Managing an Outbound Calling Program

We all recognize the value and profitability of calling our wine club members and customers. It is a very personal and powerful touch point that amplifies the ever-important relationship with our customers. What may not be obvious is that a carefully planned and developed outbound calling program can yield profits at up to 30-40% of sales revenue. The catch is that the effort requires good management and oversight… unfortunately, this is the piece of the puzzle that is so often overlooked, ignored or unfunded.

To develop an outbound calling program within your winery, here are ten areas that should be considered:

  1. Financials. Develop (if you haven’t already) a financial plan for outbound calling with a projected profit and loss statement. In simple terms, figure out how many phone calls yield how much in sales and at what cost in compensation. Calculate your projected labor cost percentage of sales revenue. Having a well, fleshed-out plan that includes these financial aspects will show how you’re doing against the plan and help keep you on track to achieving your goals.
  2. Compensation. As part of the bigger financial plan, deciding how to compensate staff will be a major factor. Consider: Will you pay an hourly rate? Should it be higher or lower than tasting room or customer service staff? Should you pay a commission as a percentage of sales revenue achieved? What should that percentage be? Best practices on compensation is to pay a bit more base-salary to the outbound callers at your winery, because it requires an enhanced level of expertise to succeed at phone calls. Then offer an additional commission on completed sales between two and six percent of sales, depending on what your financial analysis reveals that you can afford and still reach profit goals.
  3. Staffing. Who is going to make the calls? Initiating an outbound phone call can be intimidating to some employees. It takes a good deal of personal presence, even courage, to place a phone call and start a conversation. Consider the staff you have in place and whether they have the “fire in the belly” to make a lot of phone calls and potentially be turned down over and over again. Do you need to seek new staff members? Do you need to shift responsibilities? How do you find the right fit for a team member to make outbound calls? What kind of personality and skills are needed? There are certain skills which make a good outbound caller, but those skills must be refined by training and motivated by incentives. Having the right people making the calls will be the difference between success and failure for your telesales channel. Careful hiring is the first step.
  4. Metrics & Analytics. Tracking metrics and analyzing your progress will help with making good business decisions, since any insights that you have been missing will pay dividends if tracked and adjusted properly. A few key metrics to track: activity metrics such as number of calls made, conversion rates, overall sales performance metrics. Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the foundation upon which you will be able to appraise the success of your outbound calls strategy.
  5. Incentives & Training. A compelling incentive compensation plan is what drives high-sales performers. Incentives should be both short- and long-term, in order to encourage positive behavior – everything from daily competitions with small prizes, to commissions based on monthly or quarterly performance. Motivate through metrics and KPIs and reinforce through training. The data that you collect should directly feed into the training program that you are utilizing for incoming staff at your outbound call center – and for ongoing training for your current staff.
  6. Equipment. Do you have the right telephone equipment and CRM system to support a calling effort? In many cases, this is the stopping point for wineries who simply do not have a sufficiently sophisticated system to record calls, notes on customers, and contacts in a format that allows them to analyze and act upon their results. Insufficient system? Make sure to have work-arounds in place and plan for upgrading the system to accommodate your growing phone-sales channel.
  7. Rules of Engagement. Do you know the compliance rules for outbound calling? How will you ensure the team is following cell phone compliance and all are up to date with regard to TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) and FCC compliance? Knowing who you can call, when you can call, and what number you can call is more complicated if you don’t know the rules.
  8. List Management. Once you have a plan in place and equipment all set, consider the tactical: curating lists. Which lists are you going to call? How often are you going to call? Who is going to do the list selection and how are you going to get the list into the hands of your callers? Good list selection is part science, part art and good judgment, and the better the list, the more successful the program. List segmentation makes the calls more effective and efficient. While software is definitely helpful, having a plan for list management is essential.
  9. Offer Management. Who is going to develop the offers for your callers? How long will your offers be available? Who will manage the coordination with marketing e-mail offers? Will you develop phone call offers separate from e-mail offers, or follow the e-mails with a phone call? As with any sales and marketing plan, calendar campaigns and offers ensure all relevant departments are aware of the current offers in case customers call back to another line, come in to the tasting room, or email a different department. This way, the customer will get the best service possible.
  10. Staff Management. If you are not prepared to genuinely manage an outbound calling effort, you are setting yourself up for failure. Staff management includes goal setting, incentives, handling disputes, customer service issues and questions that arise from your team. Having a dedicated, strong and capable leader to oversee the team and help keep everyone motivated and on track makes for a successful outbound team.

If you want to own your relationship with your customers and more fully develop the picture of who your customer is and what they want, then go for it! Start an outbound calling program and watch your customer data expand and profits increase. Do it with robust preparation, seeking answers to all the questions raised here, and so many more. Do it with an expectation of success. Do it with excellent management.