Before the advent of the internet and mobile phones, if you wanted to "reach out and touch someone" it often meant picking up the telephone.

Today, despite the fact that we have more ways to communicate than ever, many companies continue to pick up the phone in hopes that the person they're reaching out and touching will eventually become a customer. In fact, although it may be one of the least sexy marketing channels, telemarketing is for some companies still one of the most effective direct marketing techniques employed.

That doesn't, however, mean that outbound telemarketing programs are guaranteed to succeed. Most don't. Here are 10 of the top reasons why.

1. Lack of segmentation

Savvy online marketers know how important segmentation can be, but it's just as important -- if not more important -- to outbound telemarketing campaigns. Without segmentation, targeting the right people is all but impossible and entire programs can fail as a result.

2. Failing to collect data

Not every call that gets made as part of an outbound telemarketing program will produce the desired action, but every call is an opportunity to collect valuable data. This data can be used to develop a better understanding of the market, improve strategy and make the type of adjustments that are required to turn an underperforming program into a performing program (see below).

3. Not making adjustments

"Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity" is a recognized and respected adage, but it's one that frequently gets ignored in outbound telemarketing programs. Despite the fact that every call provides an opportunity to gather data and feedback, many companies don't look at that data and feedback, and as a result fail to make the type of adjustments that can dramatically improve campaign performance.

4. Staffing

Nothing is arguably as important to a telemarketing program as the people on the phones. Put simply, a telemarketing campaign is generally only as good as the people making the calls. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, finding folks who are capable of doing a good job can be very difficult.

5. Outsourcing

Outsourcing is a common practice for telemarketing programs, often for good reasons. Telemarketing can be expensive and time-consuming when done in-house, and smaller companies in particular may feel they have no choice but to rely on third party vendors. But outsourcing brings with it a host of challenges and risks. As a single call gone bad can permanently harm a company's reputation, a decision to outsource is not one that should be taken lightly.

6. Confusing sales with marketing

Many organizations lump 'sales and marketing' together, but it's important to remember that they're two different things. While it's certainly not impossible to use an outbound telemarketing campaign to drive sales (for lots of companies this is the ultimate goal), it's important to recognize that if you're going to be sales-focused, the nature of the campaign and its requirements will be different.

7. Poorly-defined goals and expectations

Setting the right goals and establishing the right expectations are crucial if an outbound telemarketing program is to succeed. Far too often companies have unrealistic notions of what a telemarketing campaign can produce, and how fast. One of the most common: the notion that you should try to take an initial contact with a prospect from start to close in the first call. 

8. Lack of creativity

The telephone might not be a spring chicken as far as marketing channels go, but that doesn't mean that there's no room for creativity. Far too many telemarketing campaigns rely on script-based approaches that are as uninspired as they are well-established. While this doesn't necessarily doom them to failure, if a campaign isn't delivering, looking at how it has been structured is a good idea. 

9. Timing

Effective marketing involves hitting the target audience with the right message at the right time. While timing is often a challenge in many channels, it's more difficult in the context of telemarketing for obvious reasons. As anyone who has received a phone call from a telemarketer at 9:05 a.m. on a Monday morning or 4:50 p.m. on a Friday afternoon can attest to, telemarketing campaigns don't always appropriately factor in timing well enough.

10. Using telemarketing for the wrong purpose

In an always-connected society in which employees are bombarded with emails, IMs and tweets on a near-constant basis, the telephone can be a very powerful tool for standing out and reaching someone. But for many, it's also an increasingly intimate communications device that is reserved for special use. Outbound telemarketing campaigns frequently fail to recognize this, leading to programs that irritate and annoy. With this in mind, it's important to consider that use of the phone to cold call prospects or reach out to them early in a marketing or sales cycle may not be the best use of the channel.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 August, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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'Poorly-defined goals and expectations'

I couldn't have put it better myself. Setting targets too high can really set a team up to fail. Plus it's not just a numbers game, often you can develop great relationships with on-going customers. These are far more valuable than an extra 5 more calls.


Rich @ Optilead

almost 6 years ago


Rob Seed

A common theme found in telemarketing teams is that they are often incentivised to get leads from their calls meaning that the priority becomes making money from commission rather than performing to the standards set by the organisation.

almost 6 years ago


Mary Doyle

I agree with all of this including getting the timing right except that calling just after 5pm, when the staff and the gatekeeper have left, is the time you will often find that the MD is still there and will pick up the phone.

almost 6 years ago


Kieran Daly

I would love to see some recent stats on telemarketing. From my limited experience I know that I rarely if ever respond positively to the calls.

I think good segmentation might help and as you say the right trained people on the phone make a big difference to the completion metrics.

almost 6 years ago


Elisabeth Else

Totally agree with point 2 in a CRM context. Following up a (relevant!) mailing, with a telemarketing call can enable the reaction of a customer or potential customer to be judged. In my experience, calling won't make a profit by itself, but making a few calls and using the insights gained to make the next campaign better can pay for itself many times over.

almost 6 years ago


Alex Kirkpatrick

I think most telemarketing fails because it is conducted in isolation of other marketing and sales activity. It can be an extremely effective channel but not when your sales person's strategy involves starting at a!

If you integrate the phone into a broader multi channel sales and marketing tactics then it can be very effective indeed.

almost 6 years ago


Neale Gilhooley

A few years ago I used an out sourced meeting arranger and paid a trial £120 per meeting to set up 5 appointments with hot prospects. Sadly they tended to over report the clients desire for your services and while one did bring over £5,000 worth of business (after a good meeting and many more contacts) the others were a waste of time and one ‘potential’ even admitted he only said showed interested to get the telesales person off the line. Interesting trial.

almost 6 years ago


Nick Charles

As a provider of these services I read this with great interest and agree that the real key is to make the call as relevant as possible and that a sale/meeting is not always the only positive outcome. Client ROI is sometimes difficult to achieve without that sale which is why the best model is a combined marketing and sales approach, delivering maximum results.

almost 6 years ago


mark tyler, telemarketing at abstract marketong

This information is GOLD, its really useful one who are all getting failed in Telemarketing Service,plz follow these guidelines and get success in our field

over 1 year ago

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