Posted On March 11th, 2013
I recently did a consultancy assignment in Manila. At the end of my trip, I'd arranged to meet an old friend of mine who has now settled in The Philippines. As with pretty much every foreigner based out there at the moment, he'd become involved in the call centre industry. I was pretty much the only person he knew in the call centre industry so we met up and he very kindly bought me dinner in exchange for some tips on how I thought he could improve his business. It wasn't long into the meeting that he realised that he really didn't understand the business well enough so called his business partners to come and join the conversation. As the San Miguel Lights began to flow from the bar, I got a better understanding of how they 'marketed' their business. Like many small businesses of a similar nature, they have no sales presence on the ground in any of their 3 target markets (The United States, The UK and Australia). They followed a very well-trodden path of winning business through brokers, through social media (predominantly linkedin) and through their website although it wasn't clear whether they'd ever generated a single lead through the final source. The difficulty they have is that there are 1000's of similar companies doing exactly the same thing and what few opportunities there are through these sources, none of them are what I would deem to be quality & profitable business. They do a lot of telesales and survey work through brokers but what margin available on these projects (if it exists at all) has been taken by the brokers. They were connected to a lot of people on linkedin and were members of lots of call centre related groups. They jumped on any opportunities which were advertised on there and some of them came off. Again, much of this work seemed to be through brokers. To cut a very long story short, they had a high turnover of clients, none of which were profitable and the company was bleeding money. However, they didn't seem to have any money available to market themselves and so this is the advice I gave to them which I hope is of use to you if your company is similar in nature to them.
Define what you do. Do you just do general call centre work or is there a particular application of call centre work that you are particularly good at. The market is over-crowded and you need to stand out. Is there an industry where you've achieved good success for your clients? If there is, focus on what you are good at and ensure this runs through all your marketing material.
Get a consistent message. It's likely that you're producing sales material and have a website. You may also produce a blog, video content or some other form of content. In everything you do, the prospective client must see the same positive messages run through each of them. Call centres are about communication and if you can't communicate your own message, then you have no chance of success.
Don't email. I receive 100's of emails every month from call centres wanting business. I swear they all use each other's templates. There is never anything in these emails which would prompt me to initiate a dialogue about their business. If you want to email, have something different to say. However, why don't you call these prospective clients? You're a call centre and supposedly experts in call centre activity so why aren't you showcasing these skills? Get a very strong business development guy or even better, a director of the company should do it. The success of a call centre is dependent on its ability to win profitable business so surely, this should be a priority for the business owners and directors.
Broker strategy. There is a small army of so-called call centre brokers around the world and most of them aren't worth any effort at all. If they've never brought you any decent work before, then why would you expect them to deliver in the future? You need to determine which (if any) brokers are worth the effort and then work with them to help them bring you good business. Ask yourselves 'what would you need to do to make this relationship a success for the quality brokers?' Better still, why not ask them? In reality, the best brokers usually have retainers from centres in exchange for ensuring they get the best business. What work they choose to broker to the other centres is therefore work which has been rejected by other centres. The work you win from them will often simply be scraping the barrel.
Of course, the best way to win business is to have your own business development person or people on the ground in your target locations. If you can't afford that, there are options to have part-time people doing this. For example, I know someone who sells the services of 1 company in India, 1 in The Philippines and 1 in South Africa. Each of these companies is basically only paying for a third of that person's time. Some companies might say that they can't even afford that but you have to ask the question 'can you afford not to win business?'