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Outbound Call Centers: The Definitive Guide

Last Updated on October 18, 2021

outbound call center

In recent years, the increasing emphasis on inbound marketing has led some to think that outbound call centers are no longer needed nor effective. 

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • 75% of executives are willing to meet with someone or go to an event based solely on a cold call or cold email. (DiscoverOrg)
  • 32% of marketers generate more leads with outbound marketing than inbound. (Instapage)
  • 57% of C-level professionals would rather be contacted via phone than any other method. (Crunchbase)
  • Businesses that use cold calling as part of their marketing efforts experience 42% more growth than those that don’t. (Crunchbase)

Clearly, outbound call centers can still play an incredibly valuable role in businesses today.

In this guide, we’re going to walk through the following:

  • how outbound call centers operate; 
  • key services they can provide;
  • best practices; and 
  • even how to start an outbound call center

Let’s get started.  

What is an outbound call center?

An outbound call center is a type of business where employees make outgoing phone calls for specific, business-related purposes. Contrast this to an inbound call center,  where employees respond to incoming phone calls, such as customer support or technical support.

An outbound call center, on the other hand, focuses more on tasks such as lead generation, appointment setting, market research, and telemarketing.

Generally speaking, you could say that inbound call centers tend to be more support-centered, since they’re often responding to issues customers are having, while outbound call centers tend to be more sales-oriented since they often have a specific business purpose or goal.

An outbound call center is almost always going to use a dialing software to allow agents to work more effectively and reach more people.

Types of Outbound Calls

There are two types of calls made from outbound call centers:

  • Cold calls
  • Warm calls

Cold calls are phone calls where a prospect has no prior knowledge of the outbound call center, and may have had little to no contact with the company before. Bad examples of cold calls include those from people who are always trying to get in touch with you about your car’s extended warranty, or offering to help you pay off your student loans (even if you don’t have any).

Cold calls often get a bad rap because of their association with spam, but that doesn’t have to  be the case. There are plenty of legitimate, good reasons for cold calls. For example, say that someone runs a small business and uses old, outdated accounting software. A cold call from a company that sells inexpensive, cloud-based accounting software could be incredibly helpful to the small business owner and transform the way he or she does business.

Warm calls, on the other hand, are calls where a prospect has already been in contact with the company in some way and they are expecting a call. Good examples of warm calls include those from sales reps who call existing customers to schedule an appointment for further consultation, or to follow up with a prospect who has requested information regarding a product or service.

Whether an outbound call center is focused on cold or warm calls depends on the primary goals. For example, an outbound call center that specializes in lead generation might make cold calls where the goal is to find prospects with a certain set of criteria, but they’re not necessarily expecting or looking for any specific outcome.

On the other hand, if you have a telemarketing firm that wants to sell accounting software, then your focus is going to be on warm calls – getting your sales reps in front of customers who are already interested in accounting software.

9 Types of Outbound Call Center Services

We’ve touched on some of the different services that an outbound call center can be used for, but let’s look at some more specifics.

  1. Lead Generation

Lead generation is one of the most common outbound call center services. This is where a marketing team has their outbound call center reach out to potential customers.

Related:  9 Tips for Handling a Bad Sales Day

The goal with lead generation is that a portion of the people you call will be interested in taking the next step toward purchasing your product or service. Outbound calls are important for generating leads because they offer the opportunity to make personalized contact with potential customers, rather than getting lost in an impersonal email blast or a spammy cold call.

  1. Qualifying Leads

Another common outbound call center service is lead qualification, where an outbound call team determines if a lead is a good fit for the business. They might ask about the prospect’s budget,  timeline, or the scope of their project to see if they’re a good fit.

Lead qualification can also help to determine which decision makers are involved in the buying process, whether there are any objections that need to be overcome, etc.

Qualifying leads helps sales teams avoid wasting time on individuals who will never actually buy the product or service they’re selling.

