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What You Really Need to Know About the National "Do Not Call" Registry A marketing expert answers your most common questions about the registry and offers valuable advice about finding a way to use the registry to improve your sales.

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First it's in, then it's out. Now it's back in. With all the confusion surrounding the national "Do Not Call" registry and its legal ramifications, it's no wonder many entrepreneurs are confused about what it means for their business and who's really affected by it.

Before we discuss how to make the registry work for you, here are the answers to some of the most common questions being asked about the new regulations:

Who must access the registry?

  • Sellers: people selling directly to consumers via telephone
  • Telemarketers: people who call consumers on behalf of sellers
  • Service providers: people who provide assistance to sellers and telemarketers (such as list brokers and service bureaus)

Please note: Exempt organizations, such as non-profits, charities, pollsters and certain others, may voluntarily access the registry but aren't required to do so.

Must I register, even if I don't make cold calls?
Yes! Many companies that don't make cold calls mistakenly believe the regulations don't pertain to them. What they don't realize is that the regulation covers past customers. Under the new law, companies are allowed to call past customers for only 18 months after the conclusion of business, unless the customer gives written permission to the company to continue calling them. Also, unless a business relationship is established or written permission obtained, companies are permitted to call consumers for only 90 days after they've contacted them with an inquiry about their products or services. There's also a provision for penalizing companies who call consumers, even if they're not on the list, if the company hasn't signed up to access the registry but is required to do so.

What does it cost to access the registry?
Registration, as well as access to up to five area codes, is free. After that, the annual cost is $25 per area code, up to a maximum of $7,375 annually for the entire U.S. database. (Incidentally, the registry covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, North Mariana Islands, American Samoa and all toll-free numbers.)

What are the fines for non-compliance?
Fines of up to $11,000 per call can be levied against companies who don't comply.

Where can I go for help and information?
For more information on regulations and frequently-asked questions and to sign up for access to the registry, there are two Web sites you can access. There's also an e-mail help desk. The two sites provide plenty of useful information, although some links are in legalese. Spanish translations are available by clicking the "En Espa�ol" link on each site.

The official government site is www.donotcall.gov. To register your company, click on the link for Sellers and Telemarketers. (You may also call this toll-free number, 888-382-1222, from the number you wish to register.) For frequently-asked questions, click on the More Information link.

The Federal Trade Commission's Web site also provides detailed information about the Do Not Call registry. To get answers to frequently-asked questions from this Web site, click here.

To access the e-mail help desk, go to rm-FTChelp@ems.att.com. Help is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. A response is promised within two hours.

Now that we've covered some basics, let's discuss how to make the registry work for you. Several obvious options emerge for companies who must deal with this law and its ramifications:

1. Ignore the list and call everyone.
2. Stop prospecting by telephone and call no one, whether they're on the list or not.
3. Check the list and call only those who aren't listed. This option assumes that you either won't prospect those listed via any method or will just send them standard mailing pieces.

Surprisingly, some companies are choosing to go with one of the first two options! Predictably, many are advocating the third. Your choice will affect not only your sales, but your reputation. Knowing this, you should also understand that a fourth option exists that adheres to the law and makes lemonade of the lemons recently handed to the sales industry. This fourth option will help you differentiate your company from the pack, positively affecting your sales and enhancing your reputation.

Let's examine the first three options to see how the fourth is unique-and preferable.

Option 1: Ignore the list and call everyone. Calling everyone is equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot: If a consumer is adamant about not being called at home, why would a company think their call is welcome? Choosing this option tells potential customers you don't care about them. Additionally, you can be fined pretty heavily if consumers report you.

For F.C. Tucker Co. Inc., a real estate company based in Indianapolis, ignoring the list was never an option. Tucker's management created a custom program for agents to use to interface with the national list and Tucker's own database of "safe-to-call" customers. Both lists are updated every 30 days. "Our program was installed by October 1st," says Kathy Collings, director of training and professional growth. "We've also incorporated sessions into our agent training program that deal with the law, Tucker's program and our permission slip requirements."

Option 2: Stop prospecting by telephone and call no one, whether they're on the list or not. Some companies are using this option, figuratively burying their heads in the sand. Not every consumer is listed on the Registry, so if a consumer doesn't mind being called at home, why wouldn't a company call? The registry can actually be used to screen out non-customers, saving you time and money by helping you contact only those people pre-disposed to talk to salespeople by telephone. While this option won't hurt your reputation, it definitely hurts sales.

Option 3: Check the list and call only those not listed. This option respects consumers' wishes while taking advantage of the opportunity to sell to those willing to accept calls. However, this option doesn't differentiate you in any way from your competition and it doesn't inform those on the list that their wishes were respected.

Option 4: Check the list and call only those not listed. In addition, create a special campaign to contact those who are listed. This option offers all the benefits of Option 3, plus one more. Ask yourself this question: If a consumer on the list doesn't get a call from you, how does he know you're respecting his wishes? By simply ignoring him, or sending him standard mailings, he doesn't know that you're going out of your way to follow his no-contact request. Furthermore, you look just like everyone else sending out mailings, the amount of which will certainly increase due to this law. So here's my suggestion: Send out a mailing to consumers on the list that clearly states:

"We saw your name on the Do Not Call registry and respect your wishes. We will not call you. However, we do have a valuable service that you may be interested in. If you'd like to do business with a company that respects your wishes even before we begin working together, PLEASE CALL US. We would love to help you with all your (fill in your company's product or services) needs.

Some companies are ignoring the law; others are shying away from prospecting. No one is differentiating themselves with it. Be the first-it may just enhance your visibility, your reputation and your sales.

National speaker, trainer and coach Sandy Geroux is an award-winning salesperson who helps others enhance performance through effective sales, customer service and risk programs. For more information on Sandy's programs and services, visit her Web site.

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