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October 1998


Improving Outbound Sales Through Outsourcing

BY MURIEL LEGENDRE, THE PRODUCT LINE, INC.

Just a few years ago, face-to-face selling was still the primary way to market any product or service. Rare were the companies or individuals who purchased an item over the phone from an unknown caller. The changing conduct of society, the falling cost of telecommunications and the revolution in technologies have transformed the way companies are selling their products and services today. More important, competition in the marketplace and the necessity to achieve greater efficiencies have driven companies to further reduce the cost of their business operations. More and more, the telephone is a primary media used in most selling processes.

Many corporations today engage in the high-margin business of telephone sales. Programs range from single-call sales for a product or service, to lead generation for a sales team (some involving appointment set up, seminar registration or follow-up calls on inquiries made on a customer service line). There are almost as many ways to implement an outbound campaign as there are products or services to market.

Strategically outsourcing outbound sales has increased greatly among Fortune 1000 corporations whose main objective is to increase sales while reducing their costs. Some reluctance still exists, however, due to issues historically related to the outsourcing decision: lack of data control, fear of over-dependency on a third-party vendor, internal resistance, management issues, etc.

Before presenting the benefits of outsourcing, it is important to bear in mind the critical success factors for an outbound campaign. Thereafter, improving outbound sales, whether through outsourcing or internally, lies in enhancing any or all of the key areas:

Pre-direct-mail campaigns,

Lists,

TSR selection,

TSR training,

Technologies utilized,

Incentive programs,

Offers proposed to potential customers.

The Key Benefits Of Outsourcing
Understanding the key areas listed above is critical to ensuring the success of an outbound sales campaign. More and more corporations, in order to save the time and investment required to improve their outbound program, turn to outsourcing as a solution to enhance their sales while decreasing their cost of business acquisition.

Indeed, the potential benefits of teleservices outsourcing can be enormous for a company. Teleservices agencies are experienced in a wide range of business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications and enable a corporation not only to lower its costs and increase its net sales revenues, but to also free up capital investment for use in other key areas and generally refocus on its core competencies.

Reducing Your Costs
One primary benefit in relegating phone sales to a teleservices agency rather than handling them in-house is certainly the reduced cost of the operation. A teleservices agency benefits from significant economies of scale in spreading expenses among numerous clients and thereby amortizing many general operating expenses. As an example, outsourcers immediately have access to leading-edge technologies at the lowest possible cost per seat.

As technology is an area for outsource saving, so is human resources. Hiring and retaining TSRs for an outbound program requires specific expertise and systems, as well as ongoing focus and energy. By off-loading programs to a third-party vendor, this critical and tedious function can deliver tremendous time and money savings. Further, it prevents companies from bearing the cost of inefficiencies associated with potential downtime or scheduling conflicts. A teleservices agency shares resources among clients and if a campaign is interrupted for any reason, moving TSRs instantaneously to a different campaign provides a flexible and cost-saving solution for affected clients.

Another important advantage in the area of human resources for outsourcing companies is the elimination of the cost of employment taxes and fringe benefits. Companies can also negotiate the most mutually beneficial compensation plan with their teleservices agency and be charged on an hourly, minute or even sales basis. The pay-for-performance pricing plan completely absorbs the costs associated with inefficiencies, mediocre performance or test/program failure. Vendors then share in the risk and are rewarded for success when they deliver results.

Increasing Your Revenues
Reducing cost should not be the only factor in an outsourcing decision - cost-effectiveness should be thoroughly studied. In building the right partnership, outsourcing outbound sales usually can also improve productivity.

Indeed, many advantages offered by a third-party call center contribute to improving conversion ratios as well as increasing the average revenue per sale in a campaign.

Beyond accessing leading-edge technologies at a low cost, outsourcing companies benefit from performance improvements associated with the use of state-of-the-art equipment, superior campaign management tools and CTI expert solutions. The latest predictive dialers increase contacts per hour and maximize lead use, automatically reschedule any call that does not go through to a prospect and provide pertinent customer data to TSRs, thus enabling them to focus on prospective customers and consequently improve sales conversion ratios.

Another benefit provided by teleservices agencies is their in-depth scripting expertise. Vendors are experienced in testing, researching and continuously modifying scripts online to achieve the best results. They are able to develop constructive, unobtrusive scripts and ensure agents a more comfortable and successful approach.

