Use a Sales and Marketing Firm to Grow Your Telephone Answering Service

By 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 sales.

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, controlled basis.

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 long term.

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 www.callcenter-salespro.com, contactus@callcenter-salespro.com, or call 844-324-5859. Peter DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.

 

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