B-to-B: You Make the Call
In the current tough economic environment, many marketing and sales organizations are curtailing their in-person visits to prospects and customers. Of course, they still need to find, engage, acquire and keep customers. And despite all the e-marketing initiatives, most business prospects and customers still insist on some form of live, personal contact, especially for "considered decisions."
Fortunately, we have phones, and so do our prospects and customers. The challenge, and the opportunity, is to conduct B-to-B telemarketing with clear focus, great skill and big results. You'll need to start by crafting a phone communication strategy built on the following four key elements.
Full Integration Within Your Marketing Mix
Most marketing mixes include Web sites, direct mail, trade shows, seminars and webinars, field sales people, dealers and distributors, and phone. As campaigns begin, many choose to send a direct mail piece or e-mail a webinar invitation. A caller then phones the prospect to conduct qualification, and afterward bows out as the resulting lead and subsequent selling activities go to the field sales group or a business partner. Currently, that is a recipe for underperformance. Instead, you should take the bold step of actually asking your prospects and customers how and when they prefer to communicate. Many of them will tell you that they still want live, proactive contact from you and live access to you. Here are the options for call and multimedia timing options:
- The phone call follows a mailing, invitation, event or similar effort, either with or without the prospect's request for live contact.
- The phone call precedes other marketing elements to provoke a "yes" to consideration of the next element. Another call follows the element to hear reactions and arrange the next step.
- The phone dialogue results from a real-time request by the Web site visitor via the site's click-to-talk option.
- The phone call follows a Web site visit, either with or without the prospect's overt request.
- The phone call initiates a real-time, collaborative Web site visit. More calls and/or e-mails come later, as arranged with the prospect.
Positioning in the Marketplace and Within the Company
Prospects and customers perceive your phone calls either as marketing, sales or customer relations. If they are confused about the true purpose of your calls, they will not act and will not buy.
So conduct your positioning deliberately. When using the phone as a touchpoint with a prospect or customer, the premise of the call is to find out, by asking, what he or she is doing or considering that might make what you sell viable and desirable. The reason for your call is specific and linked to an action the prospect or customer took. For example, your reason for making contact could be expressed when your caller says, "You recently attended our webinar, and I'm calling to see if you have any questions."
Within your company, position the phone team physically - and on the organization chart - within marketing or sales, not operations or administration. Grant your callers full membership in your corporate business community, and run telemarketing as a genuine profit-and-loss center.
Location, Staffing and Operations
Where should you conduct your phone efforts? Field sales offices? That's not the best idea; almost always, the callers will be perceived and/or used as administrative assistants for the field reps. What about a neutral, low-cost or regional call center? This is a possibility, as long as you can assure technical and business continuity with your marketing and sales operations elsewhere. Most often, the best choice is to conduct your telemarketing efforts at your headquarters. You are near everything and are highly visible.
Finding, luring and landing competent, energetic callers is very hard. Don't try to find new callers in the same old places or in consumer "telemarketing" centers. Instead, recruit from travel and hospitality, health care, and journalism - industries where questioning, listening and conversational skills are required for success.
For some businesses, questions arise about what phone initiatives to conduct in-house and what to outsource. Here are the strategic guidelines to help you choose:
» Full account management
» Collaboration (team selling)
» Proprietary information for which you require nondisclosure
» Customers demand substantive business and financial content and/or technical capability
» Consistent (but not "mass") process and content
» Easily learned
» Opportunity identification with limited criteria
» Sudden volume, e.g., events, invitations and registration
» Order acceptance
On every call, caller conduct is where you lose or win versus information overload and your competition. This is why we must assure the appropriateness of the message given the timing of the call within the communication sequence. Here's the rule: Commit no random acts of calling, nor make any calls that you or your CEO would not accept.
Among the implications: Do not cold-call. You shouldn't be surprised; most callers do not like making cold calls, and business prospects are not always receptive to them. Instead, call because there is a relevant event in the prospect's business life, the prospect has responded to your marketing message(s) in another medium or the contact already is a customer.
Another essential telemarketing best practice is to do your homework before placing any calls. Calls should always be thoroughly researched.
Make sure your callers know and understand the business premise behind what they will do and say. Specifically, what precedes the phone call? What did your company promise? What do you really want to accomplish? What is supposed to happen next? How does all this fit together?
At the outset of the call, you have perhaps 15 seconds to sell the value of having a conversation and secure the approval to actually have it. That means there should be no elevator pitch nor name-dropping. Instead, make your case for dialogue:
- "Hello Mr./Ms. Prospect, I'm (say your first and last names) from (your company)." If your company's name is not universally known, create and say an ID tag that explains what you do. For example, "We're the data security people."
- "The reason for my call is to thank you for visiting us at the trade show, hearing about what you and your company are considering in data security, and seeing how well we might match up."
- "Is this a good (or OK or suitable) time to talk?"
With prospects who responded to a marketing message, start by learning their business motivations. Ask, "Of all the Web sites and exhibits you visited, of all the direct mail you received, of all the whitepapers available, how (not why) did you decide to respond to ours?"
On the first call, try for six substantive answers - settle for four. Examples: What does he or she do now, and how does he or she do it? What are the real and perceived issues with how he or she does it? How does he or she envision using your product or service? Of course, capture the administrative data and the proper spelling and pronunciation of his or her name.
To sell the next step, whether it will be an in-person visit, a product demonstration, a proposal or an actual order, don't pitch features. Rather, promote the benefits to the prospect or customer. For example, "You'll be able to see how the new machine performs and put it to the test in your own environment because my Chicago colleague will bring it right to you."
To close the conversation and earn the commitment, tell your prospect what to do and how to do it. Make it easy, and ask him or her to do it. Then be sure to follow through completely.
Top-flight B-to-B telemarketing is among the best ways to expedite customer acquisition, increase customer retention, and boost your corporate and national efforts toward economic recovery. Make sure you take advantage of such an opportunity.
Michael A. Brown is a B-to-B telemarketing expert. His consulting and training clients include profitable B-to-B marketers, from startups to the Fortune 100. Contact him in Austin, Texas at (800) 373-3966, or visit his Web site, www.michaelabrown.net.