Telemarketing works best when combined with other channels

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Michael A. Brown is a telemarketing consultant (, based in Austin, Texas. BtoB recently asked him about trends and best practices in outbound telemarketing.

Straight Line: With the rise of digital marketing, the success of outbound phone calls may be overlooked. What are you seeing out here?

Michael Brown: Telemarketing is still vital and viable—we don't know anybody who's thrown away their phone—but often it's used later in the communications sequence than in the past, after the prospect has raised his hand in response to a marketing message. The one thing that's fallen from grace is cold calling.

From a human standpoint, we have to communicate with each other in real time. Once mutual relevance has been established, the phone is a very personal medium. And that is its biggest link, for example, with social media marketing.

Straight Line: How can b-to-b telemarketing and social media work together?

Brown: With social media, someone might post a legitimate business question and receive responses. But in my experience, after getting these generalized responses, the poser of the question may want to have an actual dialogue.

Second, if the person with the question is looking at a Web site at the same time, the phone connection becomes a guided tour rather than verbal narration. It's then that the phone becomes incredibly powerful.

Every time a new medium comes along, most of its content is derived from a previous one. Radio content was derived from newspapers, for example. The content of a lot of social media is a lot like the brochures, Web pages and blogs that preceded it. And the marketing premise here is the same: We try to identify those businesses that make “brighter than average blips” on our radar by seeking a fit with prospects. Once we find that, it often provokes human dialogue. Sometimes it happens via social media, sometimes by e-mail. But as I said, nobody is throwing away their phones.

Straight Line: Corporate social sites seem to have greater potential for successfully reaching out via telemarketing. What is your view?

Brown: I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but most of the participants on social sites appear to be worker bees without much buying-decision power. Yes, you can call these people and navigate to the right person from there. In addition, it would be natural to call a midlevel manager who's a vibrant participant on your social network to ask questions and advance the conversation.

Straight Line: What about using telemarketing with users of the general social sites, such as Facebook?

Brown: My instinct is that it would be less effective. I'm not saying you can't do it; it might be worth a test. But specificity is a better indicator of a possible match. I happen to participate in LinkedIn. If somebody asked, for example, about the top four trends in social media marketing, I don't think that would provoke a phone call. But if their questions were about how they could better leverage social media as a marketing tool, a marketing firm might have a legitimate reason to call them.

Straight Line: E-mail marketing seems to have taken over the practice of cold-calling. How can this channel be combined with the phone?

Brown: One of the most powerful uses of e-mail is to propose a possible business match-up by posing an if-then proposition. For example, you might encourage the recipient to visit your Web site, then ask permission to give him a call next week. Here the combination of e-mail and telephone can get greater results than each medium on its own.

I think a disturbing marketing trend today is the use of automated lead nurturing, with the premise being that almost all of it, including e-mails, is automated or triggered. My reaction to that is, how dare we not ask customers and prospects their preferences on how they want to be communicated with?

Straight Line: Do you have any thoughts about how many phone calls might be optimum before alienating the prospect?

Brown: It's hard to reach people and sometimes you have to keep at it, especially in trying to reach C-level executives. But again, you can get better results by approaching prospects with a combination of media.

For example, consider an “old medium” that might be making a comeback: A letter of introduction, based on a relevant event rather than your own campaign. This channel seems to provide a pretty nice response. In it, you could suggest a look at your Web site. And, of course, don't forget to suggest a follow-up phone call for the following week.

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