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On June 27, 2003 the National Do Not Call Registry opened for signups. Just four days later, the list was 10 million members strong.

Clearly, people don’t like unsolicited calls.

Fast-forward 12 years, and telemarketing is still very much a problem. The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the registry, reported that 3.2 million telemarketing-related complaints were filed in fiscal year 2014.

Telemarketing, of course, is the practice of calling existing or prospective customers in an attempt to upsell or convert them into paying customers. It ranges from cold-calling lists of contacts to --

Wait a minute ...

Calling prospects at their residences or places of business to sell them products? Isn’t that the definition of inside sales? 

At the highest level, inside sales and telemarketing might appear to be the same thing. But dig a tad deeper and it’ll quickly become apparent that the two activities differ in significant ways.

Spray and Pray

A simple Google search for “buy telemarketing call list” returns 286,000 results. Much like the email lists some companies buy to send marketing blasts to, telephone lists are a random collection of publicly available phone and contact information. It’s not guaranteed that the numbers are in working order, much less that they belong to people who want to hear from you. Telemarketing’s seeming randomness is one of its defining features, and the propensity of businesses to buy lists explains why my family used to get calls from a litany of organizations none of us had ever heard of.

One site that sells phone numbers describes an available list like this: “Try our Affluent Households residential mailing list. We’ll produce a list of people who have the money to buy your product or service.”

Simply having the money to buy a product means nothing about whether someone will actually end up purchasing it. And by the way, how do they know how much your product costs?

No inside sales organization worth its salt puts purchased lists at the center of its prospecting strategy. Instead, salespeople find good fit prospects through internet searches, referrals, or other sources, research those prospects before reaching out, and use a qualification process far more stringent than “do they have a pulse and a telephone?”

Without performing real research before picking up the phone, telemarketers can’t tailor their message to a prospect’s specific needs. Many telemarketing companies deploy strict scripts for representatives to use, which removes the possibility of a real conversation.

On the other hand, a good inside sales connect call focuses on the prospect. What do they need help with? What aspects of their business need to be improved? What are their priorities? Jason Richman, a sales manager at HubSpot, describes a good conversation as a “game of catch” with your prospect -- a give and take where both parties are equally engaged. An almost entirely one-sided telemarketing call bears little resemblance to this type of conversation.

Help, a Robot Took My Job

Further hampering the path to communication is robocalling, a telemarketing practice that removes the human entirely. In this completely automated process, numbers are dialed by a machine and a pre-recorded message is played to the call recipient when they pick up the phone.

Robocalling with pre-recorded sales pitches is technically illegal. However, technology has made it easier to make auto-dialed calls while simultaneously making it harder to track where calls are coming from, making enforcement difficult.  Politicians are frequent users of auto-dialing techniques, which is permitted since they aren’t technically trying to sell you anything -- just win your allegiance.

Unsurprisingly, robocalls are not popular -- in 2012, 2.26 million Americans filed complaints about this specific kind of telemarketing alone. That's why you'll never catch a good inside sales team deploying this technique. And if you do, for all of our sakes, call the authorities.

Expertise, Please

Finally, companies that contract telemarketing agencies to do their selling for them are missing out on the product expertise that comes with a trained inside sales force that exclusively sells for you. Inside salespeople learn their product inside and out, and can become consultants for their prospects.

Salespeople should always be helping, but they can’t do so if they’re not familiar with what they’re selling. And hiring an inadequately trained telesales agency to do your selling pretty much guarantees telemarketers will run up against the limits of their capacity to answer questions or provide guidance.

All this is to say that traditional telemarketing is the epitome of intrusive outbound selling. Cold calling hundreds of people who have no need for a product and delivering a scripted speech is annoying for the consumer and unproductive for the business, which is exactly why salespeople are increasingly using inbound techniques and carefully customizing their outbound outreach. Companies should continue to double down on hiring and training excellent inside sales forces comprised of product, relationship-building, and research experts, and leave outdated telesales practices by the wayside.

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Originally published Jul 24, 2015 8:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Call Prospecting