Whenever I can, I include telemarketing as part of a comprehensive lead-generation program. When it comes to setting sales appointments, populating a database with decision-maker names, or filling seats at an event, there's no contact method that's more direct or more effective. The results of telemarketing are usually measurable, too, which is also a rare benefit for any campaign tactic.

But, actually, you can expect more from your telemarketing programs than appointment-setting and seat-filling. In fact, telemarketing can lend tremendous support to helping you achieve other aspects sales and marketing initiatives.

Think about it: Your telemarketers, internal or outsourced, have more direct contact with your prospect universe than anyone else within your organization. There's no reason you shouldn't use that contact to your advantage.

Here are four primary benefits to telemarketing that are often overlooked, but can help you derive even more value from your calling programs.

1. Get in on the ground floor with a new customer

It's always exciting to make those "jackpot" calls where you discover a company with a big initiative already in progress—and they invite you to participate. What a rush! Unfortunately, experienced salespeople will tell you, actually winning those deals is a long shot—it's the "incumbents" who have invested the time and built the relationship that usually have the edge over the newcomers. That's particularly true in a complex sale.

Ongoing telemarketing gives you the opportunity to be that incumbent. Cold-calling enables you open a dialogue with the new, undiscovered people, often before they've even begun the buying process. Think about it—someone who doesn't know you exist, with only a marginal understanding of the problem you solve—is not going to come looking for you. Telemarketing is a very direct method of identifying those people.

When you're in an account first, you can be the one to educate them, help them set benchmarks, and even help them format their RFP. It may be a long and nurturing process, but it can yield a lucrative relationship.

2. Generate key customer and marketplace data

If you have a strategic, targeted list of prospects, your telemarketing operation can help fill in some of the blanks in your database with key information. This information can then be used to focus your future sales and marketing communications.

For example, you can generate data of a prospect's usage of competitive products or services. The callers can simply ask whether they use a competing product/service—whether they are under contract, have their own internal resources, will have a need in six months, etc. Eventually, you can segment your database and target specific campaigns to specific situations for greater impact.

You can also arm your callers with a few (no more than two or three) key market research questions that you would like to have answered. As they log the answers, you're generating your own primary research. It's not scientifically conclusive, but it's valuable feedback nonetheless.

3. Build brand awareness

Particularly for companies without a significant market presence, telephone contact can serve as another awareness enhancement of your company or brand name.

This is where voicemail becomes our friend. Depending on factors like the industry and the size of the company, a telemarketer will reach voicemail on about 70-95% of dials. While voicemail suffers the same risk of "trigger-finger delete" as unsolicited emails, some people do listen, at least long enough to hear the company name and the primary message. (This is where well-scripted messaging becomes critical.)

At best, they'll hear your offer, your message and your brand/company name. At least, they'll hear your brand name, which is an impression you wouldn't have had otherwise. And this, of course, may enhance recognition when they see your name on your next communication.

4. Test your materials and your message

Feedback from your telemarketers can give you an indication of how well your current marketing materials are penetrating your audience, and whether your message is actually being received.

When you use telemarketing to follow up on a direct mailing, an invitation, or email campaign, why not track the prospect's recall rate of the various media? It can help you get a better idea of which media are read and remembered the most, and help you modify the format or messaging of your communications based on that feedback.

You can use calling campaigns to test your new ideas. Change your message, your offer, or your approach for four weeks. Track your numbers during the month, and see whether the new messaging has made a difference in your results.

Broaden your focus to make the most of your hidden benefits

Most marketers use telemarketing to populate seminars and to set appointments for the sales team, which is fine. Cold- and warm-calling are highly effective methods of achieving both those objectives.

However, if you fully embrace the telemarketing function as part of your total outreach, you can begin to make the most of this personal, one-on-one contact that they maintain on a daily basis with your target audience.

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Michelle Palmer is president of Leading Edge, a marketing firm that specializes in developing and implementing lead-generation programs for mid-market companies. Reach her via mpalmer@LeadingEdgePrograms.com.