Next summer, the Do Not Call Registry will turn five years old. The Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and Congress are embroiled in a flurry of activity to strengthen the registry.
Earlier this month, the House passed H.R. 2601 to cap the fees the FTC can charge to access the Do Not Call Registry of phone numbers, and H.R. 3541, which would make phone number registrations permanent rather than requiring consumers to re-register every five years. The bills also just passed in the Senate and are now headed to President Bush for his signature.
Unsurprisingly, the Do Not Call Registry isn't going away. For consumers, it's worked like a dream. Log on to a website, enter your number, and there's no more unsolicited telemarketing calls waking you up from a nap or interrupting your dinner. For business owners who can no longer call people they don't have a previous relationship with, it's been a more difficult adjustment.
"There's been less [telemarketing since the registry began]. There's clearly been a change," says Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association. "And it was actually starting prior to the creation of the National Do Not Call Registry." He explains that many call centers were already switching their focus to inbound calling, some major service centers had shut down, and the use of cell phones--which businesses can't solicit to because of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991--had already dampened the outbound calling industry.
David Goldsmith, a business forecaster and president of MetaMatrix Consulting Group, agrees the changes have been significant. "More than just lists have changed in the past few years. In technology terms and in what's happening in the world, 2003 is light years ago," says Goldsmith, who was recently the keynote speaker at the American Teleservices Association annual convention. "The industry knew that the moment the list would go active companies, would go out of business and many did. Others adapted as there is always a need for new and innovative ways to touch customers on both the inbound and outbound side of the business."
Obtaining a phone list scrubbed of numbers on the Do Not Call Registry can be cumbersome, but there are a few ways around it, including purchasing software to scrub the list or working with a call center that does the work for you. Businesses can obtain five area codes of no-call numbers for free; after that, as of 2008, each area code is $54 or $14,850 for the national list. (H.R. 2601 saves you some money on this; the amount in 2007 was $17,050.)
Turning Up the Heat
However, even if you get those five area codes for free or lay out the cash for more, you've still got to scrub it against any lists you have. This process can prove difficult for smaller businesses, and marketing experts are instead steering their clients from cold calls to warm calls.
"I work with a lot of people in network marketing and, in the past, some of the clients I worked with would get reverse directories in their neighborhood [to call,]" says Wendy Weiss, the "Queen of Cold Calling" and owner of coaching firm Weiss Communication. "What I've recommended is, instead of doing that, to think about places where their ideal customers congregate." She says one of her insurance industry clients found clients after giving a free speech on financial planning at his church. He then contacted other local churches to offer his free talk.
"So even though it would seem like a really unlikely place, he went from church to church to church, doing his talk and finding clients," says Weiss. "If you're calling from a list you're calling one person at a time. If you call an association and you book a talk, you could be in front of 20 people or 50 people or 100 people." The goal is to make that connection with potential clients, so you have permission to contact them, turning your cold call into a warm call.
Marketing consultant Michael Goldberg found a niche helping insurance companies train their employees in networking and other marketing opportunities after the Do Not Call Registry dried up their cold-calling efforts. He found his consulting bookings rose from five or so a month to 15 to 17, and he's retained by some of the biggest firms in the industry.
"One of the ways to avoid either cold calling and/or the Do Not Call list is if you're calling somebody who was referred to you or if you're calling someone that's expecting your call," says Goldberg. "So a big part of my strategy is if you set up the right connections, either in person or through introductions, then all your calls are at least warm. So you're in a much different state of mind." Like Weiss, Goldberg encourages his clients to give speeches, in addition to networking.
Some see the Do Not Call list as an opportunity for better marketing, rather than a roadblock to getting their message out. Last month, Shawn Rohrer, Chad Jenkins and Sean Conrad launched MyOculus.com, a free service that allows members to choose exactly who markets to them and when.
The service was directly inspired by the Do Not Call list. Users can select their areas of interest and how they'll be contacted--if they'll accept calls on Tuesday mornings between 9 a.m. and noon, or if they're willing to receive two e-mails each month. MyOculus contacts the members on behalf of their business partners and doesn't share any information with the business until the consumer says it's OK.
"I think that people don't necessarily want an all-or-nothing proposition," says Rohrer of the Do Not Call list. "They don't want to be invisible to marketing messages, but they just want to have control. A lot of the people who have come against the Do Not Call list are trying to fight it, and we're really walking side-by-side with it."
So although the Do Not Call list seems here to stay, it doesn't have to be bad for business owners and marketers. Learn from Rohrer and his partners' positive spin on the list and become not just a marketer, but a consumer advocate, or get out there and speak and network so you can exult in the ease of warm calls over cold calls. Regardless, when you're reposing in your home, thinking of all the new ways you can market your business, at least no unsolicited telemarketing calls will interrupt your thoughts.