B-to-B: Make the Call
If you've been playing Buzzword Bingo at any time during the past 12 months, you know you can score the easy win with "social media," "digital marketing" or even "tweet." If social media is so wonderful, why would B-to-B marketers want to continue with the more traditional model of making outbound telephone calls? Is outbound telemarketing still a viable option for driving business marketing success?
While it might seem an easy fix to cut a more expensive channel such as outbound telemarketing, the intrinsic value and potential for ROI continues to make it an effective choice for B-to-B marketers today.
Nothing Nurtures Like Talking
The typical buying cycle consists of four phases: awareness, evaluation, choice and then purchase. The process of identifying leads, creating the awareness, and then allowing for the relationship to grow is considered today to be the key element of the nurturing process.
According to industry research firm Sirius Decisions, only about 53 percent to 68 percent of qualified leads are accepted by the sales work force. Of the leads accepted, only about 50 percent to 75 percent can be deemed opportunities. The rest fall out of the funnel for lack of attention. As a field sales force is rewarded for purchase, it becomes frustrated with the time and effort needed to build relationships with leads who are not ready to sign today.
So why use outbound telemarketing to nurture leads? Calling enables a marketer to not only start the sales process, but also establish a timeline for the entire cycle. The process of calling a prospect—as opposed to sending direct mail or email—serves to seamlessly move that prospect from the initial stage of being aware of what is offered to a natural evaluation of the offering. Through human intervention, or nurturing, the prospect can be more smoothly transitioned into a selection and eventual purchase.
Outbound telephone calls are at the heart of the nurturing process for early leads. Callers make the initial contact, listen to the prospect to understand needs and desires, collect important data over time and remain in contact while getting feedback and providing a relationship that becomes a lead who can be won by the sales team.
By using its outbound callers, a marketer can improve cost of contact while building the relationship. Outbound calls can, in fact, shorten the purchase cycle. Calls also enable a marketer to get what might be an inevitable "no" sooner, thereby saving valuable time and money with the important additional benefit of not putting off the prospect with additional contacts. Consider, too, that the opportunity to close the sale may be greater with calling than with other sales channels that do not include human intervention.
Hiring and Training
How do successful agencies utilize outbound calls to nurture B-to-B leads? There are several best practices, but the first and most important is in the sourcing and selection of the team. The key to outbound calling success is in the people who make the calls. While it may be true that anyone can talk on the phone, there is a talent to being able to call people and provide them with enough information to keep them on the phone instead of hanging up.
When assembling the team, look for the desire to influence, an ability to connect and a true love for the opportunity to share a passion with another human being. Finding this talent is one key to staffing your outbound call center with the right people. These are people who can develop generic leads into nurtured, responsive leads for sales closure. There are numerous firms, organizations and surveys that will help you source this person. Firms with the most success utilize one of these tools to determine the best talent for this key job.
Another best practice to employ after hiring the right people is to invest in training. Callers must be trained in such a way that they can speak knowledgeably about the value of the product or service they are selling, but also be flexible enough to convince and nurture off the script. It's not possible to script every response, and training must facilitate the caller in building the confidence to effectively hear, and respond appropriately to, spontaneous questions. A key element to nurturing is listening and responding in a natural, conversational manner. This is what creates and nurtures the relationship.
A successful organization will build its training with great detail around the product and/or service. It will also spend a great deal of time in role plays, practice calls and, where possible, in experiencing the product or service to give the calling associates a deep and practical understanding of potential exchanges and the impact on closing the sale.
Metrics That Matter
Finally, when employing an outbound telephone campaign, remember that patience is a virtue. Successful teams do not measure contact rates in a traditional sense. Instead, they recognize that when reaching out to other businesses you will usually get an answer, but the person answering is rarely the decisionmaker.
For this reason, it is important to create the relationship with the first person who answers the phone in order to develop an understanding of who is the right person to call and when is the best time to reach them. There are very talented "gatekeepers" out there; creating a conversation with them that builds trust is the key to getting the opportunity to speak with the ultimate decisionmaker. Thus, key metrics for successful outbound calling should focus on quality of the lead and the data obtained and developed, as well as win rates for the leads nurtured and passed to the sales force.
In today's economic market, it is critical that all options are leveraged for the maximum benefit for B-to-B marketing efforts. This means creating a campaign that leverages social media and email, but most importantly, people. The outbound telephone campaign, when executed well, will kick off the sales cycle and drive long-term relationships and sales growth for any business.