Magazine article Marketing

Outbound Calling Wins New Friends

Magazine article Marketing

Outbound Calling Wins New Friends

Article excerpt

Outbound calling is broadening its user base, and being applied to new areas by existing clients

In the excitement about the development of direct response broadcasting, and the ability to capture hundreds of calls simultaneously through automated equipment or linked 'live' call centres, the outbound call has been largely overlooked.

Yet an analysis of the returns for this year's league table (right) suggests that it accounts for around a fifth of the total bureau turnover of [pounds]510m. And it's a buoyant sector: InTelMark reports that increasing numbers of companies are outsourcing outbound campaigns, even though sophisticated programmes require highly trained operators.

The table is designed to show the top 30 outbound specialists. Even so, an immediate qualification is necessary. The Merchants Group has featured here for several years as a major player. It was third last year, behind Sitel and Scottish Telecom.

However, most people are going to take with a pinch of salt the idea that, within a year, it has almost quadrupled this side of its business, from [pounds]6m to [pounds]22m. Twelve months ago, outbound was said to account for 23% of the business; now it is claimed to be 70%.

What this is about, of course, is that the Merchants Group has decided it no longer does consultancy (see box, page 40). Most of the turnover previously allocated to that area of activity now appears to be allocated to outbound. The response to a request to discuss the changes taking place in the company was a faxed copy of a two-month old press release.

Moving on from that, it's apparent that outbound calling is important to many of the biggest bureaus. Within the overall top 20, it is 30%-35% of turnover at Sitel, Brann, InTelMark and Oxygen. It's 45% at BPS Teleperfomance, and 60% at Teledynamics.

US horror stories

Industry-watchers will be surprised to see Broadsystem - one of the UK's largest operators of inbound, automated equipment - in this list. That, of course, is because of its recent acquisition of the 'live' bureau ADS.

Further down the table are companies for which making outbound calls is the dominant activity - 70%, 80%, even 100% of what they do. These include Ant, Pell & Bales, The Business Extension, Metro, and Mentor Direct Marketing. The degree of specialisation is evident by comparing what each company gets from outbound with its total turnover.

The origins of outbound telemarketing in the UK lie firmly in the business-to-business sector. To pick just a few applications, it was used for booking appointments for sales reps, making routine sales calls, building and cleaning databases, and chasing bookings for conferences.

In the US, outbound calls to consumers were well-established. Horror stories crossed the Atlantic in the late 80s and early 90s of intrusive sales calls, including random dialling. It would never catch on here, was the verdict - such ideas were alien to the UK culture. Such reservations have now largely disappeared.

"Consumers were offended in the past because calls were not made in a friendly or mature way," says Bibi Bajwa, joint managing director of BPS Teleperformance. "The industry has got much better. Responsible call [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] centres take every measure they can to protect consumers who say they don't wish to be called.

"The training of agents is very focused on being sensitive to tone of voice and what is happening in the home. If a consumer says it's OK to talk but they sound reluctant, and in the background you can hear a baby crying, or a football match on the TV, the right thing to do is to suggest making an appointment to call at a more convenient time. …

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