Last but not least, teleservices agencies have a history of developing effective, sophisticated compensation plans for TSRs as well as advanced upselling and cross-selling technique training. This expertise applied to a campaign ultimately converts into more sales and higher revenues per sale.

Improving Your Overall Quality
Beyond the commonly observed benefits of reduced cost and increased sales revenue, teleservices agencies bring some additional critical benefits that further enhance the cost-effectiveness of an outbound sales program.

Accessing Call Center Expertise. Third-party call centers bring in-depth experience in handling a variety of complex and challenging campaigns. Since teleservices are their core competencies, they possess extensive cross-knowledge in all areas related to outbound sales and can impact the critical success factors of an outbound campaign. Call center specialists can pinpoint the key criteria in optimizing a lead list and identify best which caliber of TSR is needed for a specific campaign through the use of proven screening processes.

Based upon their broad experience, teleservices agencies know precisely what a direct mail piece should include or what the lag time between the receipt of a specific letter and the follow-up call should be. Equally important, part of their core business is the responsibility to concentrate on testing a program's multiple variables. Trying different scripts, offers and lists is key to enhancing outbound sales results. A teleservices agency not only uses its experience with diverse clients, but also focuses on testing to ensure the best possible program.

Taking Advantage Of State-of-the-Art Monitoring. Quality is best ensured through ongoing monitoring and the development of creative, state-of-the-art monitoring techniques. These time-consuming and complex functions stand among priorities for teleservices agencies that usually have a dedicated team in place implementing formal and customized quality assurance processes. Outsourcers selecting quality-focused teleservices agencies can expect between two percent and four percent of all their calls to be monitored, which leads to superior agent performance and productivity.

Focusing On Key Business Areas. A secondary benefit associated with the outsourcing decision is that while the teleservices agency concentrates on the outbound program and ensures that all aspects are managed to enable a successful campaign, the outsourcing company can concentrate on its core business. Entrusting the right partner to execute a sales program not only frees up time, but also assets and investment capital, which are then available to redeploy in other important areas.

Additional Value-Added Benefits You Should Expect
From start to finish, carefully selected teleservices agencies possess the tools and resources to enhance outbound sales programs. By providing services to many different clients, a teleservices agency gathers a unique knowledge of outbound campaigns and marketing tactics or geographic issues to consider. Departmental managers also act as consultants, offering ongoing, insightful advice.

Through outsourcing, your company can win access to unique outbound expertise as well as the possibility of additional integrated call center solutions. Some teleservices providers offer a wide range of services, for example, both inbound and outbound services, fulfillment, list modeling, database analysis, credit card processing, cashiering or Internet transaction services. Access to these capabilities is a convenient method to expand into new customer acquisition arenas.

Business value has become more important than cost reduction as a major reason to outsource. Outsourcing outbound sales is now a strategic tool for many corporations.

General Recommendations
Although a multitude of benefits associated with outsourcing outbound sales have been exposed in the above paragraphs, it is critical to remember that outsourcing does not always resemble perfection. In the outsourcing process, it is necessary to follow a few key steps in order to achieve the best results.

The main challenge with outsourcing lies in bringing two cultures together. It is therefore essential to carefully and thoroughly assess your future partner in all aspects of a business relationship. It is critical to select a service agency that understands your objectives and the vision for your business in order to build a mutually beneficial relationship. The major step to selecting the right partner for a company's unique needs is to identify your particular priorities for outsourcing, whether it is reduced cost, easier management, or any other objective. Vendors cannot meet objectives unless they clearly know them.

Additionally, once the right partner and the right application have been identified, other issues may occur over the phase of outsourcing, including data control, performance or management issues, etc. It is important for a company's senior management to be involved in the activities of the service agency in order to identify issues early in a program and resolve them through communication and clear goal setting.

Conclusion
The decision to outsource outbound sales ends up being beneficial to a company that selects the right partner and sets the right expectations. Depending upon their past history on similar projects, third-party vendors can improve outbound sales, including total sales, cost per call and average close rate. Service agencies selected to acquire and retain customers can thereby become significant strategic long-term assets.

Muriel Legendre is a product marketing manager with The Product Line, Inc. (TPL), based in Denver, Colorado. TPL is a full service integrated call center service provider.

Outbound Campaign Quality Monitoring Variables

Call-handling procedures

Client-specific techniques

Product knowledge

Call control

Use of rebuttals (built-in screen)

Cross-sell/upsell success techniques

Voice fluctuation

Speed of information access

Adherence to the call script

Overall professionalism

 







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