Although much of what we publish on this forum is for anyone who needs to generate sales leads, such as a telemarketer, a salesperson, a sales manager, a business owner, or marketing executive, let’s focus for a moment on one person for whom that is their sole responsibility, the B2B telemarketer.
To be clear, there are only two types of telemarketers operating in the B2B space: good ones and bad ones. That’s it. And while a bad one can become a good one (for example, through proper training,) there is a bright line dividing the two.
Allow me to tell you a story.
JV/M started out in 1992 as a sales and marketing consulting company specializing in B2B. Our goal was to help B2B companies to increase their sales, market share and profitability by developing and implementing more effective marketing plans and programs, as well as recruiting, training, and managing more effective salespeople. In short, we would essentially build them an effective, new sales and marketing function.
One day, though, one of our clients asked if we could rent him a sales team, instead of building one for him. That is, all he wanted were the leads; for which he would pay us a base plus a commission. We had a couple of people on staff doing market research, so we agreed. And that’s how we got into the B2B telemarketing business, soon promoting the service as our principal offering.
That program went well, and we soon found more and more demand for outsourced lead generation. And therefore, we needed to hire more and more telemarketers. At some point, however, we found that we were interviewing candidates for 40 hours a week and couldn’t get anything else done. To make matters worse, the more people we hired, the higher our failure rate went.
We certainly thought we knew what we were doing when we recruited people, since we based our hiring criteria on what we thought worked: prior telemarketing experience and success, good communications skills, and familiarity with the market for the campaign, among other things. But what worked on a small scale was failing miserably when we tried to scale it up. And it failed particularly when we tried to move a telemarketer onto a campaign in an industry in which they had no experience.
As our failure rate on projects started to approach 50%, and our failure rate with new hires grew even higher, we found that we were spending more and more time trying to recruit telemarketers. We realized that we needed to find a more efficient way to find good telemarketers. Taking an hour to interview a non-viable candidate was killing us and hiring people who failed was even worse.
We started to doubt that we even knew what to look for.
To try to get a handle on the problem, we interviewed our telemarketers who had been successful on multiple campaigns, as well as some of the unsuccessful ones. We asked them questions about what they had done, and how they had done it, and kept track of both the questions and their answers – knowing that some of them seemed, at least, to really know what they were doing.
Taking a behaviorist approach, we posed a range of scenarios that a typical telemarketer would encounter, and basically asked how they would handle it. For example, we asked questions like the following:
- What would you do if a decision maker says he’s not interested?
- How do you get past a gatekeeper?
- What do you do if you run out of names to call?
- What’s the first thing you say when someone answers the
- Do you leave a voice mail message? And if so, what do you
- say on it?
- How do you handle objections?
- And so on.
All these questions, as you can see, try to get at how telemarketers (both good and bad) did the job. But we also asked some basic “business knowledge” and ethics questions, too, such as:
- You’ve been given a list of the CFOs of the Fortune 100 to
- target. After calling all of them, though, you haven’t gotten
- any appointments. What do you do?
- When is it okay to lie to a prospect?
- What’s an appropriate dial rate for a campaign?
- When do you burn out?
- And so on.
Notwithstanding number of people who responded that they would “Ask for another list,” as if there was another Fortune 100 lying around, we started to gather the data and refine the questions, we started to see some distinct patterns.
First and foremost, all the consistently successful telemarketers answered the questions in one way, while all the unsuccessful telemarketers answered the questions a different way. We had good metrics on their success rates, so the correlations were clear.
And so, it was equally clear that we were asking the right questions.
Curiously, the answers that the successful group gave looked suspiciously like the answers that one would expect to get if the person had taken a sales training course (i.e., for traditional field salespeople) that focused on asking good questions, or on persuasion techniques. There were some minor differences, but they could easily be explained by the use of the telephone as the medium.
On the other hand, people who failed the test (and failed to perform) typically had no training, had only product training, or had (and used) script training at a call center.
Interestingly, people with call center experience who went “off script” often did very well on both the test and on the phones, while people who answered the questions using typical call center responses and techniques failed consistently at both. But the approach to the call by the successful callers was always the same, and all the successful telemarketers had the same responses.
Specifically, all the successful telemarketers consistently sought to ask a question as the way to handle any situation, while the unsuccessful telemarketers typically made declarative statements as their responses. In addition, the successful telemarketers focused on listening to what the other person was saying, rather than thinking about what they were going to say next, which was the habit of the unsuccessful callers.
The most important result, though, was that success was clearly not associated with having taken or used any of the traditional telemarketing training courses, read any of the popular cold calling books, had any product training whatsoever, or gotten any script coaching.
And it was also, surprisingly, not correlated with the person having had prior telemarketing experience. In fact, success was somewhat negatively correlated with prior call center experience, although there were certainly exceptions. (For example, it was clear that there were some real superstars, with real potential, sitting amid the crowd at the call centers. They tended to do their own thing, and therefore got great results. But the callers who used the call center methods and scripts did very poorly on both the test and on the phones.) But generally, almost all the successful telemarketers had either been in field sales or had worked as an independent telemarketer or business owner.
Based on these interviews, we were able to quickly devise a multiple-choice test that posed the various scenarios that a B2B telemarketer would encounter. And the potential answers were those that had been given by both the successful and unsuccessful telemarketers. We started giving the test to every candidate and hired only the ones who passed. (We wouldn’t even interview the ones who didn’t pass, by the way, which saved us a ton of time and money.) And our success rate quickly jumped to over 85% on both candidates and projects, from less than 50%.
