Call Center or Profit Center?
For the past year Jim Dickie and I have been interviewing sales and marketing executives about what they're doing to survive and, in some cases, thrive during these challenging times. The top three-dozen interviews are included in The Sales and Marketing Experience Challenge: Changing How the Game is Played
Companies are considering a wide variety of alternatives to optimize their sales operations. One strategy many firms are turning to is implementing call centers. These represent a potentially cost effective way of selling to and servicing accounts, but also present many challenges.
One of the interviews we conducted was with Bernie Goldberg, a field-tested expert on call center operations. Bernie talked about the three biggest mistakes companies make in setting up their call center: organizing incorrectly, compensating inappropriately, and not leveraging technology to link the field and inside sales teams.
Organizing correctly includes hiring the right people and providing them with clear direction. In this regard Bernie offers the following pithy observations: "Whenever I have helped companies build inside phone operations, the first thing we do is recruit someone to run the group. We need to start with an experienced inside sales manager, someone who has proven that he or she can build this type of organization. This requirement is nonnegotiable. If we get job applications from field sales managers, we ignore them; we will not put a field sales manager in that role.
"We then want to hire the right type of people to work the phones, and this is a different profile from a direct salesperson. Generalizations are always dangerous, but we do tend to see certain traits in direct salespeople. They have large, but very frail egos, are very money oriented, hate paperwork, are very protective of information and their territories, won't do anything that doesn't provide a personal gain, and are overachievers. These people do not want to spend eight hours a day in a very structured environment making phone calls.
"Based on my experience, the profile for telesales people is very different. Great telesales people want a good, secure income, have a strong personality driven by teamwork, are willing to follow guidelines, are protective of customers, see themselves as part of a team, and are steady achievers. I find that customer service--oriented people tend to make the best telephone selling representatives."
There remains in many companies a mindset that the call center is somehow the minor league and the field sales team is the major league. In truth some companies do use their inside sales teams to develop field reps; but, in general this characterization is neither helpful nor accurate. As noted above, people staffing inside sales are most successful when they have a different orientation than field-based reps. In addition, they operate in a different way. Inside sales reps are often required to make 60 or more outbound calls a day; a field rep can't even get in and out of the car 60 times in a day, let alone connect with people.
Whether this approach contributes to profits and competitive advantage has been dramatically answered by Dell Computer. With an entirely indirect sales model it continues to have much better margins and to develop hot products. Michael Dell attributes this largely to the fact that it has so many customer touch points (read: phone and Web contacts) and scour these connections for trends, insights, and winning ideas.
What may be even more impressive are the systems they have in place allowing them to mine this data and generate actionable information and the culture/attitude that says it's worth doing. Key questions for you to be asking of your own call center (existing or proposed) are:
o What is the relationship between the inside and field based sales organizations?
o What are the key metrics for your call center personnel?
o Are appropriate assumptions and attitudes toward customer relationships reflected in these metrics?
o Do your systems allow easy capture of customer information, and is this seamlessly shared between the various functional areas of your organization?
Having clear answers to these questions will pay real dividends--which brings us to return on investment.
A major computer firm we worked with found that 18 percent of the people calling their 800 number ended up terminating their call before they ever talked to a person. The reason? Callers had to navigate eight menus before being connected to a person. At a time when money was very tight, the hardware vendor hired 40 net-new headcount to answer calls after one ring. Further, the vendor supported the call center with a system that enabled it to connect callers with the appropriate party immediately, rather than guessing or bouncing them around among departments. The resulting ROI was huge, simply because the cost associated with not addressing the problem was enormous.
About the Author
Barry Trailer is a partner for CSO Insights and coauthor with Jim Dickie of The Sales & Marketing Excellence Challenge: Changing How the Game Is Played
. Contact him at www.CSOinsights.com.