Telemarketing is the process of selling products or services over the telephone. Businesses sometimes refer to it as “inside sales” or “tele-sales.”
Those calls at dinner time from politicians or companies encouraging you to switch from cable TV to a dish service? That’s telemarketing. So is the local office supplies dealer where you shop calling to see if you’d like to order another case of paper, or your favorite yoga studio calling to offer a discount if you sign up for a new class. Telemarketers might be calling from a “call bank” – a business specializing in telemarketing – or from the offices of a business with fewer than 10 employees.
Telemarketers must abide by any local, regional, or national regulations. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule “requires that telemarketers make specific disclosures of material information; prohibits misrepresentations; sets limits on the times telemarketers may call consumers; prohibits calls to a consumer who has asked not to be called again; and sets payment restrictions for the sale of certain goods and services.”
While telemarketing has acquired a bad reputation because it’s used by unscrupulous people trying to steal from the vulnerable and by annoying “robo-callers” who play a recorded outgoing message in a continuous loop, it can be an effective small business marketing tool when used properly.
Whether selling to businesses or to consumers, telemarketing is most effective when the business making the call has an established connection – even a slight one – to the person being called. For example, the call recipient might already be a customer of the business or is a prospect who has requested more information.
Best practices for telemarketing success include:
- Customer information. The caller should know why the people being called are good prospects – did they open an email message about the product or enter a prize drawing at a trade show?
- Knowledge. Individuals placing the sales calls should know the products they’re selling and the companies they represent, and should also be able to answer questions about both. They should also be trained in typical purchase objections and how to overcome them in a conversation.
- Empathy. An empathetic telemarketer who demonstrates listening skills is better able to develop a customer relationship than a caller who is focused on nothing more than the sale.
- A campaign. Because customers need several contacts in different forms – advertising, direct mail, and so on – the telemarketing call needs to be part of a larger marketing effort.
Telemarketing is most successful when used to nurture leads rather than to generate them.