Q: How will the Do Not Call Registry here in the United States affect my ability to follow up on referrals for new business?
A: The Do Not Call Registry in the United States is great for companies that focus on getting a large part of their business through word-of-mouth. It is, however, a huge blow for telemarketers.
The main purpose of this registry is to give people added protection against telemarketers by prohibiting phone calls to consumers who have put their phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. The registry has been accepting listings since June 27, 2003, from consumers who choose not to receive telemarketing sales calls. Consumers can place their telephone numbers on the registry by making a toll-free phone call or by going to the registry Web site and signing up their personal numbers (including mobile phone numbers). Registrations are good for up to five years and must then be renewed to stay in force.
Two separate rulings earlier in 2003 established that the FTC lacked the authority to run the registry. However, this prompted Congress to pass, and President Bush to sign, a bill clarifying the FTC's role in record-breaking time (which illustrates the level of frustration that the public has with telemarketers).
At the time of this writing, the Do Not Call Registry is fully functional, with more than 54 million phone numbers registered in the system. More importantly, more than 50,000 complaints have already been filed reporting violations of the rule. Telemarketing abusers may be subject to a fine of up to $11,000 for each infraction of the registry rules.
Clearly, you do not want to do anything that would put you in jeopardy for this type of fine. Therefore, the way that you follow up on referrals is very important because you do not want to be confused with a telemarketer when calling someone on the registry.
Here are some points to remember when following up on a referral:
- The registry provisions do not apply to business-to-business calls, except for telemarketers selling nondurable office and cleaning supplies to businesses. Other than that exception, you should be safe to follow up on a referral by contacting the person on his or her business phone number.
- You may follow up on any referral to a home number (even those on the registry) if, and only if, the person you are calling has given you written permission to call them. An electronic signature or e-mail is acceptable as written permission.
- There is an "established business relationship" exception to the Do Not Call regulations. The regulations define this as anyone who has purchased your product or service within the past 18 months. This means that you may contact anyone (even if they are on the registry) if your company has done business with them in the last year and a half.
For more information on how the Do Not Call Registry may apply to your business, visit the registry's Information for Business page.
This new legislation is great news for any business that relies heavily on referrals and understands and follows the above procedures. For those of us who think referrals are important, look at the new regulations this way--the U.S. government has just legislated something that makes referrals more important than ever and cold-calling more difficult than ever. This should be a wake-up call for the many companies out there who are still training their sales force to build their business through telemarketing. Networking, relationship marketing and referrals are the wave of the future for doing business. If you want to be successful in today's business environment, it will be increasingly important to build skills in this area.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.