25 February 2016 Category: Insider Perspective

There are a number of factors that influence the success of any telemarketing campaign. These include the performance of your agency, the quality and age of your data, the relevance of your proposition or messaging, your strategy for handling objections, the selection of your target audience, criteria you require for a result, or the quality of briefing.

Before launching your campaign, an experienced telemarketing agency can guide you on these decisions. However, at this stage of the process and even with the agency’s guidance, it is difficult to gauge whether you have made all the correct choices. This is why leading telemarketing experts will more often than not advise conducting a pilot campaign first or proof of concept (PoC) phase.

Prove the concept

We know that a telemarketing campaign can represent a sizeable investment for some companies. And, as with any expenditure, those responsible are expected to justify the cost commercially. Often, especially when a company has never used telemarketing as a marketing channel before, there is an expectation at executive level that it will be possible to forecast the outcome and specifically the ROI of the campaign within the first few weeks.

The problem with this belief is that it fails to place adequate significance on the true value of a pilot which more often lies elsewhere than in the numbers alone. That’s not to say the pilot won’t deliver ROI but its true purpose is in reality a lot more nuanced.

It is advisable therefore for clients to view the pilot phase as a valuable opportunity to test, measure and improve every aspect of your telemarketing campaign. This includes data, messaging, objection handling, supporting collateral and lead or appointment criteria.

Only once all the elements have been fine-tuned can the conversation begin about the expected ROI or cost per lead. While the drive to extract numbers from the pilot phase is understandable, statistics at this stage, particularly in the first few weeks, are not always a reliable indication of the potential a full telemarketing programme.

No prizes without pipeline

It is the creation of a solid pipeline that holds the key to unlocking the potential of a well performing lead generation campaign. We know from our many years of market experience that more often than not, this requires a minimum of six weeks to build in order to gather and examine the performance data captured throughout the campaign, and to truly test all of the assumptions about the campaign. However, as we know this can be a time of great uncertainty for a client, we asked our data analysts to see could be extracted in terms of trends to help illustrate how and why a pilot is so important. Our findings were revealing:

In the study, we took the average weekly performance across 15 recent telemarketing campaigns across a range of sectors and propositions and plotted a graph to illustrate how performance typically changes over time during the pilot stage of a telemarketing campaign. By way of context, all of these campaigns had over 1,000 prospect records, involved calling into relatively cold data and were run without any breaks between calling weeks.

Pilot Graph

The results revealed that in the first 6-7 weeks of calling, a campaign is unlikely to reach a level of “full” delivery. We know that in the early weeks of any lead generation campaign the team will be tracking down decision makers, warming them up through repeated conversations and the use of collateral and working on both messaging and objection handling. It is this activity we are referring to, when we talk about pipeline and why we generally recommend that a pilot is run for 10-12 weeks in order to really gauge its potential.

As you might expect, each campaign will perform differently, of course, but across the board the biggest uplift in results tends to come in months two and three, with incremental improvement thereafter (even after many years of calling).

Although these findings may be surprising for some, it is important to emphasise that its not only the leads, appointments, sales or results that are important during a proof of concept but also the actionable insight acquired during this phase. This knowledge is incredibly rich and valuable, not only for current campaign but for any future or on-going campaign.

This holds especially true for complex high value, long lead time, non-transactional propositions. However, while the time to result might be quicker for simple, transactional campaigns, it still takes time to build a good quality pipeline. And testing assumptions remains a trueism for any campaign.

With this is mind, it is important to embark on your pilot or PoC programme with realistic expectations about the true value of this phase.

What to expect during the pilot phase

  • Continual review

The ideal duration of a telemarketing pilot varies according to each client and campaign. During this phase, our team will commence work on getting leads and/or appointments. At the same time, we test assumptions, review results, implement changes based on lessons learned and then test these changes again. This process requires a sensible amount of time for the data to begin to reveal trends and insight. The evaluation is continual and systematic and it’s this feedback that enables us to react quickly to ensure client investment in telemarketing is not at risk.

  • Validate audience segmentation

A pilot provides us with the ideal opportunity to gather intelligence on your target market in a live context. This enables you to assess whether you have indeed chosen the best audience segment for your campaign. Perhaps you have cast the net too wide or overlooked an important audience or segment.

  • Assess your messaging

While we may point out weaknesses and gaps in your messaging before the pilot phase begins, the pilot phase presents an opportunity to learn how different individuals respond to your product/service messages and positioning. You may discover, for example, that a product or service is used in a slightly different way than you intended, making it necessary to remove or rework some key benefit statements. Or it may just be the case that the language you’ve chosen does not resonate with the audience, so key words or phrases need to be reworked. You may also gain insight into the types of questions or objections your potential customers may ask so that you can formulate impactful responses.

  • Verify the quality of the data

The pilot phase is a chance to test and clean your data to ensure your campaign is optimised for success. Stale data which requires continual profiling and enhancement can consume valuable telemarketing time on non-revenue generating work. Poorly structured data can also impact Decision Maker Contact rates diminishing your overall returns from the campaign.

  • Deepen agent knowledge

Our agents will have garnered a sound understanding of your products or services from the briefing session and role plays conducted before the start of the campaign. However, the pilot phase provides an additional opportunity for our agents to gain in-depth knowledge around the product or service, and increase their confidence levels in engaging with the target audience.

Looking beyond the numbers

The pilot or PoC phase will help you understand the detail of your audience and market, and provide insight into how the product or service may be received and used. It may be the first time that detailed questions are asked about the intended audience or the various aspects of the product or service, and this exercise may prompt further examination internally around the proposition and it’s ‘go to market’ strategy.

It is, and should be, a challenging exercise, one that will confront long held and superficial assumptions, but it is in this challenge that the real value of the exercise lies. It is an opportunity to unlock potential, not only of the campaign but of the product, service or true market. Looking beyond the numbers in terms of leads generated can therefore be an enriching exercise, one that creates layers of value and information that can be captured and injected back into future performance. In contrast to this wealth of knowledge, calculating only ROI in the very early stages of a campaign can quite simply ‘muddy the water’ and provides no real security about, or indeed indication of, future performance.

Only once you have conducted your pilot in close collaboration with your telemarketing agency, proved the concept and the campaign has begun creating a pipeline can you expect to really understand the ROI of your campaign.

How can we help?

At The Telemarketing Company we have a tried and tested model for managing all campaigns, and which for a pilot or PoC is critical to their success. A few days after a campaign commences, we conduct a structured review of the campaign performance that involves a range of senior managers associated with the campaign. In this review we assess call performance, discuss any data issues, review client feedback on call recordings, and look at a number of different factors which through experience we know could impact the success of a campaign.

Following the review, we share our recommendations with the client and outline any changes we agree need to be made to the campaign. Any changes made will be subject to a further review to ensure they are contributing to campaign performance. Once the campaign reaches steady state, we continue the review process but on a weekly basis to ensure that any lessons learnt from the revision are absorbed effectively and quickly.

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