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5 Fundamentals to Running a Successful Outbound Initiative

BY NICK BROWN

Recently, I attended a credit union conference and had the opportunity to sit in on a class about outbound calling. The discussion focused on how to better engage new, indirect members through outbound calling initiatives and drive additional products and services, revenue, and loyalty into what is typically a one-and-done relationship.

The discussion was led by two credit union leaders who were running a dedicated outbound team at their credit union. Their objective for the breakout was simply to share what their team was doing to have success and answer basic questions about how to organize an outbound initiative. Coming from a background in credit union outbound sales, I attended the breakout out of curiosity and as an opportunity to learn something new.

The breakout was excellent and the content was very helpful to those who attended. As I sat and listened, I heard taught many of the principles we share with credit unions in our outbound leadership training. In fact, it was so consistent with our course that I went up afterwards to ask the presenters if they’d seen our training or visited a credit union we had worked with in the past.

As I spoke with this pair of leaders, I learned that they had never received training and had never visited another credit union. But that over the course of about 12 years, they had developed this approach and ultimately discovered a system that worked consistently.  This came as no surprise to me, I have seen other credit unions who have dedicated themselves to an outbound initiative. As they too stuck with it through the hard times, they ultimately found what works.

So, what is it that this credit union, and others like them, have learned through years of trial and error? Please allow me to share five fundamentals to running a successful outbound initiative and improve your outbound sales results.

Outbound Calling Compliance:

Before jumping into this topic, this article is not intended to give compliance advice, but rather to make you aware of the items which should be addressed prior to moving forward with an outbound calling initiative. Please be sure to check with your internal compliance and legal teams before instituting any outbound initiatives to ensure you are in compliance.

Outbound calling for solicitation purposes is closely regulated by the federal government. Governing bodies that oversee outbound calling include the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Each of these governing bodies have sponsored and currently oversee their own regulations. The FTC oversees the Telephone Sales Rule (TSR) and the FCC oversees the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Let’s look at these briefly before moving forward.

The TSR is famous for the “National Do Not Call Registry”. The registry allows individuals to reduce the number of unwanted telemarketing sales calls by registering their phone number on the do not call list. Members with phone numbers on this list may be protected from your credit union’s outbound solicitation calls. It also requires your credit union to maintain and adhere to an internal do not call list. Be sure to check with your compliance and legal team to see if you must vet phone numbers against the do not call registry before making outbound calls. For more information see: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0198-telemarketing-sales-ules.

You may be aware of the TCPA. It has been in the news a lot since 2012 when the FCC released its rather controversial updates to the TCPA. Also, in 2015 it reinforced those new regulations in the Declaratory Ruling. Largely, the TCPA enacts some very complicated guidelines for a few things:

  • Handling wrong numbers
  • What constitutes a solicitation call
  • What constitutes an Automatic Telephone Dialing Service (ATDS)

While the legislation is complicated, it boils down to this one message on which the FCC has been very clear and aggressive in enforcing.  Unless you have express written consent from the owner of the phone number, you do not have the right to call them for solicitation purposes. Luckily this message also serves as clear guidance from the FCC on how to comply.

Prior to engaging in any outbound calling initiative where solicitations for new products or services will be made in the conversation, your credit union must have this express written consent. The legislation gives guidance on what qualifies, but it is strongly recommended that you have your consent practices reviewed by a TCPA legal expert or compliance team as the guidelines are less than forgiving.

Additionally, all employees should be trained on how to properly handle wrong numbers and requests by members to be placed on an internal do not call list.

Great Lead Sources:

All successful outbound calling initiatives start with great lead sources. Poor lead sources, even with great employees who are highly motivated and who have exceptional sales training, will lead to limited production.

The lead sources your credit union develops for outbound calling should be specific and directly target the goals and expectations you have for the outbound calling campaign. Simply providing a list of random members for employees to call from, and “see what they can get”, is ineffective.

When developing a lead source, credit union leadership should:

  • First: Define the desired results of the outbound calling campaign, the goals and expectations, and the production objectives.
  • Second: Build a profile which will target those members with needs that match the campaign’s desired results.
  • Third: Refine that profile to deliver members who not only match the desired results, but who are also qualified.

To help with this, your credit union has access to internal data as well as third party data which can be purchased. Be aware than when working with third party data, additional regulatory requirements may apply.

How do you know your lead sources have been properly developed? Before making a call, employees should clearly understand the purpose of the call, what the product or service they are selling is, and feel confident in the result they are seeking to achieve. If employees are uncertain about any of these things when calling a member from a lead list, you may need to make additional improvements and refinements.

