When marketing professionals set out to conduct an evaluation of lead generation telemarketing vendors, they may seek advice from their colleagues, pull from their past experiences, conduct research on the web and review guidelines put into place by their procurement department. However, rarely are they given an opportunity to receive “inside” information from a telemarketing vendor to aid in how to conduct their evaluation. Throughout this document, I will set out to provide just that – seven tips to effectively and efficiently evaluate and hire a telemarketing B2B lead generation partner.
#1. Decide which services you need and what you’re willing to pay
This may seem like a logical first step; however, many will start their evaluation without first determining what their company truly needs. Telemarketing vendors typically provide tele-prospecting (cold-calling), tele-qualification (responder qualification), account profiling, appointment setting (qualified and/or foot-in-door), lead nurturing and database building. Some agencies are able to provide all services while others have certain areas of specialization.
A mistake that many marketers make is trying to compare and evaluate telemarketing vendors that provide completely different services. It’s nearly impossible to compare a company that specializes in “foot-in-door” appointment setting against a company that provides qualified tele-prospecting and lead nurturing services. Thus, before you set out on your evaluation, take some time to perform internal due diligence to assess your needs.
I recommend sitting down with both marketing and sales management to jointly discuss your organizations’ requirements relating to lead generation – specifically aim to discover exactly what the sales team is looking for:
- How do they define a lead?
- Are they looking for a defined need, budget, authority and timeframe?
- Are they looking for qualified appointments – or even foot-in-door appointments?
Sales teams may seek account-profiling expertise or may need help with nurturing long-term leads. Unfortunately, all of these services can fall under the umbrella term of “lead generation,” so if you do not properly define your team’s needs, you may waste time with vendors who are ill suited for the task. Spending time understanding what is needed from a sales perspective, including the desired lead volume, will be time well spent.
As part of your internal discovery process, you also need to get an idea of your budget. In order to ensure time is not wasted, do not start your evaluation without some idea of what you’re willing to spend. Most quality B2B lead generation vendors will require an investment ranging from $25,000-50,000 (or more) to engage in a pilot program. Because of the serious investment, it is important to make sure that you have executive buy-in before you begin your evaluation process.
#2. Prioritize what’s most important and categorize your “must have” vs. your “nice to have” items
Next, make a list of all the characteristics and services that you are looking for in a telemarketing lead generation partner. While nearly everyone is seeking professional telemarketers and quality output, there are some services that are individual to the needs of each company. These may include items such as:
- Ability (and experience) to work directly within a specific CRM system
- Web-based lead distribution and closed loop tracking process
- Access to targeted lists to augment current database
- Scalability of services/team to handle large-scale growth
- Specific industry or client-type expertise (i.e. expertise in generating leads for a service versus a product)
- Ability to digitally record telemarketing calls and provide .wav files of leads
- Integration of multi-media
- Relationships with creative agencies to aid in multi-media approach
The ability to work directly within a CRM system such as Siebel or Salesforce may be a #1 priority for you; however, another may prefer importing data into their CRM (see our article To CRM or Not). Similarly, one company may desperately need database augmentation, where another company wants to focus telemarketing on an in-house marketing responder database.
Making a list of what’s most important to you, as well as categorizing your “must have” and “nice to have” items will help you interview your telemarketing agencies and develop a meaningful RFP.
#3. Ask for referrals and look at B2B marketing publications
Telemarketing agencies are popping up everywhere. It’s very hard to know which are quality lead generation companies and which are “smile and dial” firms. Therefore, the best thing to do is ask for referrals. People to ask include:
- Your marketing colleagues
- Sales managers and account executives – ask if they have experience receiving leads from any telemarketing vendors (possibly via a partner program)
- Business partners – since they are in your same industry, they may know of firms that specialize in your industry
- Creative agencies and other marketing vendors – many will have partnerships with telemarketing vendors
In addition to asking for referrals, take some time to look online. Be careful to look specifically for B2B directories (as opposed to B2C). MarketingSherpa
and B2B Online both have focused B2B telemarketing buyer’s guides. Another helpful source of information is trade magazines. Many publications focus specifically on B2B marketing, as well as direct marketing. Finally, look for telemarketing vendors that have spoken at marketing events, published “best practices,” been used as a source in marketing publications or have written a blog or bylined pieces in print or online – these are indicators that the telemarketing vendor is staying current with marketing trends and typically can offer more of a consultative approach.
#4. Contact the telemarketing agencies and pay close attention to how promptly and professionally they respond
Once you have your list of agencies, go to their Web sites and request a sales call. This is recommended over calling the agency, as it will give you some insight into how promptly they respond to a web request. It will also provide your first glimpse into the professionalism of their staff. In some cases a telemarketing agent will call you initially in order to qualify your interest before passing you to an account executive. This is a great opportunity for you to see first hand the agency’s telemarketing skill level and professionalism.
