Setting Client Expectations

By Chris DeLambo

Your client has a great idea. They develop a marketing plan and their research validates the need. Then they hire you, an outsourced call center, and a direct marketing effort gets underway. Television ads play and tens of thousands of direct mail pieces are distributed, but it fails miserably. Inevitably, the finger pointing begins and the call center is blamed. Sound familiar?

It happens all too often with the outsourcing company taking the blame for an unsuccessful campaign. Experience, planning, and setting accurate expectations with the client in advance can help you avoid these types of situations.

Consider the experience of direct mail troubleshooter Kelli Barabasz, director of traffic and forecasting at LiveBridge, a customer interaction solutions company. Barabasz and her team manage the global traffic and forecasting efforts for nineteen clients, helping companies to improve their direct marketing response and avoid costly errors.

Most importantly, Barabasz and her team know how to set expectations with a client. This involves asking direct questions and providing accurate recommendations. The team regularly achieves more than a 90 percent forecast success rate for clients above the industry average of about 75 percent.

Regardless of the client or marketing campaign, Barabasz begins her firsthand research nightly while sorting her personal mail. Because her name is seeded on numerous client mailing lists, she is the recipient of volumes of direct marketing pitches. Her ten years of industry experience, combined with technology and intuition allow her to determine the likely success rate of a campaign.

Barabasz recalls one client who mailed 140 million pieces in a summer marketing campaign. The response rates were forecasted using historical data and each piece was evaluated based on her team’s experience. This information was added into a forecast, along with talk time estimates and the number of abandoned call percentages. This information was then combined with a forecast that also determined which call center it would go to in order to ensure optimal customer and client satisfaction.

According to Barabasz, clients have responded positively to the forecasts and results. She explained that by accurately forecasting the amount of support needed, customers can save a lot of money during a campaign. “We give them the response ratios of their campaigns or we can predict their mail campaign for every single vendor on what their forecasts should look like. One financial services company is just thrilled with forecasts and can hardly believe we can be that accurate,” she added. According to Barabasz, there are a number of variables that can affect the success of a marketing campaign.

Variables: There are a number of factors affecting the outcome of each marketing campaign:

  • Number: How many pieces are being mailed?
  • Type: What type of mail is being sent (bulk, third-class, or first-class)?
  • Cost: What is the cost of the mailing?
  • Staging: Does the campaign send direct mail offers on multiple dates so call centers are not overwhelmed?
  • Offer: Does the campaign make a specific offer? For example, does it offer new phone service activation, credit card balance transfer, or low interest rates?
  • Location: Where is the offer is located?
  • Size: What is the size of the print on the offer?

According to Barabasz, some pre-packaged software programs are very helpful with scheduling, but they don’t often provide the level of detail required to accurately forecast results. For example, they don’t ask for information about the type of mailing or when it will be mailed. Also, pre-packaged software programs do not include historical data based on previous marketing campaigns.

Benchmarking: In order to improve the forecast accuracy, Barabasz asks her clients questions about the type of mailing campaign, the quantity, geographic location, type of postage, specific offers, and the creative design.

However, the most important questions are often related to previous marketing efforts. Many businesses don’t maintain their own database of information about previous marketing campaigns, putting them at a serious disadvantage. One advantage of outsourcing is securing access to research and data about the success of past campaigns from multiple clients. Without historical data to benchmark a particular program, it can be difficult to predict results. In the absence of a historical record, there are some basic tips that novice marketers can employ to improve the success of their own direct marketing efforts. Barabasz suggests that novice direct marketers employ the following tried and true techniques:

  • Use first-class mail because it allows you to pinpoint a response curve.
  • Make a specific offer.  For example, showcase the interest rate or balance transfer for credit card offers.
  • Print a toll-free number in a visible location.
  • Use a large typeface to accentuate the call to action.  This can improve response rates up to .2 percent.
  • Stage the mailing over several days or weeks to avoid overwhelming call centers.
  • Keep a historical record and keep sample copies of your marketing pieces on hand.
  • Benchmark the success of your campaign.

Chris DeLambo is the director of marketing at LiveBridge and can be reached at 503-652-6000.

[From Connection MagazineOctober 2003]

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