The short answer based on the resurgence we saw in 2022 from our own clients is “Yes.” A more thoughtful—and useful—answer is “Yes, but is a calling campaign right for my business?”
Have you ever tried to get new business by “cold calling” prospects on the phone? What about calling customers to see about their current or future needs? Or calling into a new market to gain intelligence about its potential?
Maybe you’ve thought about doing these things, or others, but just didn’t know where to start. Here are our thoughts on what to keep in mind, whether you create and conduct a campaign yourself or use an outside resource like our firm.
The most basic of the basics is that calling campaigns do work, and they seem to be working better and better. How do we know that? From years of conducting successful campaigns, for one thing. But more important to you right now is that the number of campaigns we launched in 2022 was noticeably up from past years—and more clients have been increasing the hours per day they want us to call.
The critical thing in any direct marketing effort is to manage expectations about the outcome, positive and negative. The bad news is that “response rates” in direct marketing are low. And the proliferation in communications channels in the past decade hasn’t helped to improve those rates. In calling campaigns, a response means someone talks with you about the reason for your call or responds to a message. Another term that’s sometimes used is “conversion,” which means making a sale: you’ve converted a prospect into a customer.
The good news is that the fundamentals still apply, regardless of the channel. In selling, for example, even with response and conversion rates under one percent, a calling campaign can still be worthwhile and cost effective. In fact, the ROI can be quite high, especially when long-term customer value is figured in. In the business-to-business and business-to-government markets, if the right product or service is being sold to the right market segments, gaining even one new client can be profitable. It doesn’t matter whether getting that client takes 100 or even 200 calls.
In nearly 30 years of providing business development services, we’ve learned that a cold-calling campaign requires persistence and consistency. Success largely depends on these eight factors:
- How much prospects believe they need the product or service being offered
- The quality and qualification of the database—that is, calling the right companies and people
- How satisfied prospects are with the product or service they’re currently using
- Whether mail or e-mail marketing has “softened the ground” beforehand
- Brand awareness and perception: Do they know who you are? What do they think of you?
- The effectiveness of competitor marketing
- Whether there is an “offer” associated with responding to a call
- How quickly the calling firm follows up with everyone who wants to hear more—the “hand-raisers.”
Even if the primary purpose of your campaign isn’t achieved, market intelligence gained in the process can be valuable. Databases can be updated; job changes of key buyers, managers, and executives identified; new information about innovations or market shifts discovered. Over time, simply making your marketplace more aware of your brand—“getting your name out”—will no doubt prove valuable.
Recently, in an effort to gain new professional service firm supporters for a not-for-profit and to better understand the market, our firm conducted an outbound calling campaign in a specific state. Here’s a brief look at the process and summary of what happened and, most important, what we learned that can help the organization increase support in the target state and others. (Another point in favor of calling campaigns: results can be extrapolated to other initiatives that don’t even involve calling.)
We began with a list of top professional service firms in the major metro areas and eliminated those not meeting key points in the profile. After developing a more targeted list, we learned from websites and making “recon” calls to selected prospects that some other firms on the list wouldn’t be good prospects for other reasons.
Of the remaining firms, our calling identified several who “raised their hands” to learn more. Our client’s leadership made follow-up calls quickly—a critical success factor—but did not gain other conversations or conversions. An important piece of information we identified late in the process, however, can be used in future campaigns. In fact, it’s so important that we’ll open our calls with it to raise stronger interest more quickly. And we’ll advise our client to lead with it on follow-up calls or other marketing they might do. We’ve seen other instances of critical marketplace insights surface in calling campaigns and become highly productive in other initiatives.
Another valuable insight was that a broader geographic scope would identify more, interested prospects, expanding the campaign’s target market. That kind of information can increase response rates and can best be gained by contacting prospects directly, in this case by calling. Such knowledge can be the basis for large and sustainable ROIs on campaigns.
What You Can Do: Determine how many new customers or clients your company has secured in the past three to five years. Calculate the revenue from each and the likely lifetime value. Identify how those customers became customers (the “channels”). Were they referrals? Trade show follow-ups? “Walk-ins” that found you from internet searches? Then identify demographic commonalities to help build databases.
Next, ask yourself: Are we dissatisfied with the number of new clients we get each year or amount of revenue? Have they come from just one or two channels or consistently from a small number of partners?
If the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” asking one more question is essential: how can we expand the number of channels or the number of partners bringing in business? A different marketing or business development approach might be the answer. And, yes, one of those growth-creating tactics could be one or more telephone campaigns. If the issue is not converting a sufficient number of leads into new accounts then our FOCIS® Selling program may be the right direction. In FOCIS® we teach consultative selling skills (including how to prospect more productively), develop custom sales processes, and coach people on major opportunities.
We provide several calling-based and other lead-generation programs, primarily for business-to-business clients. And we offer calling to do market research, follow-up that you don’t have time for, audience-discovery calls—telephone focus groups, in other words—and other services.
To raise your hand to learn more, just call us at 847-446-0008, Ext. 1, or e-mail pkrone@
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