Long used as a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing tool, telemarketing is increasingly being used by the business-to-business (B2B) sector.
However, approaching B2B telemarketing in the same way as a B2C could be disastrous – and with such direct contact involved, getting this kind of campaign wrong in a business environment can be fatal for a brand image.
Neville Upton, chief executive of customer insight specialist The Listening Company, says market intelligence is key, plus knowledge about the target of the call. “It’s important you truly understand your client base,” he says. “Every business will have an organisational structure, brand, culture and philosophy that will require a specific approach.”
According to Dino Forte, director of Converso Contact Centres, there are certain traits that lend themselves to B2B telemarketing work. “As well as being highly knowledgeable on a product or service, an agent needs to be able to think laterally, demonstrate eloquence and have the maturity to tailor a conversation according to the needs and responses of each individual,” he says.
Ultimately, people make judgements about a brand based on their interactions with callers from the company. “If the telemarketing function is outsourced, callers need to be trained so they believe they are working directly for the client,” says Stephen Bentley, chief executive of Granby Marketing Services.
Of course, no matter how well trained the caller is, if they are calling the wrong person they are wasting their time. “There is no escaping the importance of accurate customer data, ensuring the right person is contacted with a fitting proposition,” says Duncan Graham, head of the contact centre at multi-channel customer communications agency Broadsystem.
“Preparation is key – research the targeted organisations, double-check that they need your service. If there is an existing relationship through historic communication this should be the first port of call.”
For The Listening Company’s Upton, it’s not just about accurate data, but using it intelligently. “Data used for telemarketing should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny because missing, inaccurate or ambiguous variables can be the difference between a good and a very bad experience,” he says.
Once the prospects have been accurately identified, they then have to be reached directly.
“With the protection of ‘gatekeepers’ and over-zealous PAs, it can be very difficult to get to speak to the decision maker,” says Forte at Converso. “We call early or later in the day, which can bypass the ‘usual’ defences. It can also help to ‘warm’ up the call by running other marketing initiatives in parallel. This helps keep the name ‘top of mind’, so the prospect is more likely to take the call.”
In one campaign, Broadsystem actually targeted the gatekeepers themselves. Graham explains: “The gatekeeper was sent a gift hamper prior to being called by contact centre agents. Not only did this make the PAs the focus of office attention, but warmed them to an imminent call.”
Once contact has been made, it is vital to maximise engagement. In a business setting, this initial contact should be seen as the first of many conversations that build a relationship with the prospect that guide them through to a sale.
Graham adds: “Nurturing relationships over time can be achieved through a ‘prospect to customer journey’ rather than ‘smash and grab’ approach. Once a deal has been struck it is vital to keep the relationship going as client retention is often more profitable than acquisition.”
Tools that help callers at this stage include a comprehensive record of prior contact with the target or the target’s company.
“There is nothing more annoying than an operative that doesn’t know what has happened previously,” says Graham. “It is critical that B2B campaigns are totally integrated, with records of direct mail activity and any responses to this and past transactions.
With B2B telemarketing, patience pays dividends in the long run. Prospective clients are unlikely to “buy” at the time the call is made. For the call to be successful, it must therefore offer some value to the recipient.
“Before picking up the phone, the least we will do is undertake online searches to see what is happening in the client’s business and in the client’s market,” says Adam Whittaker at Reardon Smith Whittaker. “Demonstrating a degree of relevance, being considerate and thoughtful about the client’s business circumstances leaves the right impression – even if the client does not take things any further at the time of the call.”
Effective B2B telemarketing is all about using market intelligence to identify and reach prospects, and to get to know them and their businesses better, so that well trained, adept callers can more effectively engage with them through key insights and build a long-lasting relationship.