Choosing a Telemarketing/Telefundraising Partner

Some Helpful Hints

Phil Miller

Just as your organization is unique, all telemarketing and telefundraising companies are not alike. Determining the right partner for your organization is extremely important. Choosing poorly could have a serious impact on the bottom line of your overall marketing or fundraising budget.

Here are six tips to help you better assess which company is right for you. (I will use the term “telemarketing” throughout this article to refer to all types of outbound revenue generating calling.)

1) Who’s in your database?

The potential for success of a telemarketing campaign starts with the how many records you have in your database that can be called, otherwise known as “leads.” The revenue projections for the calling will be based on how many leads you have that relate to key segments (i.e. renewing patrons, one year lapsed patrons, ticket buyers in the current fiscal year, and so on) within your database. There’s a huge difference in the potential results between having 10 or 100 leads to call in any given lead segment. Providing a telemarketing company with accurate lead estimates has a direct effect on the reality of the projections you will get when you receive a proposal. It’s always in your best interest to provide the most accurate lead counts when asking for a proposal. The telemarketing firm you are working with on the proposal should provide you with direction regarding which lead segments to include in the counts you are providing for revenue projections.

2) They'll be happy to give you the good, but try to find out the "not-so-good."

Every telemarketing company has both good and bad results, but you won’t get very far differentiating between your choice of firms if you listen only to the good. Ask each company to provide you with a few examples of campaigns that did not go so well. Ask them how they handled those situations. Listen carefully to how they respond; this will give you some good insights into the difference between each company. Look for other organizations in your city or similar organizations in other markets where these companies have worked and call your colleagues. This is the best way to get honest feedback about the firms you are considering.

3) Who’s going to be the Campaign Manager?

When conducting an on-site campaign (as opposed to one at a call center) most everyone wants to know who the manager will be for their campaign and what level of experience he or she has. But don’t assume that the manager is the only ingredient to a successful effort. While no campaign can succeed without a good manager, the achievement of a good campaign manager is optimized under the supervision of a proactive and supportive home office. Managers can raise their level of performance when they have good supervision, support, and resources at their disposal. Even great managers may struggle and run into difficulties if they do not have a strong team behind them. And, in the event that your manager is not working out, you want to know that your chosen vendor will be Johnny-on-the-spot when it is necessary to correct problems or in the worst case, replace a manager.

Some suggestions:

- Ask who the manager will be.

- Ask for references.

- Ask for campaign results for the campaigns he/she managed.

- Google them.

Also, don’t believe that the best manager is the one with the most experience or longest resume. Many times, less-experienced managers who are hungry, smart, and eager to prove themselves (as well as to land and stay on bigger campaigns) will out-perform veterans who might be willing to rest on their laurels.

4) Apples to apples

When two or more telemarketing firms are proposing their services for your campaign, make sure that they have based their proposals on the same information. Did you give them the same lead counts, the same history of the campaign, the same expectations for future campaigns? Moreover, beware if there are huge differences in what each company is proposing. Look for red flags. Is one firm projecting a 25% cost of sale (or fundraising) and the other is saying 48%? Differences of a few percentage points or a few dollars here or there are to be expected. But when there are significant differences in cost and/or projected results, look carefully and ask questions. The truth is, all vendors work under some pretty static industry standards and have similar costs of doing business. Variables like number of contacts per hour or closing percentages may differ from campaign to campaign, but not dramatically. If an hourly fee is involved, then the amount of time estimated to complete the campaign will impact cost. If there’s a discrepancy in projected number of hours, ask both companies why they think it will take the amount of time they are projecting. This is one way organizations end up with egg on their face. What appears to be the “less expensive” choice may not always wind up that way when the campaign is over. Try to fully understanding the proposed results and cost estimates. Make sure you know “why” rather than just “what.” You do not want to have to explain to your CFO or board why you changed firms only to have the telemarketing campaign come in short of projections and with a higher cost of sale.

5) Make yourself available

Beware of the telemarketing company that doesn’t have lots of questions before they submit a full proposal. Every campaign is different and every campaign has peculiarities. After submitting your information to start the proposal process, that information should generate more questions than it provides answers. The proposal process is just that - a process. A good company will look to fully understand your goals and how telemarketing fits into your overall strategies. Make yourself available. If a company provides you with a proposal that they haven’t created with your cooperation, chances are it’s not much more than a boiler plate and may have little or no real value. Successful campaigns are partnerships, and that partnership starts as soon as you request a proposal. Believe it or not, telemarketing companies have your best interests front and center. The more pleased you are with the results, their performance, and the overall relationship, the better it is for all parties involved.

When looking for a telemarketing firm, remember what my Mom always said to me: “you only get out of it what you put into it.” Taking time and being as thorough as possible during the proposal process will lead to better projections, better costs estimates and a better campaign. It also allows you to start “working” with a vendor and getting a feel if this is the firm with whom you would like to partner. Your time and effort during the proposal process will pay huge dividends in the end.

6) Provide previous results upfront

Your organization is different from every other non-profit out there. You have a unique mission and deliver a special experience to your patrons. Your telemarketing campaign is just as unique. It has its own rhythms and performance traits. Each telemarketing company you are working with during the proposal process should put together revenue projections for your campaign based on their experience with similar size organizations and markets. However, those projections won’t be as complete and accurate as possible. Why? Because they have not taken into account the unique traits of how your campaign performs. How do you get those traits factored in? Share past campaign results. This includes revenue results, how your different lead segments performed, contact rates, average dollar amounts per transaction, number of calling weeks, and total calling hours. With this information your telemarketing partner can provide more precise projections and expenses, and you will have better information for planning and budgeting. Sharing information upfront will help reduce the potential for negative financial surprises during the campaign.

Good luck and – um – if you’re going to call me -- I already subscribed!

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