In 1977, I spent a sizzling summer in Chicago, selling radio ads to small businesses around the country. It was a classic telemarketing boiler room, right out of Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1992 film drama. Even then, over 40 years ago, telemarketing was the best possible sales training available. You had to be able to follow a script and be performative, persistent, able to think on your feet, and capable of closing a deal.
Can you handle rejection? Telemarketing is the ultimate test. Can you handle the pressure? The owners of the company would listen in on calls and if they felt you needed help, they would simply take over the sale, talking right over you. If you were in the process of closing a sweet deal, you might suddenly hear your voice blaring over the companywide intercom system as you wrapped up the deal - their way of celebrating success.
My bosses offered me a nice incentive to leave school and come work for them beyond the summer. No way. After three months of battling it out on the phone every day, I couldn’t get back to college fast enough.
Changing business landscape
Telemarketing was brutal back then and is even more challenging today. Phone systems are quite sophisticated at blocking out sales calls and prospects are highly distracted.
As an operator, I delved in and out of telemarketing for years, using it as a business development tool. After a full day of prospecting, I would make calls myself, setting appointments with ease. After the 9/11 terrorist attack, everything changed. Prospecting was tough because access to buildings was limited. As the years went on, reaching a potential client by telephone could seem impossible at times.
Telemarketing can work
Despite the challenges, telemarketing has always worked. It is one big weapon in your business development arsenal. We enjoyed success having an in-house caller, although the position tends to have quite a bit of turnover. We were pleased with the results from individual telemarketers working out of their own home, but again, this was not a long-term solution. We also tried several outbound telemarketing firms who charged by the appointment. They got lucky once in a while by getting us a fantastic lead that resulted in a big sale, but mostly, we were chasing low quality leads. My experience was always with companies that charged us on a per appointment basis.
The new model
Fortunately, the model for outbound telemarketing has changed. Leading telemarketing companies now charge by the hour, focusing on quality leads, rather than getting paid for each appointment. Brian Parnell is CEO of Grindstone, an outbound telemarketing firm that has experience in coffee service appointment setting. “The companies that still sell on a pay for appointment basis are generally out of business,” said Parnell. “The big downside of the old model is that sales agents will force appointments just to get themselves paid, so the quality goes way down.” Parnell added that the hourly model means greater business continuity and allows him to recruit higher quality people; much needed in today’s business environment.
The art of telemarketing – Rapport and research
“Telemarketing done wrong does not work, because there is an art to it,” said Amanda Puppo, CEO of MarketReach, an outbound telemarketing firm that specializes in appointment setting for the coffee service, vending and micro market industry. Thirty percent of MarketReach’s clients are from the office refreshment industry. Not surprisingly, MarketReach is a regular exhibitor at NAMA shows, including the recent 2018 show in Las Vegas.
Puppo said one key to overcoming today’s telemarketing challenges is “pleasant persistence,” the ability to display rapport building skills and relate to people properly, especially receptionists. This is what ultimately brings the caller to the right person. Finding the right person, the actual decision maker, is very important, she added.
Parnell believes that the telemarketing world has evolved. “The days of 'smile and dial' are over; making as many calls as possible in an hour isn’t the answer.” Parnell said research and industry knowledge is critical, especially in larger accounts that require multiple calls, sometimes over a period of months, to set a single appointment.
Building a “snowball”
Telemarketing is wrongly viewed as something that can be turned on and off, but from my experience as an operator, a patient, long term approach will result in success. Today’s leading telemarketing firms cultivate leads, develop relationships and ultimately, get their clients in front of the prospect. For the operator who hires a telemarketing entity, patience is required. If proper follow up is happening, the lead snowball grows with every passing day. Ultimately, the appointments will come.
This long-term approach isn’t cheap, but it works. I always remind my consulting clients that every lead has a sales cost of some kind, so after one year, an evaluation should be made. Is the return on investment there? Puppo said (very conservatively) her approach will result in 8 to 17 high-quality leads for a 100-hour block of calling. As she points out, if there are some “home runs” in the group, the effort and the cost will be well worth it.
Of course, results will vary from one market area to the other and based on the employee count required. Coffee service accounts of 40 or more employees are much easier to book than micro market opportunities, requiring over 200 employees.
Parnell said the phone agents at Grindstone are motivated and paid rewards based on account retention. “We are looking for ongoing client relationships and the only way we can get that is to deliver results. Our clients know that and so does our team.”
Once an appointment is set, the report submitted by the telemarketer should provide valuable information for the operator, including all the key information about the account.
- Decision maker content info
- Employee count (onsite)
- Current service
- Monthly spend
- Calling history
- Motivating factors – Price, service, products, equipment or something else?
Operators should expect complete and comprehensive information from today’s leading telemarketing firms.
Confident about the future
Telemarketing has been around since the invention of the telephone. Both Parnell from Grindstone and Puppo from MarketReach are extremely confident about the future of telemarketing and the fact that an ongoing telemarketing program should be part of every business development campaign in the coffee service, vending and micro market industry.
“I can’t think of any better way to get qualified and highly targeted opportunities at your doorstep. If you want ten solid coffee service, vending and micro market opportunities in the next thirty days, I will bring them to you,” said Puppo. “They will be qualified and targeted leads.”
If you sell for a living and have not seen Glengarry Glen Ross, I highly recommend it. For my account execs, it was required watching. May you always get the Glengarry leads!
Some memorable lines from the film:
“Put that coffee down – coffee is for closers only.”
“ABC. “A” always. “B” be. “C” closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. Always be closing.
Editor's Note: This column originally ran in April 2018 but remains relevant today, especially amidst the coronavirus pandemic as business by phone becomes more prevalent.