Call Centers

EXPERT ADVICE

Telemarketing Needs to Dial In to Social Media

Scanning the RSS feeds from the blogs — many of which are all about the benefits of Web 2.0 providing greater customer intimacy and building trust with customers — one begins to wonder if telemarketing is on its way to becoming obsolete.

I asked a group of marketing vice presidents and directors and a consistently strong response came back: Telemarketing is either stable or growing for event sign-ups and follow-up, yet everyone is struggling with the later stages of developing leads. As a result, telemarketing hasn’t delivered all the results this group of marketing VPs and directors were expecting.

Thin and Wide Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

What’s becoming apparent is that call centers are useful up to a point in any marketing campaign, yet often lack the ability to drive sales prospects into the latter stages of the sales process. While VPs and directors are reluctant to share specifics, you get the sense that there is still a more “thin and wide” approach to managing call center staffs’ level of knowledge rather than “focused and deep.”

Sales cycles drop off and prospects that could be moved further along in the sales process get stalled because call center reps know only enough to get them to that point. The hand-off to sales is often abrupt, and one wonders what the effectiveness of call centers could be if the reps had much deeper and broader knowledge to serve customers with.

AMR Research and others have long contended that call centers are ideal for outsourcing because the processes are relatively easily transferable, and with that, the knowledge and training processes as well.

Yet that isn’t enough anymore. The growth of social media and the proven ability to educate and inform more members of a team than ever before through Wikis, blogs and all other forms of social media needs to be tapped into to make call centers more effective than they are today. It’s time for call center managers to quit taking the cop-out of training their staffs just enough to get by and realize that the greater the knowledge, better the ultimate sales result. What needs to happen is that call centers need to embrace and capitalize on social media to give their reps the knowledge to go as deep into a subject as customers want.

Censoring Social Media Doesn’t Make Sense

When you consider the fact that all forms of social media can be used to better educate and in general get telemarketing staffs dialed in (no pun intended) to more knowledge, it makes you realize how incredibly short-sighted it is to censor social media within a company. Blocking Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and even Plaxo, all of which could be capitalized to better understand existing customers and prospects and serve them with relevant information, companies are outlawing access to these sites. That’s a bad decision especially when you consider their use from the standpoint of service to important others like prospects and customers.

Making people productive starts with making them more connected so they can learn, and part of that is conversing with others. Take software development, for example. It is a profession fueled by the interchange of developers, who are loyal first to their programming languages and areas of expertise. They are passionate about being the best at what they do. Take away the ability to collaborate and they will find another avenue to learn from each other.

It’s time that companies realized that although social media is not directly linked to better code or a deliverable being produced, it’s just as important. The deliverable is greater knowledge, insight and collaboration across their industry.

Deer in the Headlights or Part of the Herd?

To ignore social media and the collaborative platforms it’s developing is to risk staying “thin and wide” in terms of managing information and knowledge in a call center. That is the path to being a deer in the headlights of the rapid change happening right now. To embrace the lessons being learned from all forms of social media, and to revamp lead generation — first with more vibrant content including aggressive use of video, blogs, podcasts and RSS feeds — is the path to being part of the herd and contributing to lead generation and escalation more than ever before.

Marketing VPs and directors are split on leaving telemarketing in its current form, allowing only thin and wide training, versus embracing social media as a means for bringing greater value into their telemarketing groups. The lessons learned from these conversations are summarized below:

  • Both organic search through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and paid search such as Google AdWords are the two most effective lead generation methods that fuel the majority of telemarketing organizations’ sales pipelines. It’s clear that many smaller software companies are spending at least 50 percent of their monthly marketing budgets on their Google AdWords strategies alone based on the purchase of keywords and investments in landing pages. Google has also made significant strides in providing tools for advertisers to project the effectiveness of landing page design as well.
  • Microsites that are event-specific and navigable by potential prospects get much more activity than the bland, corporate Web sites. The addition of microsites that include role-based navigation is pretty hot right now in terms of generating leads, according to marketing VPs and directors.
  • Targeted e-mail campaigns that include behavioral targeting are increasing in importance. Marketers are hoping this will make telemarketing more attuned to the unmet needs and preferences of prospects who initially have asked for product information or a product demonstration. Behavioral targeting shows much potential when combined with telemarketing strategies.
  • Using social media including blogs, internal Wikis and allowing access to Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Plaxo are combining to bring higher levels of knowledge into the call center. Forward-thinking marketing VPs and directors are concentrating on how to add value with unique and differentiated knowledge management strategies for each of these areas. This is a critical part of getting telemarketing strategies more attuned to how prospects want to learn about a company’s products and services, as well as how customers want to buy.

The Bottom Line

It’s time to realize that telemarketing needs to change in order to stay connected to selling strategies by using all forms of social media more than ever before. Capitalizing on these and also having unique knowledge management strategies around each will increase telemarketing effectiveness over time.


Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. He also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of 15 books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results From Your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.


1 Comment

  • Unfortunately, the kinds of people that make great B2B prospectors and Lead generators usually make bad salespeople and vice versa. Your call center is best used to generate highly qualified prospects that are a good use of a salesperson’s time to follow-up with. The handoff does have to be handled well, but the further in the sales cycle the caller is involved, the less time the salespeople have to establish themselves prior to making the sale. For some products, sure, the caller can handle the entire sale. For most products though, you are better off using your people in the way that best takes advantage of their personal strengths.

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