A peril of technology: how & why b2c robocalls are damaging the b2b inside sales industry
I’m a real believer that what happens in our homes often translates to our behaviors at work. Here’s one example: try beginning a b2b cold call with the question “How are you today?” Odds are, the prospect won’t give you even 10 seconds before he or she hangs up. The reason? That question has been the standard opening of business to consumer telemarketers for so long, that just about every business person rebels at being asked this question to open a cold call. And everyone’s tired of getting telemarketing calls at home (yes, there’s an appropriate acronym for that phrase, “HAYT”).
I’ve always been an advocate of the National Do Not Call Registry (the DNC list), back when few of my professional associates were. Bothering people at home was eventually going to hurt our b2b inside sales industry, I thought, because if folks get bugged enough by junk calls at home, they’ll stop answering their work phones, too. And I think that’s essentially a huge problem that we’re starting to see today, in a very big way.
I found a recent newspaper article, All Tangled up in a rise of robocalls, by Jennifer C. Kerr of the Associated Press, to be compelling reading for those of us in the b2b inside sales world. Here are some statistics she cited, and the reason for my concern:
According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), which oversees the DNC list, the number of b2c telemarketers who regularly checked and scrubbed DNC numbers from their call lists went from 65,000 in 65,000 to 34,000 in 2011. Just about halved. Robocall complaints have jumped from 65,000 in 2010 to 212,000 in 2012. Just about doubled. And you and I both know that most of us don’t bother complaining, even though we’re on the DNC list. Instead, we just look at Caller ID, then decide we won’t answer the phone. Less bother than complaining.
And that’s the essence of the problem: people are being trained at home to use caller ID to vet all telephone calls (I’ll bet you do the same at home, too… when’s the last time you took a call from someone you didn’t know?). They’re now relying on Caller ID at work, too, which means it’s going to get tougher getting new b2b prospects to take your calls. Jerry Cerasale, SVP of Government Affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, was quoted in Kerr’s article. He doesn’t like robocalls either, and notes that direct marketers are increasingly using email and targeted internets ads, rather than making calls. How well does that work? When’s the last time you actually clicked on something inside of an unsolicited email? And as I mentioned in my post of a few weeks ago regarding the over-proliferation of social media, people are starting to decrease that pipeline as well too, as they try to regain control of their overstuffed lives.
What happens in your own home is a microcosm of what happens in your prospects’ business offices. Our prospects are very very smart people, and the best of them are skeptics. For now, some of them are still answering calls from people they don’t know, but they’re considerably fewer than they used to be.
So what can you do to win some b2b battles in a war for attention that gets tougher every day? (In addition to being a realist, I’m also an optimist, so read on for the payoff… ) In our inside sales training courses, I teach people to do everything they need to do in the very first call to a prospect, and you should too. That means fully qualify him or her in a few very short minutes, then close on your call objective. You may not get him or her on the phone ever again. That means no asking “is this a good (or a bad) time to talk?” Why provide an option you don’t want him or her to take?
Because of autodialers and robocalls in the b2c world, or b2b inside sales world is going to get more challenging, real fast. The Federal Trade Commission is up in arms, there are 209 million people on the DNC list, and I won’t even get into the b2c telemarketing scams that are reported weekly in news services. Caller ID is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, your biggest b2b challenge. So when you get someone on the phone with whom you’ve never spoken, be compelling, use the short amount of time you have wisely, and treat the call as if your professional life depended on it. And add qualifying and closing on an action on the first call to your Best Practices Playbook.