  1. Telesales

Telesales are simply selling any product or service over the phone, and are probably the type of outbound calls we’ve all experienced the most. Ideally, these calls are based on specific demographic information so that the product or service being sold is relevant to the person receiving the call.

In many cases, telesales involve following a script designed to guide the recipient of the call toward taking some sort of action, whether that is actually buying something or opting in to receive more information.

  1. Reminder & Welcome Calls

Reminder calls are focused on reaching out to people in order to remind them of something they need to do, such as come to an appointment the next day, pay a past-due balance, submit paperwork, etc.

Welcome calls serve as an introduction for new customers or clients, which can be especially useful for onboarding individuals who have recently signed up for a product or service you offer. 

One of the key aspects of a welcome call is striking the right tone – you want to make the person feel as though you value their business, and are looking forward to continuing a relationship with them.

  1. Win Back Customers

Outbound calls can also be used to win back customers who have stopped purchasing from your company. It allows you to hear what caused them to stop purchasing, and then provide a relevant incentive for them to come back.

For instance, if you sell enterprise accounting software, you might be able to win back customers with a discount on licenses or a free upgrade you have available.

  1. Set Appointments

Outbound calls can  be used to set appointments by scheduling a meeting with the decision makers of an organization or with their gatekeepers.

Let’s say you have reps calling Vice President-level prospects at firms within your target market. The first step would be the outbound call where an appointment is set up with the VP. The purpose of the call is not to sell them anything, but simply to get an initial connection between the sales rep and the decision maker. Depending on the outcome of the initial meeting, there might be additional calls made for the purpose of selling.

This process allows sales reps to focus on selling while also having appointments set up for them.

  1. Event Promotion

If you are hosting an event or will have a presence at one, such as a booth at a conference, outbound calling can be used to drive more foot traffic to your event or booth. 

For instance, sales reps might call prospects in advance and mention that they’ll be attending a particular conference, and extend an offer for the prospects to stop by and check out their booth and get some free swag. Similar calls could also be made post-event to thank people for stopping by, provide a discount on their next purchase from your company, etc.

  1. Surveys and Market Research
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Organizations regularly use outbound call centers to help them conduct surveys and do market research. This is a great way for businesses to learn what their target audience thinks, feels, wants, aspires to, etc. 

Imagine that a major cell phone company wants to know why customers are leaving them for other carriers. They might conduct surveys through outbound calls and offer some sort of incentive like a gift card or a free month of service.

Once they have the data from the surveys, they can make more educated decisions about what products and services to offer and how they should market and position them.

  1. Customer CheckIn/Upsell/Cross-Sell

Outbound calls are also a great opportunity to check in with existing customers to ensure that they’re happy with how things are going, as well as to address any questions or issues that have arisen. If customers are happy, there is also the opportunity to upsell them on an upgraded, higher-cost version of their current product/service or cross-sell them on supplementary items that can enhance their experience. Obviously, upsells and cross-sells need to be done tactfully and only to satisfied customers; but when done well they can benefit both the customers and your bottom line.

Outbound Calling Best Practices

Now let’s talk about specific best practices that outbound calling centers should follow.

Many of the best practices for an outbound calling center are focused on legal compliance and providing a positive customer experience. If you operate an outbound call center, it’s essential that you know and adhere to the legal requirements for such centers. Your contacts are entitled to opt out of receiving sales and marketing phone calls under federal law. 

You must abide by any request they make to add their names to the National Do Not Call Registry (DNC). You need to be familiar with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which regulates outbound dialing methods, pre-recorded messages, when calls can be made, and other elements of outbound calls. If your call center isn’t in compliance, you risk facing hefty penalties and losing your contacts’ goodwill.

It’s critical to make a positive first impression from the very first call. If you use cold call scripts, write them in such a way that call agents can follow them without seeming stiff or rehearsed. Tone of voice also matters. Encourage agents to strive to be positive and enthusiastic, while also remaining authentic and sincere.

And while there’s certainly a place for agents to add a personal touch when talking to prospects, encourage them to remain focused on the overall goal of the call. The recipients of the calls will be grateful if you respect them and their time.

