FIELD/TELEMARKETING: READING THE SIGNS - Getting consumers today to part with their time or money demands new persuasive techniques

Many customers now value time more than money and seducing them

into parting with either is more an art form than a science. Compassion

fatigue caused by the over-abundant requests for charity has taken its

toll in commercial marketing, causing many consumers to be far more

discriminating and intolerant of those wishing to hijack their time.



More people have more locks, burglar alarms, ex-directory telephone

numbers and caller display devices and less time than ever before.

Intruding on someone's time or territory is likely to make them more

defensive than a generation ago. Consumers are far more sensitive to

overt commercial trespassing.



In the US, Bruce Willard, of the inbound telemarketing organisation

World Access Service Corporation, says: "The advent of caller ID is

shutting out outbound callers. While before it was possible to get

customers to at least listen to your sales pitch, outbound firms are now

frustrated at the customer's ability and willingness to screen or reject

them."



The loss of customer naivety coupled with the sobering effects of

recession is being reflected in consultancies along New York's Madison

Avenue. Mike De Sola Jr of De Sola Group, observes: "In the current

climate, companies are having to seriously rethink the efficiency of

their marketing strategies.



Indiscriminate telesales can have negative implications for the client,

being perceived by the customer as 'product pushing'."



In the case of field marketing, consumers are more willing to accept

marketing advances from strangers in an environment which is inherently

commercial - the shopping mall, the storefront. They feel safety in

numbers and don't feel singled out for persuasion.



The greater the complexity and value of the product, the more likely the

customer is to expect to see a face, but even this is changing. In the

case of computers and cars, consumers may conduct a physical inspection

of the product at a dealer and then order the product via the

Internet.



The reverse is also true. While more expensive on a cost-per-sale basis,

the advantage of face-to-face contact is the ability to read the

consumer's uncertainties through their body language and allay them, as

well as being able to deal with supplementary questions while referring

to printed materials.



In Britain, Colin Roach, customer strategy consultant at Merchants, the

telemarketing and CRM consultancy, says that: "Twenty years ago the goal

was selling an individual product, now the emphasis is on developing and

maintaining the relationship with the customer. Selling used to be about

talking - now it's more about listening and responding. In the US,

Willard reports: "There's a burgeoning market for a one-shot, one-call

telephone service - getting what you want when you want it and being

blown away by good service. Customers have no tolerance for ineptitude

and the emphasis is on retaining existing customers."



Management consultancies offer "top ten tips" to optimise response rates

in field and telemarketing. Books and courses on field marketing now

talk of "defrosting cold calls", "strategising and conducting successful

face-to-face sales calls and overcoming objections", while books such as

Telemarketing Tips from A to Z emphasise "uncovering the needs of your

customers and asking effective closing questions".



However, as in advertising in general, people ultimately respond to a

message that connects at an emotional level.



One-to-one marketing doesn't have the advantage of crafted adverts so

the message is more inextricably linked with the messenger. We fail to

remember that more than anything else, humans are pre-programmed to

respond to other individual humans and to read the nuances in their

voices and faces.



In one-to-one contact, be it voice or face, the medium is very much the

message.



In the way that great care is taken in choosing the voiceover artist or

face of an advert, the same applies to the voice or face of tele or

field marketing. Ultimately the most important decision is taken at the

personnel selection level. Formulaic approaches to customer relations

can not cultivate genuineness and authenticity - key elements in

separating a customer from his money or time.



Listening to how potential employees react in situ or on the telephone,

and trusting one's instincts to select the right staff, are crucial.

Being a politically correct equal opportunity employer will increase

neither sales figures nor customer satisfaction, as the socio-economic

image, age, sex, voice quality and even body weight of staff are crucial

in turning customers on or off. Customers have powerful preconceptions,

and although we deny it, when it comes to forming first impressions,

humans think in stereotypes - it's a survival mechanism.



The more successful firms are now focusing on staff selection first.

World Access Service Corporation ensures that "telephone sales" is not

the first job to appear on an applicant's CV and that applicants have

had previous useful experiences and jobs enabling them to respond to

people naturally. They also match employees' interests to the accounts

they work on. Merchants sees a big distinction between the truly

"professional firms" and the rest. "Professionals select, train and

manage their front-line contacts to build a rapport with customers and

this is reflected in a five- to ten-fold difference in response rates

compared with standard firms." When selecting staff, Roach admits: "Some

people are naturals ... and some are not."



With firms now fluent in terms of endearment, future tele and field

marketing can be viewed as a sort of marriage bureau where those who

appear genuine and connect at a human level - "willing to work at the

relationship" - are more likely to become engaged with their customers.

The others can look forward to a costly divorce.



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).