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CPA Firm Lead Generation – Is telemarketing still effective?

     -     May 25th, 2009   -     Accounting Marketing, Changing Trends   -     0 Comments

Is telemarketing still an effective lead generation tool for professional services?

This is a question that was posed in the Association for Accounting Marketing message board on LinkedIn recently. Since Flashpoint provides executive telemarketing and other marketing services to professional service firms (accounting, law firms, etc), I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss telemarketing and how/when it should be used in the marketing mix for CPA firms.

First let’s define what telemarketing in this context means. When we speak of executive telemarketing we are not talking about professional business to consumer telemarketing. We are speaking of something very different. This type of telemarketing has a bad reputation and for good reason. It is characterized by someone from an organization calling to solicit money or subscriptions from you right in the middle of dinner or the middle of weekend when the last thing you want to discuss it making a donation. Executive telemarketing is vastly different from the description above. It refers to the process of a company calling a C level prospect in another company to educate them on service offerings, discuss their situation and offer to be of assistance in the future. A key difference is that the calls are being made to businesses and are done so by educated professionals familiar with the industry, service and are able to professionally represent their organization.

Executive Telemarketing In the Marketing Mix

The executive telemarketing process is as effective a lead generation tool as any other components of the marketing mix. In fact, I would argue it is more effective than many traditional lead generation tools because it provide the opportunity to directly interact with the prospect. No other lead generation tool I can think of including email marketing, direct mail marketing, social media marketing or pay per click advertising provide the opportunity to engage the prospect in a conversation about the issues and challenges they are facing. The tools mentioned previously provide a flow of information that pushes out, delivering a message to the prospect but does not provide a forum for interactive communication. Now these methods may eventually lead to a phone call especially if the prospect has an immediate need, but the initial flow of information is still one sided. The interaction component is critical and sets executive telemarketing apart from any other tool to generate leads.

Right Process – Right Results

Despite the fact executive telemarketing allows for interaction it cannot be a successful tool if the process guiding the effort is flawed or ineffective. Below I have detailed out the main roles executive telemarketing and the sales people should play in the process. All too often the process breaks down and becomes ineffective when expectations are not set or the wrong professionals are brought into the process.

Telemarketing

The role of the executive telemarketing professional is to identify qualified prospects from a prospect list. Essentially they open the opportunity by asking pointed questions to uncover issues, problems, challenges or opportunities. The goal is to document as much information as possible so when the conversation ends they can share the details with others in the firm. Although this sounds quite straightforward there are a number of areas where issues arise which ultimately reduces the effectiveness of the process. These include:

  • Improperly Vetted List. Having a well researched list is important to the process. It is quite embarrassing and destroys credibility when you call into a company and don’t have a name or don’t have the right name for the prospect you want to speak with. Often times what happens is the gatekeepers identify the call as a “cold call” and put it into a general voicemail box or offer to take a message. When this happens the call is lost because it is impossible to know if the message you are communicating will get through. So it pays to research a list and even have the company website and regulatory filings available (when applicable).
  • Skill of the Professional Calling. The person making the call is as important to the process as the sales person or partner that delivers the proposal. If you have someone who is not comfortable on the phone, who sounds monotone or appears to be reading from a script you will no doubt experience less than optimal results. No one wants a call where someone is reading to them. The skills of the person making the calls are critical. In many instances this is the first time a prospect is interacting with your firm. It is imperative the impression left be a good one. Remember the adage; you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Well it applies here. Ensure you have a qualified professional making the calls not only from a technical standpoint but also from a sales standpoint.
  • Improper Follow Up. Following up is the trickiest part of executive telemarketing. How many times should I call? Should I leave a voicemail? How many voicemails should I leave? These are questions that must be addressed prior to the start of the calling effort. Define the process exactly so the professional making the calls knows how to handle each situation. In our experience we generally call once every 7-10 days and no more than three times per month. This includes leaving voicemails, leaving messages with secretaries, etc. Doing more than this may convey the image you are desperate for work or don’t respect their time.

Business Development/Partner

The role of these professionals is generally to follow up with the prospect based on the information provided from the executive telemarketing professionals. Their job can vary from discussing technical issues, scheduling appointments, or simply engaging the prospect in a conversation about their situation to further qualify the opportunity. It is important to note once the lead has been handed off the telemarketing team generally does not become involved in the process again. The function of this group is to take the lead from the opening stages and nurture it to a close. This requires a skilled sales professional that understand the sales process and has experience in the area. Although this sounds quite straightforward there are a few broad areas where trouble can arise. These include:

  • Technical Professional Selling. If your firm passes leads to the professional who is technically savvy on the services being sold, but has weak sales skills there may be a problem. Often times the most technical person is not the best sales person. (Note this is not always the case but it is a general rule). Despite their best intentions and vast knowledge in the area they are unable to make a connection or get to the point where the firm is invited to submit a proposal. Why? The answer is simply that sales and technical accounting, auditing and consulting require different skills sets. If the person following up on the leads does not have the correct skills it will reduce the chance of success.
  • Consistency. The same as listed above can be said here. Define how often the sales professional should follow up with the prospect. I have personally been involved in situation where it took five phone calls before I got the “interested” prospect on the phone. It was not that they were not interested but they were busy with quarterlies, year end, etc. Remember consistent and professional follow up t every stage of the sales cycle indicates your interest in their business, but respect for their time.

The information provided above is only a brief outline of an effective telemarketing process and the pitfalls which can hamper success. The key thing to remember is that the program is only as good as the structure and professionals implementing it. Unlike many other lead generation tools executive telemarketing is highly fluid and requires the appropriate set of skills across the process.

Looking at executive telemarketing in terms of the larger marketing picture I don’t believe a firm should solely rely on it as a means of generating leads. It needs to be part of a larger plan that incorporates both push and pull methods. Some prospects will respond better to executive telemarketing than direct mail marketing. Others will not respond to the executive telemarketing but may come to you through your social media outlets because they prefer to communicate using the Internet rather the phone. Appealing to the prospect through as many mediums as possible makes the most sense for any company seeking to generate leads.

So Is It Still Effective?

Executive telemarketing is still an effective lead generation tool. Remember the name of the game is balance. Use all the tools at your disposal to find the most effective one for you. Once you have identified it continue using that method until the results tell you otherwise.


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