Does Telemarketing really work?

boiler-room-callerIt was the summer of 1984 and I was a green kid fresh out of high school. Responding to an ad in the newspaper, I walked in to my first telemarketing job with very little knowledge and virtually no expectations. My parents and others in my life had told me not to do it, to look for a “real job” instead, one that paid a steady salary, but I was attracted to the idea of making a commission check. I worked hard and rapidly improved.

Little did I know in those first moments that the skills I was about to learn would be essential to me for success later in life. That “commission check” was my total income, because there was no salary, so I had to learn quickly how to “dial for dollars”.

The sales manager handed me a stack of 3×5 index cards, handwritten with the name of a business and a phone number on each. My job was to find out who the principle was and then use the sales pitch I had been provided with to ask that person for a contribution. The cause? Youth sports programs sponsored by the Boston Police.

High Volume Cold Calling – Does it work today?

I made my first sale ten calls in and I was hooked from that point. The sound of the cash register ringing inside my head kept me going, not just through that first day, for the next two decades. I remained in the commission fundraising business until 2005 and eventually became a sales manager, then an owner of my own firm.

The type of calling we did in the early years is known as “high volume cold calling”. It was the only tactic that worked when doing quota-based fundraising. You simply had to speak with as many people as possible to attain the numbers required. Target marketing didn’t come into the industry until the late 90’s, when the predictive dialer became popular and you could upload a demographic or income based list.

Does high volume cold calling work today? You certainly don’t want to use hand-written index cards, but doing a little list research ahead of time and purchasing the proper tools will give you a good shot at success. In a world of social media, email campaigns, and content marketing, the thought of “picking up the phone and calling” is often scoffed at, but it is still one of the more effective tools for lead enrichment, appointment setting, and business development.

Getting Started – Setting up a Telemarketing Campaign

In 1997, I started a company called “Futuretel Communications” and diversified my services to include telemarketing campaigns outside of the fundraising industry. Our offering included planning and implementing a strategy, not just simply making calls. The set up for a telemarketing campaign is a critical piece. To do it right, you first need to know:

  • Details about the product or service you’re offering
  • Messaging of the Company – pitch needs to match
  • A profile of your ideal “target customer”
  • Amount of available capital you want to spend (budget)

Even if you are running an internal calling campaign for your own products and services, you should still review details and go over company messaging. What exactly are you selling? How is your company positioned in your market? Are you running other media? What is the messaging there? It’s vital to understand exactly what you have and how you want to present it.

An “ideal” target prospect can help you create “green field” lists when it comes time to choose who you’re going to reach out to. Take a look at your existing customer base and figure out who’s currently buying what you’re selling. Are they a certain age group? Income level? Industry? Focus on long term customers if you can. Those who are retained the longest represent the lead class that is the best fit for you.

Finally, set a budget and stick to it. You’ll want to track results at the end of the calling campaign and cost is one of the variables you’ll have to look at. The cost of customer acquisition should be accounted for when you make plans to expand and grow.

Writing the Script and Sales Materials

Prior to starting Futuretel in 1997, I took a part time writing job at a local newspaper called the Everett Advocate. I had always had a passion for writing and the editor saw something in me that made him want to give me a shot. He was the prototypical newspaper guy – old as dirt, crotchety, perpetually smoked a cigar, and told you at all times exactly what was on his mind. His name was Jim Mitchell.

Jim taught me one of the most valuable skills there is for writing scripts and sales materials – Get your point across in as few words as possible. This is even more critical today, when Internet users are attracted to images and not words, and text messaging has become the preferred mode of communication. On the phone, or with an email or mailer, you have seconds to get their attention. Make every word count.

Sales scripts should not be promotional. If you call someone at his or her place of business or at home, and you’re pushy, you will get hung up on … often. The best sales pitches are the ones that don’t actually try to sell. Focus on the problems your offering will solve for the prospect and speak to them about those problems.

Once you establish that “common ground” you’ll find that conversations are more pleasant and productive. Use that casual conversation flow to ask targeted questions and let the prospect give you complete answers. Don’t “cut them off”. That’s a deal killer.

For your next step after you’ve developed a phone script, create some follow up emails and hard copy brochures for mailing if applicable. The purpose of a call in a telemarketing campaign is to generate a spark of interest, not necessarily to “make a sale”. It’s a relationship building first step, so make sure there’s a second step planned.

Software, Tracking, and Follow Up Marketing

Now that you have your messaging established and your phone script and follow up materials written, it’s time to set up the software you need to most effectively implement your plan. You’ll want to start with the following:

  • A CRM System
  • An Analytics Tool
  • An Email Marketing Program

Options I’ve had success with here are Salesforce, Hubspot, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact, along with a selection of complimentary tools to track metrics and caller productivity. Spend a little time researching those now and in my next article I’ll address list creation and calling tools, such as predictive dialers and CRM’s with call functionality.

To receive an email version of my next article and others upcoming, please use the “Follow” button at the top of the left column and enter your email. If you have any questions or need additional tips for setting up a telemarketing campaign, please email me at or call me at 617-913-5512


In the meantime, check out the following links to learn more:

Telemarketing Articles:

CRM Systems:

Tracking and Analytics

Email Marketing