, lazy telemarketing.
People are not indistinguishable. They are different. Given that this is true, why in the world would one use the same spiel on a hundred different prospects?
Good telemarketing is based on a rejection of this lazy approach. A good telemarketer will treat every potential prospect as someone who is worth taking the time to get to know.
Once you have that assumption, the idea that each prospect is worth the time and effort that it will take to do some advanced research before calling them, then you’re on track for good telemarketing. Instead of the lazy, robotic approach, you’ll look at each prospect as a fresh new learning opportunity.
This outlook is the foundation of what sets good telemarketing apart from lazy telemarketing, but it’s not the only thing. Good telemarketing uses the insights generated from research to offer the prospect highly-targeted value up front.
It’s a very different approach from trying to walk a prospect through the same warm-up routine and questions – “How are you? Would you like to save big and become a winner? What would you say to a widget-that-will-help-you-win?”
If you call someone out of the blue, you owe it to them to explain why they should give you any of their time at all. What’s in it for them?
The beauty of this approach is that it is so focused on the prospect that it puts the spotlight on them. Then you can build on this with questions that respond to what they tell you, not to mention their conversational cues.
Persistence is the other key thing that separates good telemarketing from lazy telemarketing. As we’ve seen, it is often the only way to make a sale – and if you don’t practice lots of follow-ups, you’ll be leaving lots of money on the metaphorical table.
By knowing your prospect, knowing what you have to offer them, and then communicating that in a way that puts the focus on them you will go very far indeed. By persisting, calling your prospect back until you close, you’ll go much farther.
The truth is that there’s no silver bullet for telemarketing for huge profits. It’s more of an artform. But as we’ve seen, if you rely on a few well-supported methods and practice some key tactics, over time you can hone your craft until you reach telemarketer rock star status.