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
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
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
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.