Outbound Sales Training:

Proactive phone selling is quite different than selling in person or selling to a member who is requesting a product or service which they are motivated to close. Employees who do not have proper training will find outbound selling difficult and foreign. One of the most common reasons outbound campaigns fail to produce results is because credit union leaders assume employees will succeed simply because they are “good on the phone” or have great in-person sales skills.

To be successful at outbound sales calling, your employees need to know how to conduct an effective sales conversation which:

  • Doesn’t lead the member to feel they are being sold to
  • Clearly communicates the opportunity
  • Creates engagement and motivation in the member
  • Secures commitments and follow-through to closing

This requires outbound specific sales training from a group within the credit union or an outside sales training firm like SalesCU with a track record of outbound sales success. This training should include a specific outbound sales process which includes training on phone scripting, product sales processing, commitment setting, best contacting practices, and so forth.

If you are already providing outbound specific sales training, how do you know it is working? It’s actually quite simple. Your credit union’s outbound sales calling initiatives should be very successful, especially if the lead sources your employees are calling on are well prepared. The majority of contacts should lead to the member openly providing information and becoming interested in the opportunity the employee is offering. While not all successful sales discussions will lead to a product sale, the majority should.

If the majority of contacts lead to members shutting down the conversation at any point with a “not interested” or similar response, your team is not taking the right approach on the phone. They need better training and coaching.

Additionally, dedicated outbound sales employees, whose primary focus is on making proactive sales calls to members, will need additional training that covers lead management, advanced contact strategies and projecting, and time management to consistently produce sales and reduce burnout.

Getting the Most Out of Calling:

With the proper lead source and outbound sales training, the most difficult part of an outbound initiative should be getting the member to answer the phone.

A common question I hear when discussing outbound calling is, “When is the best time to call?” The best answer I can think of, based on years of experience is, “When your member is ready to pick up.”

I think there is an assumption, especially for those new to outbound calling, that there is a magic day and time to reach out to members and have the most success, and that calling at any other time is ineffective.  This simply isn’t true. There are studies out there which strive to prove the opposite, but when it comes to contacting members over the phone there isn’t a day or time that is going to consistently yield the most response from your member.

Rather than trying to discover the “best” time to call, credit union leaders should promote consistency from their employees by providing an environment where employees can focus on making their outbound calls. In fact, employees who achieve consistent success at connecting with members over the phone have a few things in common.

  1. They schedule time on their calendar to make calls rather than “filling” free time
  2. They are focused primarily on outbound calling during this time
  3. They make calls in an office with a closed door or back room
  4. They call the phone number that the member is most likely to answer such as a work number or cell phone
  5. They leave a voice message and send an email when the member doesn’t answer
  6. The make multiple attempts to contact the member

As long as your team is following regulations, consistent calling can happen on any day and at any time and will lead to success. This would include calling members on Saturdays, on holidays, in the evening during dinner time, and at work. When approached correctly, your members will welcome a call from your team at any time.

Goals and Expectations:

Finally, all outbound calling initiatives should have very specific goals and expectations. These should be directly tied to the goals and expectations established at the beginning when leads are developed.  As with any goal they should be SMART, that’s to say they should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Goals and expectations should outline the number of members you need the employee to reach out to, sales you want made, and sales you want closed. All activities by the employee should be reported to their supervisor. The supervisor should keep track of them in order to measure success ratios. The goals set should focus on the results the credit union wants to accomplish.

Employees who also have other responsibilities, should have their goals and expectations framed within the time they are able to commit to making calls consistently. Employees should know that they are contributing to the overall organizational goals as well as goals specific to their branch or department, and that their success matters to the team.

Goals and expectations set for an outbound sales team and individual agents are based on a few factors. First, because this team is generally looked at as a cost center but exists to create growth and revenue, the expectation should be at a minimum to justify their existence financially. It is best that production has at least a 100% ROI or higher.

Goals for these teams should be long range rather than short term. For example, the individual and team should have annual goals rather than 12 individual monthly goals. The hope for both an outbound sales team and individual agents is for them to be consistent in their production. The reality is that production can greatly fluctuate based on the time of year, market conditions, and lead availability. Having long range goals allows the employee to manage these fluctuations.

Every credit union should strive to have a consistent outbound calling initiative which is goal driven, in compliance, and meaningful to its membership. Depending on ability and size, every credit union should seek to have all member facing employees making calls on a consistent basis and an outbound sales team committed to the higher level calling opportunities.

With an effective outbound calling initiative, credit unions control their success. They are able to engage members in value adding conversations, grow products and services, develop primary financial relationships, and generate revenue which can be reinvested into the future success of the organization.

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