Additionally, provide your agents with as much relevant information as possible before they make a call. What are the contacts’ needs, desires, and pain points? How can your company meet those needs or resolve those pain points? This is where a cloud-based outbound call platform can be incredibly helpful. It allows your agents to see all the available information about the person they’re calling and then utilize that information during the call.

Ways to Measure Outbound Call Effectiveness

There are a number of key metrics that can be used to determine the effectiveness of an outbound call center overall, as well as individual agents.

Average Handling Time

One of the most common ways to measure outbound call effectiveness is through average handling time. This can be measured both for individual agents and the call center as a whole.

It’s usually calculated based on the moment an agent connects with someone to the point where they have finished all the necessary after-call tasks, such as updating Customer Relations Management (CRM).

Average handling time demonstrates how quickly your agents are reaching their contacts and how long they’re staying on the phone with them. It can also reveal how long it takes your company to complete certain tasks related to outbound calls, such as updating CRM records or pulling up prospect data.

Related:  How to Reframe Cold Call Rejection and Stay Confident

Calls Per Agent

Another common measure of outbound call effectiveness is the number of calls an average agent handles per day. In theory, more calls equal better results, although this isn’t necessarily the case. An agent can make fewer calls but have a higher close rate and make more sales.

Calls Per Agent is probably best used to identify individuals who are significantly underperforming compared to their peers. It can also give clarity as to whether your outbound dialing platform is sufficient for what you’re trying to accomplish.

First Call Close

The First Call Close metric shows how many prospects have been converted into a desired outcome (lead, sale, etc.) within a single call. This is basically the homerun when it comes to outbound calling. This can help you determine which agents are particularly effective and monitor them to try to identify why their success rate is so high.

If your overall First Call Close metric is comparatively low, it might be an indicator that your scripts aren’t particularly effective and need to be reworked.

Closing Rate

The reality is that most first calls won’t result in conversions, and that multiple contacts with a person are needed before conversion. The closing rate of an individual agent or across an entire center tells you what percentage of contacts ultimately results in conversions. 

If an individual’s closing rate is low, it may be a sign that he or she needs additional coaching from more successful agents, or even that the individual might not be the best fit for the job. If the overall close rate is low, then there is clearly a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed, such as the scripts being used, whether the leads are being sufficiently qualified, etc. 

Answer Success Rate (ASR)

This metric tracks how often (as a percentage) agents are able to connect with a prospect at their number, usually after no more than three rings. This shows how responsive your prospects are and how easily your reps can connect with them when they make a phone call. In general, the higher the success rate, the better, although this needs to be measured in connection with things like close rate.

Broadly speaking, an ASR of between 40% – 50% is considered good, and a rate above 60% is considered exceptional.

Occupancy Rate

The percentage of available agents that are actually handling outbound calls and related activities is known as occupancy rate. It’s essentially a measure of how well you’re utilizing the people and resources at your disposal.

It’s a way of measuring both an individual’s and a center’s overall work pace. A low occupancy rate means there is a fair amount of idle time when calls are not being made.

Call Etiquette

While this is not necessarily a trackable metric, the etiquette of outbound calling agents should certainly be monitored. This includes how they start the calls, the way they treat the people receiving the calls, their professionalism, and how they conclude outbound calls.

Starting An Outbound Call Center

In years past, starting an outbound call center required significant investments in hardware, infrastructure, etc. You also had to have the real estate space available to house a team of agents and their work stations. Now, however, the process is significantly easier. 

With a cloud-based outbound call center software solution, you can be up and running in far less time than was ever possible. This type of software often includes features like prospect tracking, direct dialing, CRM integration, predictive dialing capabilities, etc.

Agents can work remotely from any location, using their laptops to log in to the call center platform and begin making calls. All the details of the calls are stored in the software and the CRM can be seamlessly updated based on the outcome of the call.

All this to say, if you’ve ever wanted to start an outbound call center, there’s never been an easier time.