If the recent volcanic eruptions have the same effect as Mount Pinatubo a few years ago, we could be in store for an unseasonably cold summer. Contractors may want to take steps now to contact prospective customers.

How can you ensure that your telemarketing program is well targeted, professionally executed, and ultimately successful? I posed that question to M.H. (Mac) McIntosh, president of The Mac McIntosh Company, a telemarketing-consulting firm in Redondo Beach, CA.

“There are so many different ingredients of a successful telemarketing program, it’s tough to single out a few,” McIntosh said. This article contains the “musts” that stand out on his list of telemarketing essentials.

1. Give your people the tools they need to succeed.

High-quality telemarketing programs are usually the result of either a well-managed in-house call center or a dedicated team at a service bureau, McIntosh said. If you choose to outsource, it is imperative to maintain close contact with the service bureau.

“Before you hire a telemarketing firm, find out if it has experience handling the type of marketing you do,” McIntosh added, explaining that an appointment-setting call is similar regardless of the industry it’s in.

“If you do the work in-house, give your telemarketers the right tools,” he said. That means fast PCs with large monitors, telemarketing software (Act, Goldmine, Maximizer, etc.), ergonomic chairs and desks, headsets, and their own printers (so they don’t have to keep getting up and going down the hall).

2. Start on a positive note and keep it that way.

Introduce your company, yourself, the reason you are calling, and ask if this is a good time to speak.

“Hello Mr./Mrs. Prospect, this is Sally Strong from Smith Brothers Plumbing & Heating and I’m calling to follow up on our conversation a few weeks back about repiping your home or business. Is this a good time to speak?”

This is the only professional way to behave. Be sure you get the pronunciation of their name correct. If you are not sure, ask. “Hello Mr. McIntosh. Did I pronounce that correctly?” And err on the side of formality. Say, “Hello Mr. McIntosh” instead of “Hello Barry” and avoid asking, “How are you today?” unless you already have a personal relationship with the person you are calling.

Avoid slang. Never cuss or tell questionable jokes. Use words like “investment” instead of “cost.” Avoid phrases such as “you know” and “like.”

3. Have a good offer.

In telemarketing, the offer you make over the phone has to be compelling. Ask yourself why somebody should buy from you over the phone, right now.

Try to remove as many barriers to ordering as possible. “Make the offer easy to say yes to,” McIntosh said.

Also, try to make sure price is not an issue. Of course, you can never be certain that the person on the other end can afford what you are selling, but if your list was carefully selected, you should be able to offer a product or service at an affordable price.

4. Call at the right time.

If you are calling residences, late afternoon or early evening is best (there are laws about how late you can call in some states). If the customer says you are interrupting their dinner, apologize politely and ask, “What would be a more convenient time for me to call you back?”

If you are calling businesses, test different times. Some owners and executives are easiest to reach first thing in the morning or just after 5 p.m. local time.

5. Constantly talk benefits, but don’t overdo it.

Explain what this product or service can do for the customer — how it can help their business or make their lives easier. Weave this benefit information into the script or discussion.

Some telemarketers make a pest of themselves by calling too often, blabbing too long, and not taking “no” for an answer. Ask the person you are calling if it would be OK to call back in a couple weeks or months.

6. Hire and train your telemarketers carefully.

A mistake that telemarketers frequently make, McIntosh said, is “hiring inexperienced people and putting them on the phones with little regard to aptitude or training.”

McIntosh also counsels against assigning telemarketing duties to employees as a part-time activity.

“The better job you do training on the front end, the better results you’ll have on the phone,” he said.

Training should involve two basic components: provide reps with product knowledge, then give them lots of opportunities to practice role-playing.

He also stressed the importance of having clear, measurable objectives for your telemarketing effort. “After a while, people in management start asking if telemarketing is working and you can’t prove it is.”

7. Make sure your telemarketers are motivated.

“If you picture a big phone room with many reps and a few supervisors, you’d realize it is not the atmosphere conducive to success,” McIntosh said.

Don’t treat telemarketers like second-class citizens. “I know people who sell by telephone and can outsell many field salespeople,” he said. “If you don’t pay them what they deserve, they will move on. And give them comfortable work environments.”

You don’t want 32 or 36 people at workstations in a room with one supervisor. McIntosh recommended a 4-to-1 ratio for new reps and 10 to 1 after that.

8. Constantly monitor calls.

Listening to what is being said on the phone can tell a supervisor a lot. After monitoring a call, give feedback immediately, not two days later. And be sure you require a balance of productivity (number of calls per day or per hour) with results (number of qualified leads, sales, etc.).

“If you focus on one without the other, you’ll fail,” McIntosh said.

9. Employ quality control.

This is not about how professional the calls sound, but to determine whether the orders are really orders.

Did that person understand what it was she said “yes” to? Did the rep review the order information with the buyer? “If there’s any question as to the validity of an order, call back to reconfirm,” Mac said.

10. Measure productivity.

Rules of thumb include attempting to make 50 to 100 calls per day for a full-time telemarketer.

“You should decide how many qualified leads or sales you need per week or month to make the investment in telemarketing worthwhile and set this as your lowest acceptable result,” said Mac.

11. Fill orders promptly.

Once you have the sale, don’t forget the back end! McIntosh said this means being mindful of things such as whether the product is going out on time; whether the product can deliver what was promised on the phone; and if the billing is accurate and timely.