After employing and refining the test for over five years, with several thousand candidates, and over a hundred hires, two things are clear.
First, success on the job can be predicted (in B2B telemarketing, at last) with well over 90% confidence if the person passes a test that looks for proper sales responses (as we’re going to show), as can failure on the job be predicted if they fail the test. Second, over 95% of the candidates who take the test fail. The startling implication of that statistic is that, of the 2.5 million telemarketers in the US, over 95% have no idea whatsoever what they’re doing.
What we seem to have discovered was that in just our small domain of B2B marketing, there are clearly good telemarketers who are going to be effective, and there are clearly bad telemarketers who are not. And you can easily predict who is going to succeed – not based on their willingness to make calls, or on their having had call center experience, but – if you know the right questions to ask. It turns out that who makes the calls, and the techniques they use, are the single biggest determinants of success with a lead generation campaign – if you want to generate qualified sales leads, and not just dial the phone.
To be sure, it is not our intention necessarily here to tell any business how to hire their telemarketers (although we will help, if asked.) Nor is it our desire that people utilize our test (although you can, for a small fee). In fact, one of the outcomes of the study is that some of the behaviors that one would look for are specific to the business, so the questions need to be customized a little. (We’ll help you devise a test for your own business if you’d like, though.) But it is very much our intention to share with you the specific techniques used by the most effective B2B telemarketing professionals, as opposed to the ones who aren’t effective, so you can learn to be more effective on the phones.
Beyond that, two things are certain for the business owner. First, you need to know what to look for insofar as skills, responses and behaviors are concerned if you are to be successful with your lead generation operation. And second, you need to test for those skills, responses and behaviors that you want the telemarketer to use if you want to hire effective telemarketers.
Setting aside, for the moment, that knowing what to look for is the significant challenge for most companies, if you do these two things, you will quickly find that, in fact, there are only two types of telemarketers: good ones and bad ones, with the vast majority being awfully bad at the job of generating real, qualified sales leads. But you can only see the difference if you ask the right questions. And to be clear, you need to do whatever you can to avoid talking to the bad ones – as the chance of finding a good one randomly is less than one in twenty.
But you also need to be willing to pay the good ones what they’re worth – because they’re worth it. And for the good telemarketer (or one who wants to be effective), two things are equally certain. If you want to differentiate yourself from the thousands of ineffective telemarketers with whom you are competing, who are driving down your pay rate to next-to-nothing, you need to develop and use the right skills. And you need to be willing and able to use and talk about these skills in your interview.
If you do this, though, you should be able to increase your pay rate by a factor of 3-5, or more, while increasing your chances of finding a job by a factor of twenty.
That is, if you learn and use good questioning techniques, you should easily be able to command an hourly wage of $25-$35 per hour (plus incentives) or more, against a standard telemarketer wage of $8-$15 per hour at today’s rates. And incentives on top of that should be equally significant. And business owners should be willing to pay it, too, because an appointment with a decision maker who has a need for your, say, $20,000 product (that has a 35% margin), and who wants to talk with you about how you can help, and where there is a 33% chance of closing, is worth well over $1,000.
On the other hand, an unqualified sales lead (like an email address, a white-paper send-out, or a name on a mailing list,) that has less than a 1% chance of closing is worth less than $70 to that business owner, and probably a lot less. (This is especially the case if you consider the extra work it is going to take to convert it to an appointment.) This is illustrated in the table below:
As you can see, paying $25-$35 per hour or more for the 4-5 hours it will take to generate a good lead (i.e., one with at 33% chance of closing successfully) is a terrific deal, while paying $10/hour for a telemarketing who generates an unqualified lead (i.e., one with less than a 1% chance of closing) is a terrible deal.
As for knowing what to look for, and what skills you need to develop to generate those kinds of appointments, this is one of the things you’ll get from the content posted through this forum. The B2B telemarketing job presents a highly varied and complex set of scenarios every day to the caller. But to be clear, none of what really works can be found in the traditional cold calling handbook, on a script, from a call center manager, or in the latest “tricks of the trade” article on the Web.
And there’s a simple reason why.
What is the most valuable asset that an executive or decision maker has? Is it his experience? His budget? His authority? His contacts? No. It is none of these things. The most valuable asset that a decision maker has is his time.
In fact, the reason that many executives have assistants is primarily to protect their calendars. In other words, this C-level is paying someone forty or fifty thousand dollars a year just to keep people from wasting his time.
Now, what is the one thing that the telemarketer wants from the executive? It’s his time, of course. That is, before the telemarketer can ask for an appointment, before he can generate a lead, and even before he can develop interest, or even make a sale, he needs to get the executive’s time – just to go through the qualification process, no less to uncover needs. And that is principally what lead generation is about: Getting the decision maker to be willing to spend some of his valuable time to talk to you, and then to be willing to do the same thing again with a salesperson.
And so now you must ask yourself: Do you really think that someone who’s reading from a script, or using gimmicks or “tricks of the trade,” is going to be able to persuade a busy executive – who spends $40,000 a year not to waste time – to give up some of it up?
Or do you think that, perhaps, it’s going to take some sophisticated skills to get him to do it.
Any good salesperson will tell you: Getting a decision maker to spend money is easy compared to getting him to spend time.