Call centers pin hopes on b-to-b

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B-to-b has emerged as the strongest segment of the beleaguered telemarketing industry in the wake of the recently implemented federal consumer do-not-call regulations. Because b-to-b telemarketing is exempt from most of the new regulations, call centers are looking to bolster their efforts in that arena.

"It’s one of the few areas of growth," said Eric Sherman, VP-business development at Global Response, a Margate, Fla.-based call center with b-to-b and consumer clients. "B-to-b is more acceptable."

Lori Fentem, president of Synergy Solutions, a Phoenix-based call center, said: "We’re looking to grow b-to-b more aggressively than ever before. We have to diversify in areas that won’t be affected."

Similarly, Accudata America, a list compiler that handles both postal and telemarketing lists, is "making an aggressive push to grab more of that [b-to-b] market," said Sarah Stansberry, director of marketing.

U.S. companies are projected to spend $79.7 billion on outbound telemarketing this year, up 6.3% from 2002. But industry stakeholders agree the picture is grim on the consumer side because of the new federal regulations. They say an inevitable shakeout is looming.

"A lot of small [call center] companies will go out of business in the consumer sector," predicted H. Robert Wientzen, president-CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, which held its annual Teleservices Conference last month in Miami.

Millions say ‘do not call’

The Federal Trade Commission officially launched its do-not-call registry on June 27; as of July 3, consumers registered more than 16.9 million numbers. Telemarketers face a penalty of up to $11,000 for each call violation.

Meanwhile, teleservices companies are struggling with a depressed economy.

"Smaller call centers can’t afford to be compliant [with the new regulations]," said Paul Brown, a senior account manager for SER Solutions Inc., Dulles, Va., which provides dialing technologies and processing software for call center clients. "They’re squeezed from both sides," he said, referring to economic challenges and the new rules.

Technology upgrades to comply with the new regulations can cost more than $100,000. Added to that is the fee for the national registry, which can be as high as $7,500 a year, depending on the number of area codes in which a company makes calls. There are also fees associated with state do-not-call lists, which range from $10 in Georgia to $800 in New York.

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