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'Do not call' list changes game for marketers

The national "do not call" list deals another blow to telemarketers. On the bright side, it may usher in some new ways for businesses to harness technology for marketing campaigns.

The new national "do not call" list, which erects a barrier to telemarketing, also delivers a wake-up call to those concocting marketing campaigns.

Bottom line: Industry insiders say it's time that companies change the way they pitch their products.

This latest list is really nothing new. For several years, citizens have voraciously added their contact information to tallies of taboo telephone numbers kept by more than 30 states. Now the federal government is on board.

Since sign-ups for the new national list began in late June, consumers have submitted more than 30 million numbers. The Federal Trade Commission will make available its updated registry Sept. 1, and businesses have until Oct. 1 to scrub those numbers from their calls lists or face fines.

On the surface, the national list appears to be another blow to telemarketers. While it's clearly not welcome news for them, experts say it's about time companies got the message that cold calling potential customers isn't the best way to generate business.

Elana Anderson, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, calls the national list "a final knock on the head." She said that most telemarketing organizations already have technology in place to nix numbers that appear on the state lists, so the new federal list won't make matters more complex.

"From the IT perspective, this isn't a huge deal. This adds one more set of files you need to de-dupe from your telemarketing lists," Anderson said.

Contact centers typically have two options for ridding their files of banned numbers. They can filter their marketing lists against "do not call" lists in a batch mode with software provided by most CRM vendors. Or they can use predictive dialing software to do real-time look-ups as a call is being placed.

Aegis Communications Group, an Irving, Texas-based tele-services firm that makes marketing calls on behalf of companies like American Express and AT&T, has modified its own proprietary dialer to comply with the state and eventually the national list. Company executives say the government lists aren't a big consumer of time or money, since Aegis has been running its own internal "do not call" lists for 10 years.

The real implications for businesses, though, are finding new ways to "replace that telemarketing revenue," according to Matt Garrett, Aegis' vice president of marketing. His colleague, senior vice president of business requirements Gaye Weinberger, said the lists call for "a substantial shift in mentality."

The answer, according to them both, is a renewed emphasis on maximizing inbound contact with customers. Weinberger also recommends replacing cold calls with "welcome calls" to new customers and using that contact to pitch relevant products or upgrades.

Aegis runs PeopleSoft 8 CRM modules for marketing, telemarketing, customer modeling and analytics. The goal is to use software to arm the service agent with as much customer information as possible, so they can better cross- and up-sell customers that initiate the contact. Based on a customer's service relationship, billing history and usage patterns, the software scan spits out specific scripts to give "agents the language that allows them to be successful," Garrett said.

Anderson agrees that the key here is to market more aggressively to customers that make contact because businesses have their permission, attention and time.

She also advocates "statement" or "bill payment" marketing, recommending that businesses package personalized offers with monthly payment notices.

Specifically, she suggests an investment in customer-profiling software, like Interaction Advisor from E.piphany, San Mateo, Calif., that arms marketing teams with deep analytics and customer scoring. Whereas most marketing automation tools are rules based, Interaction Advisor lets businesses create an ideal profile for each product and enables them to refine it over time, Anderson said.

As a result, contact center agents fielding calls and marketers mailing pitches can target offers to the best possible customers.

E.piphany's vice president of product management, Mike Trigg, said his company is exploring partnerships with call compliance vendors to help customers handle a variety of "do not call" lists. But he tells customers that the lists are only the latest factor "forcing large marketing organizations to rethink the way they do marketing." Trigg said that, in the face of other challenges, like increased competition and declining consumer response rates, companies should move from "blind, blast-it-out applications" to more sophisticated software that identifies appropriate buyers.

Experts recommend that organizations explore other channels for such targeted campaigns, including direct mail, e-mail and the Web. They also advocate permissions-based marketing that abides by customers' preferred contact times and touch points.

Despite the national "do not call" list, few companies will abandon telemarketing all together. In fact, there may be a lack of education on the part of consumers about exemptions. Charities, nonprofits, survey firms and political organizations can all still dial numbers that appear on the list.

And, even if consumers sign up for the list, they can still receive calls from companies that they've done business with in the past 18 months or businesses that they've asked for information in the past three months. Some customers, not aware of these exemptions, may complain if they still receive telemarketing calls.

How the government will investigate complaints and enforce violations remains to be seen, as does how companies will handle irate callers who think signing up for the "do not call" list makes them immune from telemarketing.


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