Telemarketing doesn't have the best reputation in many circles. But if done properly, it can be a great way to engage B-to-B prospects and help guide them through the sales process.
"The biggest hurdle is that people don't want to be marketed to or sold to," says Jason Hekl, the former vice president of marketing at Coupa and Inquira. "So the openness or appetite to receive sales calls just isn't that great—it's harder and harder to get through, because people are bombarded with too many messages."
Another big hurdle is the plethora of competition. "Choices are everywhere. You can easily find half a dozen options for just about any type of technology," says Hekl. "And in the marketing automation space, it's said that 70% of the buying cycle happens before anyone picks up the phone and talks to someone."
But that, he says, is the easy 70%. "It's the rest that is challenging."
What Drives Buying Decisions
Consumer purchase behavior is often motivated by aspiration—people often buy something because it seems "cool," says Hekl. But in B-to-B, buying is often driven by fear of consequences of falling behind the competition. Marketing plays a key role, "but people buy from people, and you don't always transact online for a big purchase," he says. "When it gets serious, you have to get people involved."
While at Coupa, a provider of cloud-style spending management solutions, Hekl says he was a big believer in the phone, and took great care to make sure leads were qualified before they got into the hands of the sales force. "Solid leads are fast tracked—if somebody signs up for a free trial, they're showing a willingness to use our software."
Still, that free trial doesn't unequivocally mean the customer is ready to purchase. You need to be sure that a prospect who interacts with your company online really is truly a prospect who could move further along in the sales funnel.
"A lot of people think a visit to a website equals engagement, but it really doesn't," opines Michael Brown, president of the recently rebranded BtoBEngage (formerly Business To Business by Phone). "Real humans still need to interact with each other, either by phone or live and in person."
As an example, he notes that if a person uses an ATM from a bank they typically don't do business with while on a business trip, they now have an engagement history with that bank. "But you really haven't engaged with that bank, just like you really haven't engaged with a company when you've simply downloaded a whitepaper from its website."
Some marketers think that an email lead generation campaign equals engagement, because they've sent a series of emails to a prospect. "In reality, all the consumer did was not tell you to stop," says Brown. "And that kind of interaction can happen with people who have no power to further your cause—you need to find the right person on the influencing scale."
Why You Should Make the Call
Marketers need to develop an interaction history with prospects, and one of the best ways to do this can be the phone, says Brown.
"The phone still has a great value, but later in the communication sequence," he says. "Conversations now don't occur on the first contact."
Because everyone has received so many inappropriately targeted or timed cold calls from vendors, prospects often automatically assume an unknown caller won't have anything useful to offer. The key, says Brown, is doing your homework. "An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of pitch."
When calling someone for the first time, don't try to tell them everything about your product or service in that first interaction. Rather, do some research on your prospect and their business, and start the conversation by referencing something that is happening in their industry, or perhaps an interesting thread they posted on LinkedIn. Then, suggest a particular page on your website that might be of interest.
Be Clever and Relevant
"Cold calling in the old fashioned way just isn't working," says Brown. "But companies can have a good experience by encouraging a site visit rather than pushing for a conversation during that first call."
Creativity is essential when you're making a call to a B-to-B prospect. "As a consumer, when I get a call you have no more than five seconds with my attention span," says Hekl.
Some marketers say outbound calling is a numbers game, he says. "They think if you call a hundred people, two or three might progress through the channel. And that actually propagates the phone's bad reputation."
Of course, using the phone does require a bit of persistence. "When you're targeting an executive, they may not have the time to respond," says Hekl. "You don't want to be a nuisance, so you have to do your due diligence and mix up the channels."
Engaging a B-to-B prospect can often take seven or eight attempts over several months. At Coupa, an integrated program where salespeople split up their territories by geographic region and then looked at the financial metrics of their industries pulled results 2.5 times higher than average. Personalized emails coupled with phone call attempts over a period of time helped salespeople build a relationship with their leads.
"It takes time to capture valuable data," says Hekl.