During your first conversation with an account executive, be sure to look for the following positive indicators:
- Can they clearly articulate what their company specializes in?
- Did they provide at least one differentiator?
- Are they asking you pinpointed questions to better understand your needs?
- Have they told you something that you deem helpful to your evaluation?
- Did they price qualify you?
- Have they clearly defined a “next step”?
The telemarketing account executive’s ability to conduct a meaningful dialogue with you is crucial, as it’s an indicator of the company’s culture and overall communication abilities.
Before you complete your phone interview, be sure to ask for information to be e-mailed. This gives you another opportunity to access the professionalism and promptness of the agency.
5. Distribute a Request for Proposal – and check references!
Use your phone interviews to narrow your search to four to six telemarketing vendors. Then create and distribute an RFP. Your telemarketing RFP should include standard questions relating to company profile, financial standing, telemarketing experience, account management team, etc. A well-written RFP will help you settle upon the right vendor for you, while a poorly defined RFP can provide you with misleading information that can lead you to the wrong partner for your marketing needs. Here are some areas that you will also want to include:
- Explain your development process.
- Briefly describe the major development milestones and provide an example of a program implementation timeline.
- Describe the information/involvement that you will require from your client during the development process.
- What qualities and skill sets do you require for the telemarketing agents performing the work described within our RFP description?
- Explain your agents’ experience targeting our market – including the titles we are pursuing.
- What is the average tenure (years of service) of your telemarketing agents?
- How do you measure your telemarketing agents?
- How do you retain top performers?
- Provide an overview of the training agents will receive in relation to our program.
- Describe your employee development-training program.
- Briefly describe your product/service update training (frequency, type, etc).
- What type of coaching do you focus on
- Describe your technology to accommodate call monitoring of your telemarketing agents by your clients.
- Describe how you collect, store and share data with your clients.
- Where applicable, provide a recent example where implementation or development of a new technology has resulted in cost reduction or improved customer satisfaction.
- Provide existing metrics that your company uses to gauge the performance of a telemarketing campaign you are executing.
- Provide examples of client metric reporting.
- How customizable is your reporting
- Briefly explain how your company manages the overall quality of services provided.
- Describe your company’s quality audit processes.
- Provide an example where your company has identified root cause and implemented permanent corrective action for a situation where quality did not meet customer.
- What is your process to adjust your qualification process based on your customer’s feedback on lead quality?
Also ask for their recommendations:
- Provide additional recommendations based on your assessment of our needs and current situation.
- Provide your recommendations for an adequate “pilot” program.
While the above is not a comprehensive list, it does provide some of the critical questions to ask your telemarketing vendors. Of course, you will want to consult your list of “must have” items and make sure they are well represented in your RFP. Also, make sure to include a request for two to three references.
Note: If you have a standard MSA, provide a draft to the telemarketing agencies as part of the RFP. If you do not, then it’s advisable to ask the telemarketing vendors for their standard terms. That way you can get a head start on having your legal team review your selected telemarketing vendor’s terms of agreement. No doubt, they will have changes, which always take some time!
#6. Perform a Site Visit
Based on your RFP and reference checks, you should be able to narrow your selection to two agencies. Or you may even have a clear winner. Whether you’ve narrowed it or you have a winner, it’s advisable to perform a site visit before making a final decision. A site visit should include the following components:
- Face time with an executive of the company in order to gain a clear picture of their long-term vision.
- Meeting with the account management team who will be responsible for your program – including the program manager, operations manager or supervisor, training/quality assurance manager and IT manager.
- Tour of the facility – including their data room (look for adequate security)
- Interview potential agents (or agents with similar skill sets as those who will be eventually assigned to your initiative).
- View systems and/or reporting, as appropriate.
- Listen to either live or digitally recorded calls (as indicated by the company’s privacy guidelines).
During the site visit, you want to ensure that the company –- and specifically the management team — illustrates the same level of professionalism, knowledge and expertise that they displayed in the written RFP response. You should also make sure that your day-to-day contacts (account manager and/or program manager) are people that you feel comfortable with supporting your program and needs. As for the telemarketing agents, focus closely on their speech, ability to answer your questions and the overall professionalism of their voice. You may actually find it more beneficial to hear the agents on the phone verses an in-person meeting.
#7. Communicate your decision – to everyone.
Before you award your contract, be sure that you will not encounter any unforeseen roadblocks in getting the contracts signed. There’s nothing worse than awarding business, only to get it halted when the CFO has to sign the contract. Make sure funding is still intact and that you still have your executive sponsorship.
It’s easy to communicate your decision to your selected vendor. However, many companies forego communicating promptly and respectfully to the vendors not chosen. Be sure to take some time to call each participating telemarketing vendor and provide some insight as to why they were not selected.
Following these seven steps will help you to launch a thorough and meaningful evaluation of telemarketing vendors and will allow you to partner with an agency that matches your requirements and needs.