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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein
JUNE 1, 2000


Hot Machines for Cold-Callers

Telemarketing tools don't come cheap, so pick the right one

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Q:  I need a one-person telephone-dialing system that will dial cold-calling prospects for me and not let me sit around while it rings. I would like this tool to be expandable if I acquire more telemarketers. Does this product exist?

-- J.F.

A:  Sounds like you're looking for a predictive-dialing system. This is the most sophisticated and automated version of outbound calling software, sold by a specialized group of manufacturers who provide "enterprise marketing automation."

A predictive-dialing system uses a network server to link a group of telemarketers into either a hard dialer (a physical device connected to a telephone network) or a soft dialer (software located on its own server). These tools will dial through a list of numbers and connect the telemarketers to the prospect only when someone actually picks up the line. The benefits to a company, of course, is increased productivity for telemarketing agents, who do not waste time dialing or encountering voice mail, hang-ups, and busy signals.

Most predictive-dialing software can be enhanced with sales scripts, database information (the customer's buying history might pop up on the agent's screen once the connection is established, for instance,) and automated record-keeping that collects data on the success rate of the telemarketing campaign.

This kind of system is typically used for direct-to-customer marketing, such as publication subscriptions, mortgage promotions, and fund-raising campaigns. The bad news is that these systems are designed for a minimum of four "seats" or sales agents and typically cost upwards of $12,000.

CHEAPER SOLUTIONS. "Generally, these kinds of very sophisticated systems are not cost-effective for a one-man operation," says Diane E. Nowak, director of business development and strategic accounts for TeleDirect International (www.tdirect.com), a Scottsdale (Ariz.) company that specializes in enterprise marketing automation. "One-agent systems can be specially designed, but the cost would probably be prohibitive."

Jim Kelton, a software consultant in Irvine, Calif., suggests that you may be better off with a less powerful (but also less expensive) telemarketing system that uses a group of physical phones to automate calling and response-tracking, and that can be enhanced with a variety of additional features, such as data-collection and management reporting.

One such speed-dialing system is called VuDial, sold by NMS Services (www.nms-services.com/vudial.htm) in Fairfax, Va. It's portable and can be bought with just the software, server, and one workstation for $6,000. Additional workstations can be added for $1,000 each, so you can expand as your company grows. If you want to wait, Nowak says new technology is being developed that will allow one person to do many of the predictive-dialing features over an Internet-based server, at a cost that will be more reasonable than the current $4,000-per-seat price tag. TeleDirect hopes to have one on the market before yearend, she says.

For more information on enterprise marketing automation products, check out the Web site of Call Center CRM Solutions (www.tmcnet.com/ccs), an industry journal published monthly out of Norwalk, Conn., and the CRMXchange (www.crmxchange.com), a portal that includes forums, discussions, equipment case studies, and links to additional information.


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