Use a Sales and
Marketing Firm to Grow Your Telephone Answering Service
Peter DeHaan, PhD
“If your business isn’t growing, it’s shrinking,” says sales and
marketing guru Janet Livingston. This isn’t a clever soundbite or
promotional hook; growing businesses is her passion. Janet has spent
most of her career honing her sales skills and developing marketing
prowess. First she worked as a sales rep at a telephone answering
service (TAS) and later she owned her own, which she grew organically
through sales and marketing. Now she serves as a revenue growth
authority helping leading telephone answering services expand their
businesses and increase profitability. Her company is aptly named
Call Center Sales Pro.
There are two ways to grow a TAS, says Janet. One is by acquisition and
the other is through sales and marketing. Most answering services have
gone the route of expansion via acquisition, largely because they don’t
understand marketing or have not found the growth they want through
Acquisitions are attractive because there is an intense focus followed
by a big jump in revenue. But few companies put forth the subsequent
effort to maximize the value of their acquisition. Instead they ride the
revenue bump for a few years and then, once customer attrition has
reduced their billing, they pursue another acquisition.
“I help answering services find lost revenue,” she says plainly. She
looks at billing rates, individual customer profitability, and the type
of work required for the customer. Armed with specific information she
and her team go about implementing a new rate structure for the account
to make it profitable or to sell them additional services; sometimes the
solution is to do both. The result is increased revenue for her client.
With all the acquisitions of recent years, the selling multiples have
shot up, pushing many would be acquirers out of the market. Now there
are fewer services for sale and most of those interested in selling now
expect a higher price. When asked if business sale prices have peaked,
Janet laughs. “I thought they peaked five years ago.”
Though some answering services are continuing to chase a growth by
acquisition approach, the more reasonable – and less costly – solution
is to pursue a controlled growth strategy through sales and marketing.
This is where Janet shines. She and her team can add five to ten quality
sales per month for each client, month after month. This is sustainable,
and it’s manageable.
She and her team take a “consultative approach” with clients. Looking at
each client’s operation, client base, strengths, and goals, they then
target customers who are a good fit. When asked if she considers herself
a consultant, she is quick to offer correction, “I’m the closer.” This
isn’t bragging; it’s confidence – backed up by results. In addition to
her there are two people doing sales and lead generation, a project
manager, and an IT expert. All have a role to play in bringing new
business and new revenue to their clients. Additionally, all five
started in the TAS industry, honing their skills and gaining expertise
to help other telephone answering services grow.
While the essential functions of answering services and call centers are
the same, there are marked differences. Janet has a quick answer in
delineating the two: Answering services have an average call length of
less than five minutes, they serve hundreds or thousands of clients, and
they take messages, give information, and dispatch calls. Calls centers
have an average call length of five minutes or more, have few clients –
usually less than a dozen, and focus on taking information.
Ironically, many answering services want to do call center work, drawn
to serve larger accounts with much higher billing. Yet some call centers
desire to do answering service work, which they see as a way to spread
out risk and diversify their customer portfolio. She can help both.
Though most of her clients are existing operations, she recently began
working with a startup. Presently Call Center Sales Pro has eight
clients. Each pays a monthly retainer plus commission for each sale.
“When we add a new client, we are careful to set realistic expectations
for sales cycles,” she explains. “We tell them what to expect for the
first month, the second month, and the third month.” While some
prospects sign up quickly, others take over a year to close. “We make
sure our clients understand this.”
Clients don’t leave Call Center Sales Pro over performance issues; they
leave when they meet their objectives or they sell the company. What’s
more likely is for Janet to let clients go, something she’s had to do
twice. This is because the owners refuse to spend anything on marketing.
They say they can’t afford to market, but in reality, they can’t afford
not to. Every business must invest in marketing, she says. If money is
tight, they may need to cut out some other expense to cover the costs,
but they can find the money; they can afford it. She wants them to
reinvest at least 3 percent of their revenue back into marketing. This
helps keep the sales funnel full so sales can happen on a regular,
With eight clients, Call Center Sales Pro’s resources are underutilized.
They could easily add four more clients, bringing the total to a dozen.
Here, she practices what she tells her clients. She wants controlled
growth with the right type of client. Not everyone is a good match for
their business model, she adds. She’s looking for good companies that
want to get better. Of course, if she decides to increase the size of
her team, they could expand more.
Her clients fit one of three profiles. The first group wants to grow
their business in order to sell their business. The second category
wants to change their vertical market or add a new one. And the third
type desires to expand their business and increase profitability for the
In addition to her eight clients, she has a network of many more
answering services who are onshore or nearshore. Each has proven
themselves over the years as well-run operations that provide quality
service. With nearly three decades of making sales, companies seek out
Janet to find an answering service that’s right for them. These
businesses have made wrong selections in the past and want her to find
the right provider for them now. Sometimes their needs match one of her
clients; other times she taps one of the answering services in her
network to handle these accounts. Regardless, she matches clients with
the perfect answering service. In this, everyone wins.
Janet has grown Call Center Sales Pro through word of mouth referrals.
Going forward she plans to proactively contact targeted answering
services who would be a good match for their services and business
strategy. They also have been working with sales teams at the various
vendors to identify customers who may be struggling and are in need of
their revenue growth services. Again, the goal is controlled growth. “We
won’t take on more than one client at a time,” she affirms. They will
fully on-board one client before taking on another.
The future is bright for Janet Livingston and Call Center Sales Pro. The
need for their services is great, and they produce the results telephone
answering services need.
Learn more about Call Center Sales Pro at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 844-324-5859.
Peter DeHaan is a freelance writer from