Straight Talk: Jon HamiltonPermission is Key
Telemarketers must embrace the principles of permission-based marketing in order to survive, according to teleservices expert Jon Hamilton. Hamilton spoke in June at the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Annual Teleservices Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. A 30-year industry veteran, Hamilton is CEO of Authtel Permission Solutions and president of JHA Telemanagement. Prior to forming Authtel, Hamilton served as president of the American Teleservices Association (ATA) and chair of the DMA's Telephone Marketing Council. He now pauses to reflect on the impact of do-not-call legislation, leveraging direct mail to regain permission to call consumers and a telecommunications company that got it right.
PB: Has the do-not-call list topped out, or will it continue to grow considerably?
JH: The growth has slowed, but it is continuing. The big news at the end of last year was that [the National Do-Not-Call Registry] topped 40 million numbers. Then it topped 50 million numbers. Recently it topped 60 million numbers. One of the ways it's growing is by the harmonization with state liststhe process that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was required to try to make happen. It is happening with all but a small handful of states who just refuse for financial reasons. And, a lot of the telemarketing companies haven't slowed down yet. They'll have to, [or] eventually that's going to take its toll on the industry. But, in the interim, people who aren't on the list are getting more calls than they used to get. That's going to cause people to think about [registering]. But where it will finally tap out is anybody's guess. There are probably segments of the population that will never put themselves on the list.
PB: You have spoken frequently about marketers using direct mail to regain permission to call consumers. How do you see that working?
JH: The only way permission telemarketing is going to work is if companies reach out to potential customers and offer them something of value. Then, you need to be very open and honest about what you're asking for. You're asking for permission to call people. You need to tell them how often you are going to call. Nobody's going to give you permission if they think you are going to call them every week. Then you need to spell out [to prospects] that by giving permission to call, they are not giving anyone else permission, nor are they taking their number off the national do-not-call list.
But you can't call them if they are on the national do-not-call list. Thus, direct mail can be used to ask for permission to call. For example, send them an interactive CD with valuable software on it. Once they load it, data goes to a server somewhere and asks for their permission to call twice a year with special offers. [Authtel] research shows that 80 percent will try it, and 25 percent say yes to the request.
PB: What do marketers need to look for in an outbound sales representative to prevent more prospects from registering on the do-not-call list?
JH: The national registry calls out for the end of formulaic telemarketing, word-for-word verbatim scripting and two hours of [agent] training. That kind of attitude will bring about dramatic growth of the do-not-call list. I think the key for the future is the quality of reps, which has always been important. But then it's about training and retention. It's about paying agents enough and making [telemarketing] a career, not just a part-time, filler job. The vast majority of the telemarketing business is still hourly based with no benefits. You have to have someone who understands what the customer wants. You better have a relevant offer and a good value proposition. That's some of the stuff that has gotten lost.
Telemarketing, for the last 10 years, has been [about putting] a bunch of people on the phone and [having] them read these meaningless words that try to make customers do something. But the direct marketing business as I know it is about offers and lists and targeting. Somehow the telemarketing business lost track of that.
PB: What was the last personal telemarketing call you fielded, and how did it go?
JH: I do get quite a few calls. Most of the time, they are not particularly relevant to anything I'm interested in. The calls are not necessarily well-handled. And yet, I don't put my name on the national do-not-call list for several reasons. One reason is that I never know when that call is going to come that I want to take. So, I got a call recently from a telecommunications company offering a flat-rate deal for long-distance and local service. They said they would tie both my home-office phone and my personal phone into one plan for a price that was going to save me almost half what I was paying every month. What it speaks to is good targeting and good marketing. They knew who I was. They knew I had a few phones. They had an offer for me.