Best Telemarketing – “Who You Know” or “What You Know”?

If someone tells you, that they know “everyone”, does that make them the best telemarketing person?  Are skills and experience a waste of time in telemarketing – and does it all boil down to what you know or who you know?

The key here – is that these are two opposite mindsets – one mindset which is easy to understand whilst the other mindset is clouded in mystery.  Let’s face it, if someone has years of experience and the skills to succeed at telemarketing, it’s easy to identify this when they talk to you on the telephone.  However, if someone tells you that “they know everyone that you need to be doing business with” – then are you simply taking a leap of faith in believing what they tell you?  If someone promises to you, that by knowing all the right people, they could win you £millions in business – is this the best telemarketing available or are you simply swallowing a tale so incredible that it must be true?

The only way to fathom this out is to look at this logically and objectively.  Firstly, all the best telemarketing people have access to the best data.  So whichever top telemarketing person or agency you pick – one could say that they know everyone because they have access to that data.  But having someone’s name on a database is not the same as knowing someone.  After years of telemarketing, someone with experience may well have spoken to or sold to a lot of people – but again it’s difficult to argue that you “know them”. 

The real answer to the question boils down to mathematics – which I will explain.  In life every individual knows a lot of people but one only knows a few people very well.  Generally speaking, the people we know best are our partner and our children.  Then we know our parents and siblings.  After that, things start to become less clear.  How well do we know our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins? 

Many people have one or two very good friends that they know very well.  Then there are friends that we occasionally chat to, people we say hello to at the office, and so on.  We may say hello to the postman every day, but do we really know him?  If you attend a club of any kind, there are people you may know, but how well do you know them?  The same is true in business – you may have worked with hundreds of people, but which ones can you really remember and how many could you say that you really knew properly?

So applying the logic to business relationships – there are literally hundreds of sectors and sub-sectors that millions of people work within.  Most sales people have worked in many sectors, some have worked in very niche markets.  Yet during a person’s sales career they will only have known a small number of clients very well.  Any good Sales Director will tell you that one person can only handle so many accounts at a given time, ranging from 1 to 10 accounts.  The greater the worth of a business account to a company – the more time one person spends with one customer.  If you accept the facts here, then let’s look further at the mathematics.

Let’s take some averages.  On average, a sales person has known 5 key account people – each for a period of 3 years.  Over the sales person’s career of 30 years the sales person could have got to know very well 3 x 5 x 30 people = 450 people.  However, the first accounts that they handled might have been 30 years ago!  So even if we accept that the sales person was so remarkable that they’re still remembered 30 years later, then a good sales person knows about 450 people in the UK – which leaves about 60 million people in the UK who they don’t know at all. 

In truth, is it possible that of all these 450 people, some of them didn’t like the sales person – as they only handled the account for 3 years?  Is it possible that some of these 450 people have emigrated, retired, or completely changed their role in life?  Even if we accept that a good sales person knew 450 people very well at some stage in their career – is it possible that this has any relevance to them picking up the telephone and immediately doing a deal for you?  Let’s look at the mathematics.

Industry sector numbers are huge – from Accountancy Practices to Waste Management Corporations.  With 100s of industry sectors and 100s of sub-sectors, it is not possible that any human could possibly know someone very well in each sector.  Think about the numbers of people in any organisation, whether it is public or private sector.  At the top we have the Chief Executives, then a Board of Directors, followed by a myriad of operational directors and so on.  An SME might be run by one person, but there are thousands of organisations in the UK alone that employ 1000+ people.  It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that no human being could possibly know everyone very well.

In truth, we all know a small number of people very well – and if we’re honest here, we could count that number of people on 2 hands at most.  So now we’ve looked at the mathematics of “who you know”, let’s look at the mathematics of “what you know”.

Like any profession, there are many people who have undertaken outbound cold sales calls, but there are few people who successfully continue this career.  As an analogy, there are millions of people who love to play football, but how many people ever played for their national squad?  BT, Thomson, Yell and United Artists have churned out some of the most highly qualified and successful sales people through their training programmes (I’m one of them).  Yet for every successful sales person that succeeded at these companies, there are at least 10 who failed to cut the mustard.

A high level of skill is required to contact the right person and convince them that they should consider buying a product or service.  This skill cannot be learned instantly and it takes years of practice and learning to achieve true success.  At a guesstimate, there are probably about 1000 people in the UK at any given time that could do this very well.  Yet of those 1000 people, the number who knows how to find/build a database of potential buyers is much smaller.  At a call centre or larger telemarketing agency, the jobs of database building and calling are often split between data buyers and callers.  So at any given time – we’re probably talking about only 100 people in the UK who have the skills, experience and successful track record to successfully build data and cold call.

Of the 100 top people you could turn to for telemarketing based on “what they know”, not “who they know”, how can these people succeed for you?  Well firstly, these top telemarketing people do “know” where to find the data.  They “know” how to identify the right buyers from years of experience.  Moreover, they “know” how to communicate with these people.  You’ll generally find that the cream of the top 100 telemarketing people have been a Director before and run a company themselves.  The key here is – if you’ve sat in the driving seat yourself, then you understand the pressures that a senior level executive has to face.  You know what drives your prospective customers and what they’re looking for.

I’ve sold contracts to buyers at Waitrose, the MoD, Land Securities and the list goes on and on.  Prior to the sale I had never met these people before in my life; I didn’t know their friends or families or work colleagues.  Top class selling is about identifying who you should be doing business with, making contact and building relationships.  It is not mathematically possible for anyone to know all the right people before picking up the telephone.

Of course we all know a small number of people that we could do business with – but only a small number.  Any good business person will tell you to talk to friends and family first– but at some point, you will reach the limit of trust.    The postman may trust you enough to talk to you, but would he buy from you?  If your circle of contacts is CEO’s, then they may enjoy sharing a good whisky with you, but would they really buy from you any more than from a stranger?

Every day, millions of people across the UK buy products and services from people that they don’t know.  Marketing experts spend £millions on promoting brands and building relationships with their customers.  The key point here is that you don’t have to “know” your customer personally to make the sale.  The real art in telemarketing boils down to the pitch at the end of the day.  You could call someone that you’ve known for many years and who trusts you; but if you pitch it badly – they will walk away and you might not even be friends anymore.  Pitch something well to a complete stranger and you start the relationship building process.

The key truth in “It’s who you know not what you know” – is in getting to know new people.  Yesterday’s stranger can become tomorrow’s close friend.  I don’t claim to know everyone, but I do claim that I could find the right people for you to do business with – and if you play your cards right – they may become your highest paying customer, and your new best friend.

Stephen Law, 0870 042 1263

Stephen Law is a Business Development expert. Over a 25 year period, Stephen worked has worked from a Foot Canvasser and Telemarketing Junior in the 1980s to an Executive Director and Company Secretary in the 1990s. Stephen's sales and marketing career spanned the IT, Communications and Technology sectors, where he was always top in his field. Stephen has also been head of Manufacturing, HR, and R&D for a number of organisations. In 2005, Stephen decided to form his own company offering Business Development via Consultative Telemarketing. Few people enjoy telemarketing as much as Stephen and fewer still understand how to communicate effectively with senior decision makers. Stephen is an Associate Partner of the No1 UK Business Development Agency and an Honorary Director at the LCDA for Business Development, where he has taught the Art of Selling at London South Bank University.

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