Appointment setting is crucial for sales organizations that rely on leads and a key element of their success. The sales cycle still involves suspects becoming prospects and prospects becoming leads. A critical step in the process of then converting those leads into actual customers is the sales appointment. The sale comes only after the sales appointment is set with the right decision maker.
The tone, style, and information conveyed in the setting of the appointment may create the first impression of the company and its products or services to the potential customer; and if that impression is negative, the appointment and sale conversions are unlikely. In many respects, it is more of an inside sales activity – setting the stage for the sales presentation.
Appointment setting is considered to be one of the most difficult parts of business development and often a major hurdle to a company’s growth and increasing sales. There are often significant advantages and benefits to outsourcing it.
In many businesses, the sales team is charged with setting the sales appointments, which can require a significant amount of time detracting from actual sales calls. However, sales and appointment setting require different skill sets. The sales team specializes in presentations, negotiation and closing the sale – often in person, face to face. Effective appointment setting is more akin to inside sales, generally done over the phone, often cold-calling, giving the preliminary introduction to the company and its products in such a way as to identify a need and qualify the prospect, and convince the prospect of the value of investing time in a meeting with sales. Cold calling is particularly a game of numbers and can be very repetitive, requiring perseverance and multiple efforts navigating through gatekeepers.
In-house or Outsource
There are a number of important factors and considerations in whether to outsource appointment setting activities or to develop and keep this crucial function in-house.
Personnel: As discussed above, effective appointment setting involves a different skill set from sales presentations and closing. Hiring, training and managing a dedicated team entails significant costs and time issues.
Technology and Sales Automation: Many of the activities in appointment setting are repetitive, particularly in telemarketing and cold calling, and can be effectively automated with sales acceleration technologies. These platforms include auto dialer software, which encompasses such things as automated dialing, local presence caller ID, personalized voicemail messages, call tracking and appointment calendaring. Obviously, there are costs, start-up and training considerations in implementing a sales automation platform.
Data and Analysis: A contact or call list must be developed and prioritized, and is only as good as its quality. The higher the quality of the list, the more likely there will be the success with setting a qualified appointment that results in a closed deal. This involves gathering and analyzing the relevant data to know the right people who are interested in a company’s product or service, as well as those who are the appropriate decision-makers. Data analysis has become more important in the process with many more data sources and analytic techniques.
Reporting and Metrics: There must be reporting and metrics to evaluate the effectiveness and return on investment in any appointment setting program. Sales automation platforms can generate detailed reports on a variety of different metrics such as calls dialed calls connected, retries, appointments set and others. The details can be reviewed on an on-going basis so the program can be adjusted to optimize sales results.
Cost Control and Scalability: A distinct advantage of outsourcing is the ability to know costs at the front end, and be able to effectively control those costs in a short time frame. If the initial outreach to a smaller target group of prospects is successful, the program may be quickly scaled up.
A company may find significant benefits from outsourcing its appointment setting efforts, rather than relying on its sales force to set their own appointments or implementing an in-house program given the fixed costs and overhead involved. It not only saves time of the sales representatives but guarantees quality appointments with the decision makers. This increases the chances of closure as well surging the conversion rates. Although appointment setting has become much more sophisticated, relying on data analysis to develop lists of qualified prospects, outsourcing seems to be a much better option. Cost can seem to be a constraint but when equated with the benefits it produces companies can reap better results and profits surpassing the costs incurred.